Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM

What are diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how are they related to higher education?

You have probably encountered these terms a lot over the past few years. Although they are popular, their application varies depending on the situation. Overall, the primary goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion work are to:

  • Promote the value of a wide variety of identities, abilities, value systems, and life experiences.
  • Recognize that these experiences have not been valued equally and make changes to promote justice and healing.
  • Create long-term, sustainable changes that allow everyone to fully access opportunities for success.

By being mindful of common hurdles such as textbook cost, different styles of learning, and diverse life experiences, you can find out what students need for success in class. This article offers some resources to promote a collaborative, equitable learning environment where students and instructors alike are fully engaged and feel successful.

Diversity and Inclusion in STEM Programs

Researchers have tried to understand why some students are more successful in STEM classes than others. Some evidence suggests ZIP codes play an important role. Knowledgeable teachers and healthy physical environments for development tend to link together in resource-rich areas. Some of these areas are rural and some more urban. The most common factors are the quality of available education and social determinants of health (Tate, 2008).

These resource-rich areas have benefitted from STEM leaders and innovators, so the emphasis on strong STEM education makes sense. However, this also means early STEM success has more to do with a student’s environment than personal interest or ability. Disparities that begin in K-12 education inform the opportunities available to students in higher education, both in college access and student engagement in classes. And as some ZIP codes progress while others stagnate, students with similar life experiences will continue to reinforce assumptions about who is “good” at STEM and who is not (Tate, 2008).

Socio-economic factors — such as physical environment, family system environment, family income and occupation, and teacher experience at the K-12 level — impact not only who has access to higher education, but also the future of STEM fields (Phillips, 2019). “…[W]e note that STEM is the only field where Black and Latina/o youth are significantly more likely than their White peers to switch and earn a degree in another field…. In summary, we find evidence of white privilege in STEM degree attainment that is not mirrored in other major fields. (Riegle-Crumb et al., 2019).” Similarly, women who graduate from STEM programs are less likely to continue into STEM careers than men. Trans and genderqueer students are heavily under-represented. This means an even more homogenous group than the STEM student body is designing future technology and changing the world for everyone else.

An important approach to innovative STEM classrooms is to include and support students from varied backgrounds and lived experiences. Inclusive classrooms help everyone stay engaged and passionate, pursuing their interests in the field.

Anti-racist and inclusive practices, in the classroom and in STEM teaching, can be grounded both in pedagogy and in the instructor’s personal experience. Here are some reflective practices along with some resources available at PSU.

Incorporating Inclusive and Anti-Racist Practices into a STEM Course

Anti-Racist Reflection, Research, and Action as an Act of Self and Community Care

“Teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students (hooks, 1994, p. 15).”

Teachers can only go as far in the classroom as they have in their own growth and cultivation of well-being. Creating equitable, diverse, and inclusive classrooms is not one-size-fits-all. Arguably, it’s most effective when instructors have grounded their approach in critical reflection and continued learning. bell hooks describes emphasizing the community of the classroom and instructors leading with vulnerability to create an environment where students are empowered, curious, and engaged in learning.

The more instructors pay attention to their own well-being, the more vulnerability is possible in the classroom. Here are resources for fostering an inclusive, responsive classroom environment that invites instructors to care for themselves and learn about anti-racism practices.

Personal Reflection

Our identities and life experiences inform the way we teach and learn; it can be easy to accidentally alienate students who have different life experiences. Approaching students when maintaining a growth mindset and reflective teaching practice can help instructors engage in the classroom as learners themselves.

Researching Anti-Racist Practices

Action

Inconsistencies in Inclusion Practices

You might find diversity, equity, and inclusion discussed in ways that conflict with each other. This can be frustrating when you want to engage in this work effectively but without causing harm. When looking at DEI efforts abstractly — without the context of your own students in mind — choosing techniques may seem impossible. It can help to ask, “What does my learning community need to fully engage?”

You might reflect on some of these questions as you think about how to best support your learning community:

  • What are the traditional research or learning methods in your field? Do these methods create barriers based on race, gender, class, age, or ability?
  • What are some guidelines for class engagement meaningful to you as an instructor? How can you create space for others with different values to express themselves?
  • Are there elements of your job that limit or broaden your ability to create an inclusive classroom?

Engaged Pedagogy in the Classroom

Resources and Tips for Building an Inclusive Course

Campus resource centers provide sample syllabus language and additional resources:

Adding Diversity to Your Syllabus

Reach out to STEM subject librarians for assistance finding resources from diverse authors and sources to supplement your syllabus.

Some external lists to consider:

Additional Resources for Structuring Courses and Incorporating Student Feedback

Surveys can be useful for gauging student interests, needs, and familiarity with the course material both before and throughout the term.

Consider scheduling mid-quarter student feedback (a teaching consultation) through OAI, to collect qualitative student feedback anonymously.

Universal Design for Learning emphasizes creating more opportunities for students to learn course material by offering multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

Consider assignments that can both help you get more inclusive material and engage student interests. Some ideas:

  • Ask students to find information about scientists of color or how the field has impacted groups who have been under-invested in.
  • Ask students to write their own quiz or learning goals and discuss as a class how you can support each other to meet the objectives.
  • Ask students to update the curriculum, or build their own curriculum based on what they learned in the course and their lived experiences. (Consider a negotiated syllabus.)

Beyond the Classroom: Structural Changes

You might feel limited by what you can do in the classroom, knowing the structural inequalities that contribute to a lack of diversity. Here are some ideas for thinking about equity, diversity, and inclusion outside of a class environment.

Promote National and Local Community Initiatives

Movements making historically and systemically marginalized STEM professionals more visible are growing. Promoting these initiatives can be a great way to support marginalized students and expand everyone’s thinking.

Build a Network of Support with Students and Faculty

Students are often looking to instructors for guidance on how to create change. You may get questions about diversity already. Collaboration can be powerful and can help identify what is needed to prevent exclusion based on gender, race, class, ability, and other identities. Here are some suggestions for supporting this collaboration:

  • Complete OAI’s Certificate of Innovation in College Teaching. This program helps current and future instructors think about accessibility, develop their own teaching pedagogy, and build a support network with other educators.
  • Check out other professional development opportunities offered at OAI.
  • Build a network of former students who want to speak to your class and mentor students in the course.
  • If you have access to a Teaching Assistant (TA), promote hiring TAs who have different experiences than instructors, and work with your TA to build the syllabus.
  • Meet with other instructors in your department to share resources and discuss opportunities to make the program more equitable and inclusive.

References

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge. https://www-taylorfrancis-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/books/mono/10.4324/9780203700280/teaching-transgress-bell-hooks

Phillips, A. (2019). The Quest for Diversity in Higher Education. Pepperdine Policy Review, 11, Article 4. https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/ppr/vol11/iss1/4

Riegle-Crumb, C, King, B., & Irizarry, Y. (2019). Does STEM Stand Out? Examining Racial/Ethnic Gaps in Persistence Across Postsecondary Fields. Educational Researcher, 48(3), 133–144. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/10.3102/0013189X19831006

Tate, W. F. (2008). “Geography of Opportunity”: Poverty, Place, and Educational Outcomes. Educational Researcher, 37(7), 397–411. https://www-proquest-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/docview/216911261


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D2L and Canvas: Tool Comparison

The primary tools in D2L and Canvas are similar — but Canvas is more user-friendly, with additional or streamlined features. This comparison will help orient you to the Canvas user interface.

Green boxes highlight interface elements, with arrows indicating how they change. On a few Canvas screenshots, red callouts indicate that course navigation changes slightly (or goes away).

You can explore these tools in more detail with your Canvas Sandbox. If you want to start experimenting, check out the Canvas Essentials page for tutorials.

The Home Page

The Canvas homepage is more flexible than in D2L – it can be formatted like a regular HTML page. The only “widget” used in the Canvas example below is for Recent Announcements at the top, the rest was added using the rich text editor. But you don’t have to create this from scratch – Canvas home pages are easily shared and added using Canvas Commons.

Canvas Course Navigation is also more flexible: items can be hidden when unused. In the example below, Quizzes are not in the navigation because they’re not used in the course.

d2l-home-with-callouts
D2L
Canvas sample home page
Canvas

Index Pages

Each content tool in Canvas has an Index Page. These are automatically-generated lists of each item you create with that tool (like the Manage [Activity] areas in D2L). There is an index page for Modules, Discussions, Quizzes, Announcements, Assignments, and Pages. Links to these can appear in the course navigation.

The Canvas Assignments index page lists any activity you create that will be graded, including discussions and quizzes. This gives students one index page that shows every graded task for the course.

Modules

Canvas modules are located in a Module Index Page. This is the equivalent of D2L’s Table of Contents. You can hide/show modules, add materials, reorder, nest, and set date or prerequisite conditions for them.

D2L
Canvas

The D2L Table of Contents = Canvas Modules index page.

Adding Content to Modules

This process is very similar to D2L, but the menus and options in Canvas are simpler. Media is added via URL or in a Page.

User interface to add content to a module in D2L
D2L
User interface to add content to a module in Canvas
Canvas

Adding module content in Canvas is similar to, but simpler than, in D2L.

Assignments

The Canvas Assignment index page automatically shows any graded activity, including quizzes and discussions. These can be grouped and given a percentage for weighted grading. This gives students one index page that shows every graded task for the course.

User interface to an assignment in D2L
D2L
User interface to add an assignment in Canvas
Canvas

Adding a score automatically puts a new assignment in the Assignment Index Page and Grades. Assignments are organized in Groups.

Assignments Index Page

The Canvas Assignment index page automatically shows any graded activity, including quizzes and discussions. These can be grouped and given a percentage for weighted grading. This gives students one index page that shows every graded task for the course.

D2L Manage Assignments page
D2L
Canvas Assignments index page
Canvas

All graded tasks are shown on one page. Assignment Groups make weighted grading easier to set up.

Discussions

In Canvas you don’t create a separate Forum and Topic, as in D2L. Discussions are ordered by most recent activity unless “pinned” in position. Graded Discussions automatically appear in the Assignments index page and Gradebook.

Discussions in D2L
D2L
Discussions in Canvas
Canvas

Creating a new discussion in Canvas is done in one step. Graded Discussions are added to Grades and Assignments.

Quizzes

Quiz question types in Canvas match those in D2L with some additional options. Question Library is called a Question Bank. Graded quizzes automatically appear in the Assignments index page and Gradebook.

Quizzes in D2L
D2L
Quizzes in Canvas
Canvas

Question types and banks are like those in D2L. Graded quizzes are included in the Assignment index page.

Grades

In Canvas the default display is spreadsheet-style. Individual view is by student. Grade items are automatically added to the Gradebook when you create a graded activity. Assignment Groups/weights also appear automatically.

D2L
Grades in Canvas
Canvas

Grades appear in spreadsheet or Individual view. Graded activities/groups are added automatically.

Submission Grading / SpeedGrader

The Canvas SpeedGrader tool is like the D2L assignment submission view. It shows any rubric used and has annotation tools for feedback. Navigation is from one student submission to the next.

Submission grading in D2L
D2L
SpeedGrader in Canvas
Canvas

SpeedGrader has inline annotations, scoring, and rubric access like the submission view in D2L.


Wrapping Up: End of Term Procedures

As the term concludes, you may want to complete the following tasks.

Canvas Gradebook

If you’ve been using the Canvas gradebook, make sure you’ve entered all of your grades, double-checking to ensure the Canvas grades accurately reflect the grading parameters you intend. Then make sure that all assignment grades have been posted for your students to review.

It’s also good practice to download a copy of the gradebook for your records.

Submit Final Grades

The grade in the Canvas gradebook is not official, so you will also need to enter your students’ grades into Banner.

Student Access to Course

By default, students will no longer have access to their Canvas courses beginning the first day of the following term (i.e. Winter term courses will be available to students until the first day of Spring term). If you would just like all students to have access to your course for longer, you can change your Course End date.

If you only want to allow a specific student ongoing access to complete the course, you’ll need to follow the instructions linked below to request access for incomplete students.

Thinking Ahead...

Now that the term is over, take some time to relax and celebrate your course success! In most cases, this won’t be the last time you teach this course. Take a moment to reflect on the past term and think about ways you might be able to enhance your course for future terms. OAI+ has many articles that can give you ideas about new teaching strategies that you may want to try to implement.

This is also the time to start planning your student communication for the next term. Early and regular communication with your students is more important than ever during remote learning, and can start weeks before the term officially begins.


Teaching in Inclement Weather

In inclement weather, PSU may have a delayed start, an early closure, or a full-day closure. Here’s how to:

  • Reduce impacts to class meetings and learning outcomes.
  • Accommodate hardships and safety needs — for yourself and your students.

In Advance

At the beginning of each term, discuss the University Closure Policy and Inclement Weather Procedures (Campus Closure) with your students. Include any alternative plans or instructions in your course syllabus, so students fully understand:

  • How to get closure information before traveling to campus
  • What to expect if classes are cancelled or final exams are impacted

During Inclement Weather

When PSU remains open, exercise normal flexibility and make reasonable accommodations for students who miss class, miss an exam, or don’t submit coursework as a result of inclement weather — including effects from other community closures.

When PSU is closed, don’t require or even suggest that students be on campus. This includes early closures. When a closure occurs during a class or exam, release students immediately.

In all cases, it’s important and helpful for you to communicate course expectations to concerned students. You can send your entire class an email through your PSU Gmail account.

During campus closures, OAI and OIT offices will continue remote support. You can submit a support request or chat with the OAI Faculty Support Desk Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please direct students to OIT phone or chat support.

Considerations for Online and Remote Courses

Because online and remote courses don’t require campus attendance, they may continue during inclement weather closures — at your discretion. Although your virtual class may remain open, the library and most other university buildings will be closed. Please exercise normal flexibility and make reasonable accommodation for weather related impacts such as:

  • Loss of access to Internet connections and devices, or even electricity
  • Changes in students’ and instructors’ work hours, childcare schedules, and more

Plan ahead for how you might accommodate power outages or other weather-related impacts. This could include:

  • Extending deadlines
  • Rescheduling exams
  • Recording class meetings
  • Not requiring students to have cameras on
  • Alternative learning activities instead of scheduled class meetings

No matter how you approach your remote or online class during inclement weather, remember to clearly and quickly tell students your expectations and any changes. Email and online course announcements (in D2L or in Canvas) are two good options for communicating with students.


Email Templates for the Start of Term

Many students are anxious for information about their classes before the term starts. By communicating early, you can help establish an encouraging online environment and alleviate some of their anxiety.

Use these templates to craft a message you’ll send to students as or before the term starts. Consider also adding a short introduction paragraph or video.

Welcome Email (Faculty to Students)

Dear Students,

Welcome to [term/year]! I am excited to get the term started, but I want to first share some details about how our course will be organized this term.

Course Materials

  • All course materials will be posted online and will be available on [date].
  • I will send you the syllabus on [date]. // The syllabus is attached to this email. // The syllabus will be available online.

Class Meetings

  • The class will meet via Zoom on MTWF from [time] to [time].
  • The Zoom link for this course is [enter link].

Communication

At some points in the term, my inbox gets quite full — but I do want to hear from you. If you don’t hear back from me within two weekdays (not counting weekends), please send a follow-up email. I will appreciate the gentle reminder.

Now for a little about myself…

[add a brief introduction paragraph or video]

For questions related to advising for the undergraduate major (e.g. degree requirements, petitions, graduation), please contact [enter department advising email]

For all other questions related to undergraduate courses (e.g. technology, library, PSU resources, PSU policies, and practices), please contact [department email].

Staff will either answer your question or direct you to the relevant person or resource.

Thank you and I look forward to meeting you all soon.

Faculty / instructor name

Sharing Student Resources (Department to Students)

Consider sending this the first week of the term, to remind students of the resources available to them. Also, consider sending a department newsletter with videos to build community and connection.

Dear Students,

Your instructor will be in touch to explain the details of your course. This may involve using the learning platform, as well as other tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, email, and more (all free to students using a PSU Odin ID). Watch for an email from your instructor, and check the learning platform if you have access.

In the meantime, here are some resources available to you.

  • If you are new to Canvas, you can log in at https://canvas.pdx.edu/ and find tutorials by selecting Help from the lefthand navigation bar and choosing “Technology Help for Students”. Also, an introductory Canvas course is available to all students called “Online and Remote Learning Support.”
  • To learn about Portland State’s activities to reduce the spread of COVID-19, visit the Covid-19 Response page.
  • If you need additional accommodations during remote instruction, contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 503-725-4150 or drc@pdx.edu.
  • If you get sick or have mental health needs, you can book an appointment with Student Health and Counseling (SHAC).
    Call SHAC first! Students who have respiratory symptoms and fever should contact SHAC’s Nurse Line at 503-725-2515 or the 24/7 Nurse Advice Line (after hours) at 844-224-3145.
    If you miss an appointment or need to cancel at the last minute due to respiratory and fever symptoms, SHAC will waive the $25 fee missed appointment/late cancellation fee.
  • The Learning Center offers academic coaching, tutoring, and more. Contact them at thelearningcenter@pdx.edu or 503-725-4448.
  • The Cultural Resource Centers (CRCs) provide student leadership, employment, and volunteer opportunities; student resources such as computer labs, event, lounge and study spaces; and extensive programming.
  • The Library is renting out laptops, webcams, and WiFi hotspots (available for pickup and home delivery). Visit the Library from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. (It’s closed Friday and Saturday.)

Also don’t forget to visit the [enter department] website to stay connected!


Start Your Term Right: Essential Student Communications

Early and regular communication with your students is very important. This guide offers key contact points and ways to help students get the support they need before the term even begins.

If you’re new faculty, make sure to use your Gmail account at mail.pdx.edu. This is also where you can access the Google suite of education applications. If you’re new to online teaching, contact the Office of Academic Innovation as early as possible for help preparing your course.

Email Your Students

Approximately two weeks before the start of each term, a Google Group is created for each course in Banner. You can use your class group to email all students enrolled in your course. Some tips to save time and effort:

  • These groups are maintained for two terms — so make sure to select the email address for the correct term.
  • You don’t need to work from scratch. The Office of Student Success has created helpful email templates with information for an initial email, along with a course syllabus.
  • Don’t wait until your syllabus is absolutely final. You can label it clearly as a “draft” and provide as much information as possible.

Include Student Service Links on Your Syllabus

Throughout the term your students may need PSU services. Linking to services on your syllabus is a great way to let students know what’s available. These could include free e-tutoring, disability resources, tech support, library help, and more.

Publish Your Course and Open It Early

You can publish your Canvas course before the term starts. This can help students who may have concerns about course requirements or who are new to online learning. Even if you don’t plan to teach online, it’s where students expect to find your syllabus and course materials.

Post an Announcement and Share Instructor Information

Your home page is the “megaphone” of your course. It’s reassuring for students to know you will post important announcements here, along with your contact information. If your home page is not configured for this, you can get help from OAI Support or modify it yourself.

Learn about Your Students with a Google Form Questionnaire

You can create a Google Forms Survey to learn about your students before the term starts. Along with their academic experience, during remote teaching it’s important to know whether your students have any significant constraints on their coursework.

Schedule an Early Zoom Office Hour Check-in

It can really help students to have a brief “in person” conversation before term starts. This will alleviate anxiety for students who have questions about course requirements or structure. It can also foster engagement and make your first week more productive.

Add a Zoom Check-in to the Google Class Time Calendar

Our Google Calendar automatically generates events for courses you teach. These are shared with everyone on your Banner roster. You can add your Zoom meeting link as a course event so all your students will find it there.


Stream Class Sessions Remotely

Here are tips for live streaming your class sessions. They may be especially useful if you’re new to remote teaching and/or streaming, or if you’ve very recently moved your class to remote.

In general, we recommend Zoom for your virtual classroom. It has a white board, screen sharing, and other functions for real-time meetings. If you’re worried streaming from off campus won’t work for you, consider our suggestions for accommodating unique classroom setups.

Some students may not have adequate technology or Internet access to meet regularly via Zoom. Let your students know that if they can’t attend live, they can watch a recording later and email comments. We recommend planning optional synchronous sessions with regular office hours held via Zoom, email, phone, or whatever mode works best for students.

Suggested Practices

Run a practice meeting.

  • Practice using the Zoom controls. Take a look at this Zoom Cheat Sheet for a quick reference.
  • Check whether you’re clearly visible within your camera’s field of view.
  • Avoid sitting with your back to a strong light source, such as a window. If possible, place lighting in front of you and above/behind the computer screen.
  • Check your meeting plan and try any tools and resources you plan to use in the session.

Then, at the start of your first session with students, make sure everyone can hear and see you.

Set expectations for remote participation.

Let students know your expectations about:

  • Whether to chat their comments/questions or chime in verbally.
  • Using the “Raise Hand” button in the “Participants” section to alert you to a question.
  • Chatting with peers during a session.
  • Keeping their audio and video muted until it’s time to talk — along with why and when you would use your ability to mute or unmute them.

Give specific instructions for using Zoom tools.

For example:

  • “I will present some slides. Please wait until I ask for questions before speaking.”
  • “If you have a question, use the ‘raise hand’ button so everyone can get their questions answered.”
  • “Following my comments, we will discuss the course material for today. If you have a comment, please make a note in chat so we can give you the floor.”
  • “Please mute your microphone when not speaking — and mute your microphone and video whenever you are away from the computer.”

Communicate the session’s goals.

Post the goals and/or outline of the session so students can stay on track.

  • Begin each session by briefly going over the agenda. You can do this by screen sharing a document or slide on your desktop.
  • Consider giving a quick Zoom Poll at the beginning of the session to gauge how students are doing or to ask a few low-risk questions about the topic of the day.

Structure your presentations.

  • If you plan to give a presentation, build in plenty of time for students to ask questions or respond.
  • Prepare students during an initial orientation or introductions. For example, during introductions students can practice muting, unmuting and using the “raise hand” function.

Wrap up your session.

As you might in a campus classroom, summarize the key points of the session and prepare students for what to do before the next session, leaving time for questions. We strongly recommend including this information in writing. It will assist remote students and save you time in answering questions.

Suggestions for Engaging Students

Consider polling.

Before the session, you might create a quick Google Form survey and send it to students via email with up to three questions about students’ experiences relevant to the topic, or their reaction to a portion of the reading. For example:

  • “What daily transportation challenges most impact you?”
  • “What do your readings suggest are the three most important research areas in transportation and supply logistics?”
  • “What supply logistic management issues do you see as most relevant to the Covid-19 situation?”

During the session, you can use Zoom Polling.

Incorporate students’ responses.

Students are often very interested in and learn much from how others respond. You can summarize, either in writing or verbally, what you learned from student polls. If possible, you might incorporate students’ responses as you move through related topics in the session.

If possible, share visuals.

Slides, websites, graphics or brief videos can illustrate and underscore the goals of your session, and can provide a springboard for discussion with students. Whenever possible, give students access to the files you’ll use during your remote session so they can review and reference as needed. You can share these before the session — or during, using Zoom’s Screen Share feature.

Try to keep it active.

You can engage students during live remote sessions by involving them in:

  • Testing or applying ideas
  • Generating examples
  • Reflecting on course activities

OAI’s Active Remote Learning Kit has more strategies for involving students in live streaming sessions.

Pro Tips

We’re all learning to work remotely. OAI staff have developed some tips to ease common challenges in streaming from home.

  • If you can, use a wired connection (not Wi-Fi) to your modem or router. If you can’t, set up your workspace close to it.
  • Ask others in your location to take a break from Internet use, or at least from Internet gaming, to ease the system load during your session.
  • Restart your computer before the session. This will clear the memory and help the computer run Zoom more efficiently.
  • Do a test session to try your camera, microphone, and any features you want to use.
  • If you experience glitches during the session, ask yourself, “How much will this impact class?” Little things may not be worth the worry.
  • “Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?” It’s surprising how often refreshing the page/stopping and restarting the screenshare/leaving and re-entering the meeting will fix things.
  • “Have you tried unplugging and plugging it back in?” Likewise, you can often clear up an errant headphone connection or video signal by reseating the cable!

If glitches happen…

You and your students are embarking on a new experience together, and they will be forgiving. Develop a backup plan just in case things go awry. For example, you could:

  • Temporarily phone into your class until you restart your computer and get back on Wi-Fi.
  • Move to a backup discussion tool if something in Zoom does not work.

Student feedback data shows that audio is key to student understanding and participation. Audio backup is a must.

Most of all, be kind to yourself! Your first face-to-face teaching session probably wasn’t perfect either.


You Don’t Need to Record in a Classroom!

As the campus pivots to remote teaching due to COVID-19, you may be wondering how you can conduct many of your regular class lecture activities without a classroom. Zoom and other technologies can accommodate many teaching practices and use cases.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to seek a non-campus based solution wherever possible. If your concerns are not addressed in the following suggestions, please contact the OAI Faculty Support desk to discuss further.

You teach with a whiteboard or document camera.

There are several great options for this:

  • Zoom has a robust annotation feature that can be used on virtual documents or the virtual whiteboard.
    • If you do not have a touch screen and find it difficult to write with a mouse, pen tablets like those from Wacom can also be used.
    • You can also run Zoom on a tablet and record annotation directly. This option may not be practical to record yourself with the camera at the same time.
  • Document cameras can be plugged into your computer via USB and used as a second camera in Zoom or Kaltura Capture. Using it in Zoom you will be able to switch between the document camera and a shared screen in similar fashion to using a podium. If you are in need of a document camera, the PSU library has a limited number available for check out.
  • Zoom has built in support for screen sharing an iOS device via cable or AirPlay, which you can use in conjunction with a free whiteboard app like LiveBoard.

You don’t have a stable internet connection.

There is a lot of anxiety around running programs like Zoom with lots of participants’ home wifi connections. Our advice is to take stock of what your internet can do, and make plans from there. Are you able to:

  • Watch streaming videos on YouTube with multiple devices at once? Watch multiple YouTube videos on the same device at the same time?
  • Do you have access to a physical network connection to your modem? This will be a stronger signal than wifi.
  • Are you able to download and upload large files into a cloud storage center like Google Drive or a media storage space like Mediaspace or YouTube?
  • Is your internet connection available reliably or is it something that needs special arrangements or a costly additional data plan?

Consider that there is no one way to teach remotely. If you have a reliable signal at home that seems too slow to leverage Zoom there are many other tools you can use to teach that offer amazing pedagogical value. If you can upload large files and want video, consider using a tool like Kaltura Capture to pre-record content for your students and offer a discussion session on Zoom you can dial into with audio if you still want a synchronous component

You use equipment in a lab or studio to teach and do not have access to these at home.

Normally when you create a class that will be offered at a distance, we have time to find or build solutions — unfortunately, this is not the current situation. We cannot aim for perfection; we have to look for creative alternatives, knowing that we don’t have the time or technology to design the way we would prefer. This quarter is somewhat of a shared experiment: we are not going to be able to recreate everything we would normally do.

The global education community has come up with some amazing experiences for students online in situations like this. Contact OAI to set up a meeting with one of our Instructional Designers to look at potential solutions.

You worry your webcam/microphone won’t be good enough.

Standard hardware in computers of the past five to seven years is pretty great and should be able to handle basic streaming and video and audio recording. The things that really hurt audio and video quality are a few basic considerations when setting up:

  • Avoid having a bright light/window behind you.
  • Set your computer up so the webcam is almost at eye height with you. If you have a laptop without a stand, stacked books are an easy fix.
  • If possible, invest in a headset/headphones with a built in mic. Cheap bluetooth ones sell for around $8 and even they will assist you with a better audio quality by keeping your microphone at relatively the same distance from your face throughout the course of your session. Using headphones will also help prevent echoing and feedback during class.
  • Remember to practice! Zoom has a test session available at https://zoom.us/test you can use at any time to make sure your equipment is in good working order.
  • PSU Library has a limited supply of laptops and other equipment available for check out, if your equipment cannot accommodate recordings.

You often co-teach with colleagues.

Your house is a mess and everyone’s home. You have no space to record!

Again, remember you do not have to create video or web conferences to create a successful remote session! If you still want a multimedia feature, why not try your hand at an audio recording? Or, if you have headphones with a microphone, take a stroll around the block with your cell phone and create a pre-recorded lecture. Take your laptop to a park and use Kaltura Capture, just remember that headset! Good audio is the most critical component of video: Viewers will tolerate hard to see/bad video, but we do not typically have the same patience for poor audio.


Woman writing on computer smiling

Staying Present in Your Online Course

Being present in your remote course is key to keeping students engaged, leading to overall student success.  Here are a few ways to stay connected to your students and help them feel like part of your learning community.

Post regular announcements.

Post regular announcements to keep students informed and create an encouraging online environment. Being present doesn’t mean that you have to be online all the time. You can maintain regular contact with your students through weekly updates, video reminders, and full-class messages acknowledging students’ good work.

Provide an open discussion area.

Providing an open discussion area encourages connection for your students both to you and each other. Another way to build community is through an asynchronous discussion board.  This provides students a way to reach out to their classmates about topics that are not specifically related to a weekly topic or specific assignment.  For example, a student might use this discussion area to ask for help in finding resources for an assignment or to share details about a community event related to the course topic.

Create a Google Forms Survey to do a quick check-in throughout the term.

When asking for feedback, it’s important to ask questions about things you can change, and to respond to that feedback holistically. Two simple feedback questions that can be effective are: 

    • What is one thing your instructor could change to improve your learning in this course?
    • What is one thing YOU could change to improve your learning in this course?

Schedule an optional session in Zoom to do a live check in with your students.

Giving students the opportunity to meet with you in real time can help to build community in your course. Be sure to have some kind of interaction planned to keep students engaged.