At its core, UC Santa Barbara is an academic powerhouse, responsible for the education and instruction of over 26,000 students each year, in part through its use of classroom spaces and teaching staff.
But last Tuesday, when Chancellor Henry T. Yang first announced that the university would be transitioning to remote instruction until the end of April due to the coronavirus, classroom spaces fell out of the equation as instructors scrambled to figure out how to host their winter quarter finals and spring quarter classes online. On Saturday, Yang announced in a campus-wide email that remote instruction will continue through the entirety of spring quarter.
To help facilitate the transition from in-person instruction to remote instruction, Instructional Development (ID), an organization that consults, evaluates and produces instructional technology at UCSB, is providing instructors with an assortment of tools, resources and workshops to aid them in hosting online classes, according to George Michaels, the organization’s executive director.
“A fully online course that was designed from the ground up to be a fully online course is a different animal from a regular face-to-face class,” Michaels said. As a result, ID isn’t working to fully convert in-person classes into digital ones but to create “hybrid” classrooms by bolstering the teaching technology that’s already available.
Since Yang first announced the switch to online coursework last Tuesday, ID has helped teaching staff incorporate programs such as GauchoSpace, Panopto, Zoom and Nectir into their online lectures by holding ongoing workshops, which will be hosted through spring break, Michaels said.
During the workshops, instructors can ask questions pertaining to the different software programs, such as how to take attendance, record and post lectures, distribute and grade assignments, hold digital office hours and even call on students when they digitally raise their hand, he said.
But a majority of the remote instruction tools aren’t new, according to Michaels. When the Thomas Fire broke out in 2017, ID worked to equip instructors with tools to teach classes remotely in the event that in-person classes were canceled, which laid the groundwork for ID’s current efforts, Michaels said.
“We were able to successfully meet the need [for online instruction] at that point in time and have retained those resources,” he said.
Three to four weeks ago, Michaels said ID began preparing workshops and started assessing how prepared the university’s digital teaching materials were so that “if things really go sideways,” ID was “ready to move as quickly as possible.”
For example, Michaels said some professors have had issues with online assessments, such as GauchoSpace quizzes, which can crash when too many students are tested simultaneously.
Michaels said ID is offering instructors one-on-one consultations to work around these problems by providing solutions, such as making a GauchoSpace quiz available over a 12 to 24 hour period “to spread the impact out as much as possible” and prevent these systems from crashing.
Many students on social media have also posed questions about the fate of their waitlisted classes next quarter, as digital classrooms lack the constraint of physical seating. Michaels said waitlists will still exist, as class enrollment information is stored in the campus registrar — “which constitutes the class roster” — and is fed into GauchoSpace.
Classroom attendance will follow similarly, Michaels said; a professor using Zoom or GauchoCast can use their class roster on GauchoSpace to take attendance based on who joins the digital class, just as they would have done in a physical classroom.
“The idea is to try to keep that roster information as up-to-date as humanly possible. The wait list, and to a certain extent, the attendance tool, in the absence of a face-to-face class can be a way to emulate [that] the student shows up on the first day at class and walks up to the faculty member afterwards to get an add code,” Michaels said.
Michaels highlighted ID’s efforts to provide the university with different teaching solutions under a tight turnaround but acknowledged that access to online courses is still an issue for students who have to go home and don’t have a laptop or internet connection.
“The campus recognizes that that’s a big issue and there are lots of people working really hard to try to come up with a workaround solution for that,” Micahels said, adding that the Enterprise Technology Services, Student Affairs and the University Library are currently working on a solution to provide students with long-term loaner laptops.
But “the missing part is if they don’t have a network at home,” Michaels said, so a loaner laptop won’t be of much use if a student is looking to join their class on Zoom or GauchoSpace without an internet connection.
Overall, however, Michaels said that most instructors, specifically the ones who attended workshops, have adjusted well to the transition from in-person to digital classrooms. He said the biggest issue lies in how confident each instructor feels in their ability to teach an online class.
“We have over a thousand faculty members … we’ve got some faculty members who’ve been teaching fully online courses, primarily through summer sessions, for almost 10 years now. For them, this is an adjustment, but it’s using tools that they’ve already become very comfortable with,” Michaels said.
“For other faculty members, some elements of the technology landscape or ecosystem that we have is all new territory for them,” he added. “Everybody is figuring out how they’re going to cope with it.”
As other UC campuses roll out their own remote instruction programs, Michaels said ID shares its new technologies, information and resources through the Educational Technology Leadership Committee (ETLC), a decade-old collaborative group that represents the ID office equivalent at each UC campus.
“We have regular monthly Zoom meetings. We have an annual face-to-face meeting. We’re constantly sharing information about things that are going on in our campuses,” he said.
“As soon as campuses started ramping up [remote instruction efforts], one of the things that the ETLC did, besides communicating via email, is we started a Google doc with links to all of the resource sites that we were all developing or expanding,” he said, “so that all of us had the benefit of seeing what kinds of support we’re providing to our faculty.”
As students prepare to go home for spring break, Michaels said ID’s chief concern is ensuring that instructors are prepared to teach classes remotely, while also continuing to improve the teaching resources that are already available.
“The thing that I really appreciated is that everybody recognizes that this is an unprecedented situation. The faculty members that have been coming to our workshops are uniformly thankful to have the help,” Michaels said. “They’ve been very supportive of us, which is awesome.”