NEXUS FACULTY RESOURCES BLOG

Staff Spotlight: MDP’s Megan Langille on Course Planning

October 23, 2020

Nexus is hosting a 3-part blog mini-series featuring staff from across the College of Engineering who transitioned their programs or courses to facilitate high engagement with learners in online and hybrid environments. Nexus’ goal is to share their learning and experience with the College community to continue to enhance remote and hybrid teaching and learning.

In this first post, our colleague Megan Langille, Senior Academic Advisor in the CoE Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP), shares how the instructional team adapted their course to meet learner needs for engaging and experiential online courses. She also shares lessons learned from FA20 and ideas for W21 delivery.

Throughout the course of my graduate program, we certainly did not consider how to engage students across the globe, through a (sometimes) temperamental Zoom link, all during a global pandemic. This year has presented many opportunities for evolving our classroom instruction strategies.

In my role in the Multidisciplinary Design Program, I serve as a member of a two-person instructional team for ENGR 456, a 2-credit, discussion-based mentorship/leadership course that completes the minor in Multidisciplinary Design. 

Preparing for the Term

When approaching the fall semester, we:

  • Surveyed students enrolled in the course (via Google Forms) and asked:
    • If they planned to attend class in person vs. remote.
    • If they were participating remotely, to indicate their time zone.
  • Requested that in-person students come prepared with a laptop or smartphone so that they could access and contribute to collaborative online activities on Miro during class; alongside their online-only peers.
  • Structured our course so that one instructor was in the physical classroom and the other was off campus, participating via Zoom alongside the remote students.
    • This would allow for more accurate troubleshooting prior to the start of class each week.
    • The remote instructor would also advocate for any tech issues experienced by remote participants during class.
  • Asked ourselves how to build trust in a hybrid course, with partially online format, in a class where participation and sharing is essential:
    • Request all participants to have their cameras on.
    • Utilize breakout rooms frequently for smaller discussions.
    • Vary the breakout room assignments.
    • Integrate participation into the final grade.
  • Considered how to measure participation in a hybrid course format: 
    • “Traditional” participation through actual verbal comments and participating in the Zoom chat function (when applicable).
    • Work completed in our online collaborative activities (see Miro board, below).
  • Created a Miro board as a virtual stand-in for the moveable white boards from the flexible classrooms where we were used to teaching.
    **Miro offers free educator accounts if you provide a photo of your MCard as proof!
  • Because some discussions were specifically about mentoring experiences, we made a conscious decision not to record those discussions to allow students a safe space to share.
  • Planned to make alternate assignments available when students missed discussion due to illness (though so far, no students have been absent!).

Lessons Learned

At the start of classes, 25% of the class was remote-only. This required additional considerations when creating course content to engage online learners and in-person learners who are supposed to be having a discussion with each other. 

Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • Online students reported a preference to see the instructor and slides rather than a birds-eye view of their classmates (even though the course is primarily discussion-based).
  • We are very fortunate to have excellent audio quality in our FXB classroom so that online students can hear their classmates.
  • One of our online students is color blind (which we discovered during class one week), so we have since adapted our content. For example, when using the Miro board, we began describing things spatially rather than by color.
  • Online course members’ participation in class discussion is often at the mercy of their home environment (we’ve had students interrupted by their family dog barking or their parents’ house phone ringing and the answering machine recording nearby!).
  • Students might appear to be engaged but not actually engaging if they are simultaneously working in another window of their laptop. One way we noticed this was when students failed to move to a breakout room, or when their cursor did not move around the Miro board, or their contributions to an activity in Miro were lower than usual.
  • We were able to successfully and quickly pivot to a fully-online class meeting when an instructor had an elevated temperature the morning of class.

IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE

Looking forward to winter, we plan to run the course in a similar format, but anticipate triple the enrollment. The course will include a few new features:

  • Include a larger and more intentional push to ask for accommodations and encourage students to share their preferred instructional or interactive activities in addition to traditional ADA accommodation needs.
  • Create a “meet the class” section in Canvas as a reference point both for instructors and students (this idea was shared in another post on the Nexus blog).
  • Clarify in our syllabus what “participation” looks like in a virtual classroom.

After a semester of learning, I look forward to continue developing my instructional style in the virtual classroom format.

About The Author

Megan Langille

Megan Langille is the Senior Academic Advisor for all 1100+ students involved in the CoE Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP). In her role, Megan supports current and potential MDP students on curriculum planning and course selection through their involvement on 75 separate project teams, representing 83 majors from 11 schools and colleges across the University. She also administers the Minor in Multidisciplinary Design and co-facilitates ENGR 456: Mentorship/Leadership in Multidisciplinary Design. Megan earned her BA in Communication from Hope College and an MA in Student Affairs Administration from Michigan State University.

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