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Teaching with Flexible Meetings, Due Dates, and Activities

Mon Feb 21, 2022 at 07:30 AM

In the past two years, the norms of higher education have undergone radical changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguably, some of these changes have been for the better, as the pandemic has forced many to place a stronger lens on issues of accessibility, inclusivity, and flexibility within courses. Faculty have been at the forefront of these changes and have done much to adjust their mindset, pedagogy, and syllabus in order to support students and their ability to achieve learning goals. With the frequent emergence of new developments in our public health landscape, faculty continuously face the need to rapidly pivot in the classroom. Thus, flexible teaching design, methods, and practices are rightfully receiving a stronger focus to the benefit of students and faculty.   

Certain approaches to offering increased flexibility in the classroom require more initial time investment than others. For example, some faculty have found great success in coping with our current situation by transitioning to fully hybrid or even HyFlex teaching. However, many others are struggling to find the time and resources to adopt these models wholecloth. Leading up to the 2021-2022 academic year, CETL published a teaching tip on maintaining a flexible teaching mindset. Even so, such faculty may still be wondering about concrete practices or strategies to adopt into their course design that center flexibility without unduly burdening them beyond their current capabilities. The following considerations related to course meetings, due dates, and asynchronous activities may be useful in that endeavor by creating space for faculty and students to achieve their best despite the challenges.

Flexible Meeting Dates

If your course has a synchronous component (face-to-face or online), consider ways to get creative with your regular meeting dates. Some faculty have decided that even in a course listed as synchronous, none of their synchronous sessions will be required. Instead, all of their synchronous sessions are optional for those who are interested in getting some additional face time with the professor. Others have reserved their synchronous sessions only for special events, such as sessions with guest speakers or for exam preparation. Finally, some faculty are requiring some kind of regular attendance to their student hours (i.e. office hours) instead of synchronous sessions, in order to get more 1-on-1 time with students and answer questions. Google Appointment slots can be helpful for managing these meetings. In any of these cases, or even when requiring the typical synchronous schedule, always consider recording sessions for students to review at a later date.

Flexible Due Dates

Some faculty find that getting rid of strict due dates can eliminate stress and increase the amount of learning in their courses, one example previously shared in the Hit the Pause Button: A Late Work Policy teaching tip. There are different ways that flexible due dates can be implemented. For example, some faculty prefer a “soft” due date system, which provides a multiple day or week long window for students to submit work without penalty. Other faculty may provide an example or suggested course calendar to students, while truly allowing complete freedom as to when throughout the semester the student decides to turn in their various assignments. While those new to this practice may fear that this will lead to a huge pile of grading all at the very end of a course, most faculty already implementing flexible due dates report that this is rarely the case and a significant number of students will even choose to turn in work early.

Asynchronous Activities

Often, the most flexibility can be designed into asynchronous course activities, which are especially useful for scenarios where faculty are forced to pivot mid-semester. While it does require more work ahead, thinking carefully about what should or could be offered asynchronously in a course can relieve later stress. Live lectures, presentations, and discussions can all be redesigned in pre-recorded or asynchronous formats. Even without the need to pivot in mind, doing a portion of course activities asynchronously, such as in the flipped classroom model, can often make synchronous portions of the class more productive and meaningful. OU faculty have shared what makes their asynchronous teaching tick.

For example, instead of planning to spend synchronous time on course lectures, ask your students to watch your pre-recorded lecture ahead of time and then show up to class ready for discussion and group work. In the instance there are students who cannot attend the synchronous session or the synchronous session must be canceled overall, students are still ready to discuss in a Moodle discussion forum or perhaps by recording and sharing their pre-recorded video responses. Instructional Designers with e-LIS are available to consult on the design or even assist with building asynchronous activities for faculty interested in having this option in their classes.

Overall, while limitations and structure are meant to provide learning benefits, sometimes we open up new learning opportunities when we consider new pathways for flexibility.

References and Resources 

Other Teaching Tips:

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Jess Tess-Navarro is an Instructional Designer with e-LIS and has previously worked at OU in Student Affairs and as a Special Lecturer in the Department of WRT. She currently co-facilitates the e-LIS Quality Online Teaching Certification Course. Jess earned a Master of Arts from Michigan State in 2014 and Post Master's Certificate in Higher Education from OU in 2017.

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