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Online Teaching & Learning Guide: Low-tech and Student-centered Options

Low-tech and Student-centered Options

During times of disruption like this, make it as easy as possible for students to participate in your course. And make things easy on yourself, when you can!

As you can imagine, students are not only dealing with the switch to online education, they are also dealing with suddenly leaving their current home, possibly worrying about friends and family, perhaps dealing with their own health issues, and maybe even providing care to members of their household.

Also, they may not have a computer or internet access:

  • Some students lack access to their own computer, creating a "digital homework gap," according to a report from Pew Research Center, March 20, 2020.
  • But 95% of college students have access to smartphones, according to a 2018 study from EDUCAUSE.
  • Where they are now, not all JMU students (or faculty!) will have broadband, and many will lack any internet access beyond the cell network on their phone (refer to a 2019 Pew Research Center study on demographics of internet use). 
  •  Let students who lack internet access know about these options:
    • Comcast - Comcast is offering an internet essentials package for free. To sign up for a free internet essentials package for 60 days, applicants can simply visit www.internetessentials.com. The accessible website also includes the option to video chat with customer service agents in American Sign Language. There are also two dedicated phone numbers 1-855-846-8376 for English and 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish.
    • Spectrum - Spectrum is offering free internet access for students. Beginning March 16, Spectrum is offering free internet for 60 days to households with K-12 or college students who don’t already have a Spectrum subscription. To enroll, call 1-844-488-8395.
    • Charter - Charter is offering free internet for 2 months.
    • AT&T AT&T COVID-19 response. AT&T will offer open hot-spots, unlimited data to existing customers, and $10/month plans to low-income families
    • Verizon Verizon does not have special offers, but is following the FCC agreement.
    • Sprint Sprint is following the FCC agreement, providing unlimited data to existing customers, and, starting Tuesday, 3/17/2020, will allow all handsets to enable hot spots for 60 days at no extra charge.
    • T-Mobile T-Mobile is following the FCC agreement, plus unlimited data to existing customers, and, coming soon, will allow all handsets to enable hot-spots for 60 days at no extra charge.
  • If your students have internet-access questions, please direct them to our Online Learning Guide for Students.

Try asynchronous delivery

Consider using asynchronous delivery of course content, relying on low-tech options that are students are already familiar with. This will allows students to participate on their own schedule and make the participation more accessible.

  • Students can use the Canvas Student App on their phones to participate in common asynchronous methods, including Canvas assignments, discussions, readings, and group work. Learn more about the Canvas Student App here.
  • Add course files (documents, PDFs, PowerPoints, audio, or video files) to your Canvas site. Students can view content and assignments online. Note: join this Canvas course we've created for JMU instructors to find low-tech assignment templates, templates for rubrics, and more.
  • Email course content and assignments directly to students and collect completed assignments via email submission.
    • Put student email addresses in the BCC line so that only you, the instructor, can see the entire collection of student email addresses.
    • Provide essential information in the email subject lines. Example: EDUC630-Assignment2

Try creative approaches to videoconferencing

  • Have students access images or content from an easy-to-access place such as Google Drive or Canvas, and then give a live, audio-only lecture via WebEx (turn off video).

Encourage informal, independent learning in a low-tech and student-centered way

  • If you need students to print documents that you send, and if they don't have a printer where they are, suggest students call their local FedEx, Staples and/or Kinko's to find out if they are open for printing.
  • Add notes or audio to PowerPoint presentations
  • Provide written lecture notes to students via email
  • Upload detailed PowerPoint slides to your Canvas site
  • Write assignment instructions in chunks of short paragraphs with clear, direct language
  • Select short video clips, if necessary, to alleviate bandwidth strain
  • Use student-centered activities to encourage the students' asynchronous participation through informal independent learning:
    • "asking learners to combine study with some research and exploration in order to build a better understanding of what they are learning”, for instance, developing an annotated bibliography for a topic aligned to the core learning objectives of a class using the growing Libraries resources.
    • "promoting retrieval, collection, exchange, and analysis of information", for example, using these online open resources for labs, fieldwork, and group work.
    • "sharing their research findings outside the class", for example, Canvas discussion with images for the signs of spring for an intro science or communication class. (Wang & Shen, 2012)

Consider low-tech testing and assessment options

  • Create quizzes and tests in Canvas.
  • Consider alternative testing options that are suitable for email submission (essay, short answer, case studies)
  • Try Google Voice for aural assessment or voice learning (especially in Dance, Theatre, Communication Studies, etc.). Google Voice allows any Gmail account holder to set up and connect with their computer unless they want to forward the call to their phone. This way, students can call an instructor's Google Voice number with their phone or computer. The instructor will be able to receive the call with a desktop app or a simple Chrome extension. Here is a tutorial on the Google Voice Chrome extension and below is a screenshot of it. 

Offer office hours in a low-tech way

  • Use email for office hours. Set times when you will be available to email back and forth with students in a near-synchronous way.
  • Use Canvas Chat options for text-based office hours.
    • The Canvas Chat function works well as a low-tech asynchronous option, as far as we know from Canvas Tech support updates these several weeks. It is not private, once a faculty member leaves a chat there, all students will be able to see. It'll also show the active status if a faculty log in the Chat area of the course. 
  • Consider other tools and technologies that you and the students are comfortable with for hosting office hours.

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