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Steps for Moving a Class to Distributed Learning

Everyone is talking about moving courses online, but what is more likely to occur is that many faculty will transition their courses to a distributed (or asynchronous) environment which is typically defined as learning that is not at the same time and place as the instructor and other classmates. We put together a few thoughts that might help you out as you make the transition to a distributed or distance learning experience.


Do you currently have a course in an LMS (Learning Management System, such as Canvas, Blackboard or Moodle) and do you have an idea how to use the LMS?

Yes: Good, that’s a start. You might already have some documentation in your course, syllabus, or the LMS itself, but many of your students might not have the type of Internet connection to support that learning, so be prepared to adjust to individual student needs.

No: Okay, you can still provide a distributed learning experience, and it may in fact be more accessible to your students without home Internet. You will probably conduct most of the course via email, text, and possibly a video conferencing tool.

Learning Outcomes

What do you still need to cover in your course? Take a look at the outcomes and begin planning backwards. You probably have readings already linked to your outcomes, and likely some assignments and/or assessments too. Some students may not be able to access an e-text if you’re using one, so be prepared.

Learning Strategies

Before you moved the course into a distributed modality, what were you using as learning strategies (think lectures, readings, group activities, labs, internships)? What can you continue to use in the distributed learning environment? Are these already in the LMS or will you email them to students at the beginning of each week.

If this is a change from the syllabus, get that information to your students or provide an updated syllabus.

But I want to lecture. Okay, you may or may not have video conferencing available in your institution’s LMS, but there are many options that might be available to all of your students. Remember, not all students will have the bandwidth for video conferencing, make sure to have a call-in number too. And remember, the time you had scheduled for class might not be available to all students depending on their home time zone. That 8:00 a.m. class might be 5:00 a.m. for some students.

Assignments & Assessments

Consider what you have already. Can assignments be put into an LMS, where they can also be submitted and graded? Is it possible to issue and receive assignments by email? If so, you might not need to adjust those much at all and use email to send and receive assignments.

For presentations and group projects, you might consider some of the previously mentioned video conferencing options (Skype, Zoom, etc.), or having students hand in the materials, such as notes and/or PowerPoints they were going to use, or non-textual materials.

If you were planning on a proctored exam, that might not be the best option. Depending on the flexibility of your syllabus, you might want to create a project-based final assignment or you might want to develop an open-book, more narrative exam to assess student learning.

Final thoughts

Engage, engage, engage! Reach out via email, phone, text, chat. Your students are probably feeling as isolated as you are. Meet them on their own turf and provide them with a safe space to learn at a distance. Remember, you can do this!

To keep it simple, plan a weekly email to students with the requirements for each week, emailing additional sources, such as readings and videos and checking in with students several times a week.

Published 3/19/2020

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