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SUNY Effective Online Practices Award Program

The SUNY Exploring Emerging Technologies for Lifelong Learning and Success (#EmTechMOOC) directly assists college students, as well as faculty and others, to gain skills to effectively use emerging technologies and lifelong strategies for their personal and professional lives to be able to keep pace with technology change.

This self-paced, collaborative, and engaging course helps learners everywhere gain comfort, familiarity, and mastery of freely-available web-based collaboration tools. #EmTechMOOC uses discovery exercises to guide participants’ learning while building a personal learning toolkit for a lifetime of use.

The EmTech online community supports life-long learners at all levels including current and career-seeking professionals. This proposal addresses the support that EmTech provides to student learners either as they voluntarily self-enroll or as they participate under the guidance of faculty to either participate in the entire MOOC, complete portions of the MOOC as a class assignment, or simply take advantage of EmTechWIKI resources to discover emerging technology tools and resources to demonstrate their learning (for projects, assignments, etc.).

Creating Online Learning Alliances

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Online Teaching & Learning Practices

This practice is aimed at increasing participation in synchronous courses by creating learning alliances between students. It assumes that the purpose of meeting online is to create a sense of belonging through having shared goals that the students work together to achieve. It is not primarily to disseminate information; lecture notes, narrated Power Points, videos, and other supporting documents should be made available in the Learning Modules ahead of the meetings. Class participation is often focused on the individual and evaluated as such; this approach shifts focus from the individual to teams of learners, who collaborate on answering study questions, posting to a discussion board, sharing key learnings in class, etc. Dividing the students into smaller groups allows them to connect with each other and share the responsibility of facilitating the class meetings. Students who would like to lead the group may sign up as Group Leaders for one extra credit and report back to the professor on the success of their breakout sessions. A dynamic system of Participation Points forms the backbone of this teaching practice. But the key to creating successful learning alliances is to make the meetings fun and stimulating, which produces in the students a desire to study and learn.

In mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic all our classes were moved to an online asynchronous mode. This was also the first time, I was teaching my Public Finance and Public Policy class. It took me weeks to design in-class exercises and activities ready for our face to face modality that overnight became mostly useless. In the beginning of this class, I already decided that I will be using Open Educational Resources (OER) in place of a commercial textbook. The plan was to also use students to help write parts of the material that will be available to the general public. But because of the pandemic, I pivoted my class so that COVID-19 became our main topic through which we learned and studied Public Economics. Talking about applied and experiential learning! The assignment for the rest of the semester was trying to understand in real time what was going on during these very confusing times, when the information in the news was mostly inconsistent and constantly changing. The result of this assignment was a set of public webpages created by students that helped others and the broader public understand and appreciate the pandemic through the eyes of economists.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools around the world to move online in 2020, including my home institution University at Buffalo. Months into online learning, many students started to suffer from either social disconnection in asynchronous settings or Zoom fatigue in synchronous settings. How can we effectively include our students online to feel meaningfully connected yet not overwhelmed by long lectures and presentations? Liberating Structures (LS) are simple, concrete tools that can be used to organize learning activities and facilitate transformative learning experiences in ways that include and engage all students. Each LS specifies five interrelated structural elements:(a) The structuring invitation to focus attention, (b) spatial arrangement that allows participants to stand, move freely and be face-to-face, (c) participation distribution to ensure everyone participates at once and equally, (d) group configuration to ensure one works with pairs, quartets and whole group, and (e) the sequence of steps and time allocation for effectively executing the above. Detailed instructions and examples are available on LiberatingStructures.com. In Fall 2020 was, I was able to adapt LS through weekly synchronous Zoom meetings to create an inclusive and interactive online learning experience. Examples of adapted LS are: 1-2-4-ALL, Drawing Together, Celebrity Interview, and Critical Uncertainties.

Adjustable Lesson Formatting

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Online Student Support & Concierge Practices

Adjustable lesson formatting allows the student to choose between in-person or online instruction at any time, as their needs change. The student is able to pursue their study without jeopardizing their own safety and health or that of their family members and peers. High risk students, or students with high risk family members, have the option of designing their schedule for my class in such a way that they are studying fully online, studying in-person while minimizing contact with other people as much as possible, or alternating between the two as works best for them. Establishing this practice as a professor has allowed my students to continue pursuing their study of classical violin, both as soloists and in small groups, without impacting their health as potentially high risk individuals during the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, this practice has greatly increased the attendance rates of my classes, as students have the ability to design their schedule in such a way that it maximizes their potential and allows them to succeed.

While updating the structure and content of “Understanding Music” to better suit the realities of remote learning, I also set out to design a friendlier syllabus: one that was (1) more visually engaging, (2) easier to navigate on mobile screens, and (3) more accessible to every student. The redesigned syllabus now presents the contents of each week in a “movie poster” format, complete with a thematic title and rights-free photography from https://unsplash.com. The new document features narrower margins and extra-large headings, allowing students on mobile devices to locate and then zoom in on the content they need. (For those who continue to prefer a more traditional view, the pages fit neatly inside a 2-up print layout.) And despite the more elaborate visual design, I was able to increase the document’s Blackboard Ally accessibility score from 46 percent to 94 percent by adding image descriptions, document headings, and high-contrast text.

The saying “there’s an app for that” has now become “you can build an app for that” with platforms such as Microsoft PowerApps, a low-code app development tool. With the Covid crisis quickly requiring schools to convert student support and services into digital formats, we were asked to reimagine the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies’ student Midterm Portfolio Review from a seventeen-year-old physical, paper-dependent process to a remote, digital solution in less than six months.

By using the Microsoft Power Platform, currently included in all O365 educational licenses, we designed and developed two PowerApps that were user-centered, prioritizing the digital experience of both students and reviewers. These mobile apps provided:
1) an easy and simple interface for students to attach, comment, and submit their documents;
2) a robust experience for reviewers to filter submissions, easily access the students’ files, and complete the review with a built-in rubric;
3) automated emails to confirm receipt of submissions and to notify students of the feedback on their work.

After the first semester of its use, the ease of functionality, effectiveness, and scalability were the most repeated feedback we received from the director and users.

A structured research assignment is often the culmination of most social sciences and humanities courses within higher education. These assignments tend to be paired with 1-2 library instruction sessions that take place during the course of a semester. During these time-limited sessions, students are instructed by academic librarians on matters of scholarly research and are prepared to effectively approach their respective research assignments. While library instruction is both beneficial and necessary to the success of student research, conducting such instruction within a limited amount of time can hinder an academic librarian’s ability to ensure that their students attain all scholarly research learning outcomes. When transitioning to online learning, these library instructions are often allotted even less time, reduced to tutorials, or simply eliminated. Such measures curb student online learning and diminish the quality of their research-based assignments. In addressing such issues, I have redesigned my online history courses to provide comprehensive and blended research instruction which runs concurrently with existing history content modules. Through the course of a semester, my online learners will successfully meet their history and scholarly research learning objectives simultaneously and progressively.

Nominally asynchronous online distance learning environments were augmented by video-conferencing in order to increase dialogue, instructor presence, and a sense of instructor care and concern. The video-conference component was limited time-wise (40 minutes per weekly module) and focused on explaining learning content, integrating learning activities, and interacting with learners. The aim was not to transform these courses into synchronous or blended learning ones.

Preliminary feedback from student reflective journals indicates the innovation was well received and contributed significantly to student appreciation, satisfaction, and overall engagement. The augmentation is simple, minimal, and effective. It may be an approach that is particularly relevant in designing and facilitating online distance learning environments in an era of uncertainty, disruption, and far-reaching educational changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is argued that the introduction of an active learning component has significant implications for learner performance, satisfaction, and persistence with distance learning. Although attempts to increase social presence and engagement are not uncommon in online distance learning, this particular approach is simple, easily enacted, and has perceived elements of originality and innovation that appeal to learners. It contended that video-conference augmentation contributes significant value to the quality and outcomes of the distance learning experience.

The reality in which higher education existed has been completely challenged with the global crisis of COVID-19. We must rethink how we deliver lasting concepts and principles in light of a radically changed landscape for professional practice that bears little resemblance to the past. How can we reimagine education in a more human and interconnected way? I realized that education that brings forward our humanity is what is actually required. All activities modeled in my classroom intentionally engage students to spark their imagination. Inspiration Sessions are set with professionals from my own network to practice our whole-human skills and unleash the students' creative thirst. That is, in a fully online synchronous environment, the opportunity of facilitating dialogue with professionals from my own network offers a pluriversal, multidisciplinary, interactive and human learning experience for students.