Are we O-K now that we are on-line?

Online Teaching Tips - maintaining momentum

One WSU faculty member’s perspective at the end of week #1 of moving in-person classes 100% online


This is a follow-up piece to my first Online Teaching Tips installment: “We will be O-K if we go on-line…one WSU faculty member’s perspective” from Mar 7, 2020 and continuation of reflections earlier this week: Day 1 and Day 2.

I am not a Coug by my mortarboard. I earned my roar in the trenches of classrooms and at whiteboards – teaching emerging young professionals how to parlay what they learn into real-world applications. No matter how you got here, we are all #OneWSU.

As tenacious beasts, Cougs did not falter in the face of this challenge – taking all of our existing in-person classes and moving them online – all in a one-week turnaround. WSU leadership came together to make hard choices and find one voice. WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation stepped up immediately to run in-person and virtual training sessions in Zoom, Panopto, and Blackboard. Deans and department chairs rallied their troops and ensured they were informed, had access to resources, and that no one was left behind. Faculty dusted off their webcams, untangled their headsets, adjusted their curriculum, and polished up their PowerPoints to ready themselves for a shift from standing in front of a classroom to sitting in front of their screens. Students gathered their things, found their safe spaces, sat up with their backs straight and messy buns high – and showed up to their virtual live sessions.

Was it a perfect transition? No. Were their glitches, frustrations, and fears? Yes. Were their successes and failures in the delivery of content? Yes. Did we give up? Never.

So we find ourselves at the end of the first week that felt like a month. We are tired in a way we have never been tired before. We are behind in grading, emails remain piled up in our inboxes, we are not fully prepared for the second installment next week. But we survived. We made mistakes and learned from them. We persevered. Regardless of the bumps and bruises acquired along this first week’s journey, it is important that we not lose momentum. We must not waste too much time mourning what has been lost and instead rise up to this challenge, deliver the best content we can, and use this experiment as a teachable moment not only for the students, but for ourselves as qualified, experienced instructors.

As this is the “Rebecca’s Online Teaching Tips” series, I want to close out Week One with a highlight of six lessons learned and ways we can maintain an upward trajectory in virtual teaching:

Six Lessons Learned in Week One

  • Keep what works. Abandon what doesn’t.

    These first two weeks are experimental. Some of your ideas and approaches will work well, others will fall flat. Do not force it. Focus on what works well, what the students respond to most, and what makes your life easiest. My original plan was to run loose, “workshop-style” virtual live sessions. As it turns out, students responded better to a more structured topics-based approach. I switched. It’s working well.

  • Adopt a rhythm and stick to it.

    I am referring to “rhythm” in two forms:

    1) How you start and manage your day: I find it helpful to have consistency in my morning routine, taking breaks throughout the day, and shutting things down by 6p. This helps maintain balance.

    2) How you structure the delivery of course content: As you do for your in-person classes, what is your process? Do you have a lesson plan, lectures, discussions, guest speakers, etc.? Whatever it is, version it for online delivery and stick to it. This will not only help you feel more organized, it will build confidence in your students.

  • Love your teaching space. You will spend a lot of time there.

    I am one of those individuals who work best if I love the space I am in. I like things orderly and clean. I like visual stimulation with color, photos, and memorabilia around me. I need decent lighting, a good chair, and a hard surface to work on. I need quiet (or sound-canceling headphones). I need a side table for papers and pens and highlighters at easy reach. I chose to go with a custom backdrop because the virtual ones (although very fun and well-designed) make me look like I have a floating head. Find what works for you. Get creative. Make it yours.

  • Take screentime breaks. You need fresh air.

    Take walks. Work in the yard. Join a meeting outside on your porch. Very simple concept – you need to move, you need fresh air, you need to connect with something non-technical in nature. Call a friend or family member so you can unwind and laugh. Your brain, eyes, ears, and heart need to cleanse. Take care of yourself so you can be amazing for others.

  • Keep students informed. They have never felt more disconnected.

    Notes I have received multiple times this week include thank yous for the emails, for keeping them in the loop, for sharing my candid and non-plastic thoughts, and connecting with them in multiple formats. Many of my students are alone in apartments or stuck back in their childhood bedroom (now converted to a parent’s office or storage space) with tiny desks and sub-par lighting. Few are with roommates. Most are physically detached from their best friends, significant others, and lifeline that is their support network. You may be the only consistent presence in their lives right now that is not a relative or nosey cat. They want to hear from you. They want to know they can see your face and hear your voice. Be as present and connected with them as possible.

  • Continue learning and improving. Use available resources.

    With this tip, I am not suggesting you take on any new professional development activities right now. I am only encouraging you to keep growing and evolving in this new challenge. AOI offers daily on-demand support Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m via Zoom providing support in Zoom, Panopto, Blackboard, and online course design. They are also offering a complete line up of virtual workshops throughout April. Of course, there are other terrific resources outside of WSU as well. Here are a few I have bookmarked:

    > Chronicle of Higher Education and their ongoing series of supporting faculty moving in-person classes online

    > Poynter and their COVID-19 Resource page

    > Adobe Creative Cloud and their resources page for faculty and students teaching and learning remotely

    > Zoom’s resource page specifically geared toward COVID-19 transitions

    > Educause support resources for online teaching and delivering of digital content

    > Evolllution special section for faculty teaching online classes during COVID-19

    > “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption…” by two Stanford professors.

So as we head into Week 2 of our new normal, it is a great time to take a step back, reflect, and consider how you want to proceed to the next phase of this endeavor.

  • Be kind to yourself
  • Have faith that you are doing all you can to make the best of the situation
  • Stay connected to your peers and your students
  • Take breaks, get outside
  • Breathe
  • Keep going
President Schulz posted this on Twitter this week. I like the spirit. #WAZZOOM!

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

Day 2: My head is exploding. Does it show?

Online Teaching Tips - Zoom Diaries


Welcome to a new world of synchronous, virtual course delivery. My link broke.

OK friends. I have lost count on how many structured, well-lit, planned-out, multiple-takes, recorded Panopto videos I have made over the past 6+ years. Never-have-I-ever tried to lecture-while-recording-while-messaging-while-ensuring that the screen capture is even working. “Oh my land” as my dear friend Michelle G. would say.

So I set out today to be more organized, structured, and purposeful in my second day of teaching from the virtual-land of dining room/recording studio. I re-visited my lesson plans to transition them into Today’s Hot Topic lists. I sent an email to the students to share my innovative approach and copy/pasted my original Zoom invite info. I decided I would open with a familiar Spotify playlist, update my backdrop and added two holiday string lights the way WSU Global Campus darling Andria D. did in her sweet setup displayed on her Facebook feed. I re-setup my webcam, re-tested my microphone. I was prepared. I coifed the hair (out of the face this time), put on an unobnoxious shirt. Again, ready to rock and roll. Until…

  • My recurring Zoom meetings link broke.
  • Randomly it said- “your meeting has been canceled.” What? How? When? Ergh.
  • I jumped into Blackboard, added the Zoom course tool, set up recurring meetings again, downloaded the .ics Outlook extension, set up a new meeting, invited the students with an added exclamation mark for emphasis, sent a follow-up email to apologize for any confusion, and waited.
  • 12+ students in the first class figured it out. They showed up! Yay!
  • Spotify worked on my side. They couldn’t hear it. Dang. I’ll deal with that later (note on yellow Post-it pad next to me awaits).
  • Anway – here we go. Let’s record this thing.

Let’s pause for a sec. When recording in a controlled setting in Panopto, I am able to pull off poised, witty, even endearing. In this live Zoom moment, I found myself stumbling, bumbling, and providing a good-old-fashion sea-sick worthy performance of scrolling, switching screens, and while we are at it – let’s download something irrelevant to the course.

Welcome again to the synchronous delivery of course content. I shall return to my turn of events…

I got through the session. I lectured a bit about adapting digital campaigns in this #Covid_19 climate, discussed campaign implementation best practices, walked through a tutorial on designing and distributing campaign emails using Constant Contact. We chatted a bit more as a group; some dropped off. One stayed for additional clarification. Whew. I did it. I ended the session and moved immediately to the next.

Oh no. The Zoom link is broken for this one too? Ack! Oof! (that was my homage to the old “Cathy” comic strip)

Again, I jumped into Blackboard (different course space), added the Zoom course tool, set up recurring meetings, downloaded the .ics Outlook extension, set up a new meeting, invited the students with an added exclamation mark for emphasis, sent a follow-up email to apologize for any confusion, and waited.

  • Sweet D. showed up. Love this boy. So kind and helpful. So patient and happy just to connect. We chatted for 5 minutes while a few others trickled in.
  • 15 minutes into the session I decided I would not “go live and recorded” as I did in the previous course. Instead, I would continue our banter and record it later.
  • The darling Kate arrived – one of my devoted Center for Civic Engagement project leads. She got the link to the Zoom call from one of her team members. She wanted to chat too. (Made a note I need to invite her and other CCE Leads to this Zoom too).
  • So I muted myself on Zoom while two other students met up about a class project they were working on together – even if remotely. They chatted in Zoom while Kate and I talked via traditional phone. It was beautiful in its own way. I loved seeing the collaboration, the smiles, the productivity even during times of adversity and stress. Inspiring.

Phew. It ended. I hit the top of the hour. Now it was time to settle in and properly record the 2p session so I could post it on Blackboard and reclaim the glory that was lost earlier in the day.

Or not.

I spent 20 minutes recording my face with my lovely backdrop and string lights-a-blazin’. No screen capture. Just me.

OK. Deep breaths. Delete. Re-set.

Let’s try this again. A few tips for you dear fellow faculty chugging along with me in this boat. I suggest you check your Zoom settings…

  1. To ensure you are sharing the right screen (a note meant especially for those managing two screens).
  2. To ensure the sound is coming from the desired source.
  3. To verify that in Settings > Recording, you have checked the box that says “Place video next to the shared screen in the recording.” Otherwise – your mug and the lovely faces of your students will show up on top of your beautifully-designed lecture slides.
  4. In your Settings > Video, make sure you have selected the desired camera, a 16:9 widescreen setup enabled HD, and touched up your appearance so you don’t look as sleepy as you feel.
  5. Please, dear people, record to The Cloud – not “Locally”. Otherwise, you cannot easily access your recording and you may be forced to upload your 120mb .mp4 file to something other than Blackboard because it is too big. Welcome to YouTube or Panopto and the addition of of many extra, annoying steps.

After all was said and done, I was able to get the first class video recording uploaded to Panopto and shared with the students. I also learned from mistakes and was successful in my video and screen capture for the second class. This time saved to The Cloud and easily accessible. Emails sent. Apologies made for any confusion and glitches. The world is officially re-centered.

So here I am at 8p after being ready for the day by 8a. The six other people in this house are a-buzz, making dinner (it’s burgers-on-the-grill night despite the snow), putting dishes away, laughing and trying to catch our silly chinchilla. Chris’ sons made dinner together – a first. My daughter (and now resident-photographer) just brought me a glass of wine and cheeseburger. It is chaos and I am blessed.

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

Day 1 reflections & adjustments: Lessons in adapting in real-time

Online Teaching Tips - Day 1


One down, 17 to go: A journey in taking an in-person class online and then adjusting in real-time

Six years of creating, modifying and delivering online classes did not really prepare me for live presentation of a formerly in-person class in a virtual environment.

I’ll begin with a quote I believe says it all. This is from my colleague and Murrow College associate professor Beth Hindman, Ph.D. in a Facebook post this morning- “I’ve been a professor at Washington State University for 17+ years and have been teaching online for roughly half that time (both grad and undergrad). In my case I always had a YEAR to prepare to move courses online, and even then they’ve required tweaking (or more). I am in awe of my faculty colleagues at WSU (and around the country) who have managed to prepare their courses for online delivery in only a week, in the middle of the semester.”

When professors prepare an online course, we typically have months to strategize, plan, prepare, and design. We conceptualize our lesson plans, assignment goals, video lecture creation, and discussion prompts. We work with an instructional designer from WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation, peer faculty, and other support staff. We take time to sit in workshops or tackle tutorials in video lecture creation, and pour over articles and resources about best practices in online course design.

With #Covid_19 academic impacts, our past approaches to online course design were only moderately useful. We all had to adjust quickly, consider what was already in place with our in-person curriculum, and in a flash, figure out how to translate that content and experience into an online course space. Heroic? Maybe not that far. But certainly challenging.

I did all the right things in preparation for this inevitable Day 1 of teaching my two in-person undergraduate courses online. I adjusted the syllabus and course schedule, I updated Blackboard and the course blog, I set up Zoom virtual meet-ups, I established a block schedule for virtual office hours, and I communicated with my students about changes, what to expect, and getting ready for the adjustments.

With a 1p class, at 12:45p I sat down at my new home office setup, tested my audio and video, considered my lighting and the ambient noise factor, made sure I didn’t look like I just rolled out of bed, and put on my bravest face. I was ready to go.

At the top of the hour, I logged into Zoom and waited for the flurry of activity. Here is what came next:

  • One student popped in, then dropped immediately.
  • Another student popped in but had no sound.
  • Then I had no sound.
  • I checked the Zoom setting and realized I had it set to “phone only”. That won’t work. I fixed it. The student and I dropped and came back in.
  • Now there was sound. Two more had joined.
  • We chatted for a bit – a check-in on how they were doing and how they were feeling; what was their current living situation; were they safe, fed, and OK? Three more joined.
  • My daughter came in and asked me a question. We kept going.
  • I went through my spiel – the how-this-will-work, hot priorities for assignments, call for teams to meet up outside of class session so they can implement campaigns.
  • A student let me know that my Zoom wasn’t working in Blackboard. I checked. It wasn’t. Will deal with that later.
  • A few students dropped off the call – had what they needed. Three more joined.
  • I started my spiel again.
  • Somebody named “none” came in but never spoke. Not sure who that was.
  • Another student couldn’t get his microphone to work. So I texted my spiel and he responded.
  • More chatting – mostly not about class and instead a lot of me reassuring them, making them feel better about things, trying to get them to smile.
  • Three minutes to go and another student joins. I chat with him for a bit. Had to go. Another live Zoom session starting at 2p.
  • One student pops in. Her mom joins us. We chat for a bit. Four more join.
  • I again started with a check-in on how they were doing and how they were feeling; what was their current living situation; were they safe, fed, and OK?
  • I begin my spiel for this class – focusing once more on how-this-will-work, hot priorities for assignments, what happens next with CCE projects and working with their CCE Leads.
  • A couple students drop off, a few more join. Sound doesn’t work for one of the students. We troubleshoot for a bit until we all help him figure it out.
  • More chatter continues that is mostly not related to the course.
  • We talk up until the hour. I make sure they have what they need.

Not everyone showed up. But those who did needed to hear my voice and see my face. They cared about orientation on changes with the class in the online format, but mostly they needed to be re-assured that they are OK.

What I heard from my small sample size of students…

  • They are nervous, scared about lost jobs, and worried about succeeding in their classes.
  • They miss their friends, Pullman, campus vibe and activities, and are sad about the prospect and (likelihood?) that commencement will be canceled or postponed.
  • Four were back in Pullman living alone in their apartments. They are OK for now and not yet too worried, but I made a note about these students to ensure I check in on them often.
  • Most of their classes were holding live virtual Zoom sessions during normal class time. They were glad about that.
  • Most of them felt supported by their faculty and confident things would be OK; appreciative that instructors are adjusting, being kind, and are willing to hold virtual office hours.
  • Those back at home were grateful they had family support.
  • Some worried about how they get their stuff back in Pullman, pay rent, wrap things up before summer.
  • Some were worried about their Jr. Writing Portfolio, delivering Honors Thesis presentations, and logistics for classes that were most certainly geared for in-person activities.
  • They want to remain connected. This is critical to them right now.

So after two hours of meeting with them, some interruptions, some technical glitches, and a lot of talking — I would say it went well.

My parting notes and reflections…

  • I am going to keep my virtual Zoom classroom open every MWF during normal class times. I want them to know they can always pop in even to just check-in, say hello, hear a friendly voice.
  • I expect more will schedule a time to meet with me 1:1 through virtual office hours after this week.
  • I will prepare more structured discussions, tutorials, and activities for my open Zoom class time to keep things focused on learning and relevant to course content.
  • I will play music as an opener to set a tone for our time together.
  • I will remain positive, upbeat, and encouraging.

I survived my first day of synchronous delivery of two live-yet-virtual classes. It was surreal and instructive. I will learn a lot about this mode of delivery and myself in these final weeks of the semester. I have 17 more sessions to go in both classes. I will do all I can to bring my best self every time.

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

T-minus 22-ish hours until launch: Quick list of 5 things to make sure you are ready

Online Teaching Tips- 22 hours


Sick of hearing “you got this?” Well – you probably do.

I remember the day before I launched my first online class back in 2014. It was terrifying. I assumed everything would implode, links would be broken, videos would not play, students would have trouble accessing the course space, everyone would be lost, I would be inundated with emails, students would report my incompetency to my dean, terrible reviews were on the horizon, I may as well quit now, this is going to be a disaster.

Take a breath. It won’t be perfect, smooth, or Hollywood script-like [insert upbeat opening music and quirky sidekick friend at your door with coffee in-hand]. There will be bumps and mishaps. But (shocker) students are incredibly forgiving.

So to ease your mind, let’s review the basics of online course setup so you can ensure you are (at least) ready to go for tomorrow’s formal launch:

Have you done the following…

  • 1) Communicated with your students?

    Have you sent an email directly to your students saying hello, welcome to a new normal for this class; here is how things will work for the remaining six weeks with basic info about how to reach you and ask questions, where to find assignments, where to turn things in, etc.? See my recent blog post about helping students who are new to the online course experience. TEMPLATE >> sample email to students

  • 2) Set up Blackboard to the best of your ability?

    Keep it simple, clean, and easy to follow. Be formulaic wherever possible so students know what to expect each week. Send weekly announcements with to do’s. Create a “questions for the instructor” forum in Discussion Forum. Limit extraneous or unnecessary info that only adds to distraction and fear. Review my blog post about setting up your course space on Blackboard. TEMPLATE >> example self-audit checklist for online course development

  • 3) Determined how you are going to run classes – synchronous, asynchronous, neither, or combo?

    Many of us are in great debate about how to run our classes for these remaining six weeks. Should we try to hold live, synchronous sessions during normal class time? Should we record sessions at off-times and post them later? Should we avoid live sessions entirely? I don’t believe that there is a wrong answer at this point. You have to do what is best for you and your students.

    I am going to hold Virtual Class Sessions via Zoom during my normal class time. I will record some sessions when I cover specific topics or tutorials. I am encouraging students to pop in to check in during these consistently-timed, open sessions. It is highly possible no one will ever show up. We’ll see. I’m willing to try it. I will also have some recorded sessions posted on Blackboard. I am also holding Virtual Office Hours using Calendly for sign up in 30-minute blocks. It’s a mix that may or may not work. I will adapt as needed. Be sure to learn about your various options through WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation Toolkit for Extended Distance Delivery.

  • 4) Figured out your new work schedule?

    If you haven’t done so already, I highly encourage you to take some time to figure out how you will self-manage over the next six weeks. Working from home is VERY different than working on campus. There will be distractions, interruptions, shiny objects, mental health moments, and physical barriers that come up. It is best if you can establish and sustain a routine, work out timing for work/kid time/breaks/rest between yourself and your spouse or family members. Get up, get dressed, eat, take breaks, be mindful of your posture, stop working at the same time at the end of each day. Try to leave chores and shopping to the evening or weekends. Read my blog post about tips for working from home.

  • 5) Found community and figured out a way to stay connected with peers?

    It has been a whirlwind for the past two weeks. Most of you have barely come up for air much less worried about what others are doing. This is completely understandable. But as the dust settles, I encourage you to find a small village of peers you remain connected to – whether they are from WSU or other institutions — it is important you remain connected with people you trust, people you feel comfortable asking questions, people who are willing to do a quick Zoom or phone call to help troubleshoot a challenge. Stay connected. Normalize. Do your best to not isolate and take this all on yourself.

    Reminder! AOI offers on-demand support Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m via Zoom. Target training also offered M-F on Zoom, Blackboard, and Panopto. Learn more.

Here is what I know as a faculty member who has taught online classes for more than 6 years…. You will be successful if you are consistent, transparent, responsive, and kind. Broken links, glitchy videos, and missing content are all forgivable and fixable. The way you treat your students and respond to challenges is what will be remembered. Do your best. Bring your best self to the course space every time. Take a beat before you send the frustrated note. Sleep on it, review, edit, then reconsider your next move. This is not easy for anyone. The best route we have is to support each other.

I will close with a quote of encouragement…

“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

Albert Einstein

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

Accepting a new normal: 6 Tips for teaching from home [infographic]

Online Teaching Tips - New Normal


Telecommuting is not easy

Working from home on occasion is a luxury. What a treat it is to get up a little later, put on comfy clothes, grab your favorite coffee mug, and settle in to your couch with the dog nearby resting its head on your lap. In the first few days you will establish a leisure schedule, go for a walk, enjoy the view off your porch.

But eventually, your back will start to hurt. You will smell something and realize it’s you. You will realize you forgot to eat. You’ll see a stain on your shirt and not care. The dog will slobber on your laptop and the leaf blower outside will no longer be charming. It will just be noise.

Welcome to working from home. I was a professional telecommuter for two years. I worked for the University of Idaho as a regional marketing director and web coordinator. My fellow team members were based in Moscow, ID while I was 2.5 hours north in Sandpoint, ID. Every day I was at home working while juggling two small kids and their schedules, a house, 7-foot snow berms in the winter, two ferrets, and an immense yard to mow in the warmer months. I sat in on daily conference calls in between getting kids to school and picking them up. I designed websites and wrote original copy, prepared marketing materials and presentations all while managing grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, and meal preparation.

I am a Type-A social being. I am not built for solitude. I love my kids but they make terrible office mates. I like a quiet workspace but the absence of energy, bustle, and idle chatter was deafening.

But as I was living in a remote place and had exhausted all possible local job opportunities – I had to accept my fate, hunker down, and embrace my new normal. Here are some tips to get you through the #COVID19 social distancing and shelter-in-place mentality…

BONUS Tips for those juggling young kids while working from home

One big difference in a normal work-from-home situation is that kids are typically in school or daycare. In this social distancing #COVID19 version of life, working from home with kids in your workspace is a very altered reality.

As I have not had little ones in my house in a long time, I am going to defer to the experts. Here are a few very recent articles I found:

A few highlights from the articles:

  • Minimize disruption by keeping a strict schedule to maintain normalcy including time set aside for meals, breaks, and playtime
  • Set a tone of patience and empathy. Everyone will have to adjust to this new norm and there will be bumps along the way.
  • Create “zones” in the house for work, play, kids, sleeping, and eating.
  • Divide and conquer: If you have a partner or babysitting-age teenager at home with you, work out a schedule with them for monitoring the younger children so you can switch on and off with blocks of time to focus on work.
  • Help the kids “own” their part in this. They, too, can play a role in helping their community and contributing to the good of the family by allowing the adults to work and continue to provide.
  • Set realistic expectations, acknowledge this is a big change, and create a safe space for communication as struggles arise.
  • Work together – as you prepare lecture materials, kids can create, read, draw, or have limited screen time with educational programming.
  • Get outside if you can for a walk or engage in simple activities or games using chalk or your own sporting equipment (that you can control and sanitize).
  • Work when they sleep – an old trick many at-home working parents use effectively. This includes naps and getting the kids to bed by 8p.

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.