Biology professor Antonio Izzo offers tips to help prepare for remote courses

Posted on: September 28, 2020 | By: Tarah Holland | Filed under: Flexible & Resilient Teaching, Instructor Stories & Tips

Antonio IzzoIn the weeks leading up to Spring Break, a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide began to fuel uncertainty about in-person classes at Elon.

“A number of us saw the writing on the wall, right before we hit Spring Break, and started adjusting at that point,” said Antonio Izzo, Associate Professor of Biology and former Faculty Fellow for Technology, Antonio Izzo. “It’s one thing to come into a semester knowing that you’re going to be online. To switch in the middle of the semester was really tough.”

For Izzo and other Elon instructors, the whirlwind transition to remote learning was just beginning. The weeks that followed were filled with training sessions, modified assignments, virtual advising appointments and other adjustments.

“The first goal was, the show must go on,” Izzo said. “My goals were to make sure the course completes and to have things in place as best as I could. Luckily, in the process I’ve learned some things.”

Now, on the other side of it and with valuable lessons learned, Izzo is sharing tips that helped to make his fall transition to blended instruction a smoother experience.

Abandon perfection

You see so many nice, polished videos out there and you feel that if you’re going to try to do something like that, then it has to be at that level. It’s a big hurdle to initially get over.

Sometimes you’re going to stumble on some things and it’s okay. It’s not going to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be. That mentality is a big one to immediately set in place. The goal is to get it done, so when recording, talk as you would if you were doing a live lecture. Instead of trying to recreate your in-person course online, ask yourself ‘what are ways that I can enhance lectures to really tie things together for my students and what support resources can I use to help guide them?’”

Develop an efficient workflow

Take the time to develop an efficient workflow that makes sense to you and works with the technology resources that you feel comfortable with.

In the past, I sometimes struggled using Kaltura to manage recorded lectures for my Moodle courses. Preparing for an uncertain fall semester, I knew I needed to spend time learning more about the tool and its file management structure. One day, I invested the time to sit down and really try to figure out how to organize everything in a meaningful way. I figured out how to do playlists and how to tag videos, and now, I have a process established for the long-term.

Take time to design assessments for long-term gains

Assessments in my courses were always in-person, hard copy, handwritten exams with a mix of question types. For remote instruction, I initially backed off from having a lot of essay type questions and moved all assessments online. It took some time to move those assessments online, but the tradeoff has been grading that’s a lot faster, which allows the students to get their results faster while the material is fresh in their minds.

I also use Moodle’s Feedback feature, which offers additional benefits. Normally, I would distribute an answer key with explanations for each question. Students had to review it before meeting with me about any follow up questions. Now, I add feedback directly into the Moodle exam to be displayed once the exam closes. This helps encourage more students to work through and review the material.

Learning how to control Moodle’s groups and use settings for quizzes has been incredibly helpful too. In situations where students require accommodations, or students that lived in very different time zones (where, for example, an 8 a.m. exam might translate into a 3 a.m. exam), I can very quickly work with them to adjust parameters.

A tried and true checklist

  • Restructure your Moodle course to help students stay better organized and keep track of their status.
  • Assign students group work via collaborative documents.
  • Provide students with a clear protocol for video meetings and consider using a stable URL, like your Webex Personal Room, so it’s always consistent. In addition, establish and share open office hours versus appointment times. Host a “test run drop-in” on your first day of online learning, simply devoted to making sure every student has access.
  • Time-release lecture videos and materials to help students keep pace.
  • Increase communication to students with advice on how to succeed in this new model, such as:
    • Take notes on video lectures just like you would a live lecture
    • Develop the same study habits you used before
    • Make an effort to attend virtual office hours at least once to get comfortable with it

Izzo’s Tools of the Trade

  • Asynchronous lectures: PowerPoint and Zoom
    “Includes the incorporation of screen capture videos using my Mac laptop. I’m getting really good at animations, too.”
  • Synchronous class meetings: Group work using Zoom Breakout Rooms
    “My experiment with breakout rooms was fantastic in Spring ‘20. It has become a permanent tool in my sections this fall.”
  • Assessments: Moodle Quizzes and the Groups feature
    “I set up varying parameters for students in different situations, which included accommodations, varying time zones and internet access challenges. I used the feedback function to help students learn from their exams.”
  • Lab sessions: Apple’s Clips app
    “Initially Linda Niedziela, Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of the Department of Biology, and I made some fast and dirty lab videos using the “Clips” app on my iPhone.”

Tarah Holland

Tarah Holland is a Digital Content Strategist at Elon University.

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