Teaching in the Time of Coronavirus: How One PlayPosit Partner Transformed Her Approach to Instruction and Found Inspiration for the Future

Tl;dr: A communications course at the University of California-Riverside adapted a fully in-person course to fully remote instruction due to Coronavirus-related campus closures in one week. The instructor and course succeeded through a flexible approach to remote education and found inspiration in looking to the future. 

Assistant Professor Annika Speer has been in the world of higher education for nearly ten years. In that time, she has taught communications courses with classroom sizes into the hundreds with multiple teaching assistants and a well-established curriculum. In short, she knew what she wanted to cover in her courses and she knew how to do it. Things ran smoothly and expectations were clear with technology seldom being used in the classroom.

Circumstances changed virtually overnight as campuses across the world, including the University of California-Riverside, began to close. Courses that were already fully remote or relied on a blended instruction model had a relatively easier experience with the transition compared to those that suddenly found themselves trying to figure out how to assign content, presentations, projects, papers, and a number of other assignments.

Speer determined that she was going to utilize her campus’ spring break to take her previously fully in-person instruction model into the remote learning world and do it in a pedagogically meaningful way. This would mean learning about and testing several different tools and being prepared to continue learning and experimenting once the tools were made available to learners.

Speer needed to find remote teaching and learning solutions that would not only address her current remote instruction needs but would serve to make her courses more dynamic in the future.

Speer’s requirements:
  • Learners could not be required to spend additional dollars in order to access instructional materials. Equity and access have been a longstanding concern for higher education institutions and forced closures have only served to highlight the challenges that many learners face when needing to share sometimes unstable internet connections, computers, study spaces, and more. 
  • Learners could not be overwhelmed by a tool that was overly complex and troubleshooting had to be easy.
  • Existing course content needed to still be utilized and new content needed to be easy to develop. 
  • Whatever efforts Speer put into developing her remote learning content could not be a time sink. She needed to ensure that some or all of what she did could be repurposed for future instruction
    Speer decided to take a two-fold approach by introducing multiple tools, all freely available to her learners through institutional licenses, and building an engaging learning environment - with a little bit of trial and error. Speer chose to use PlayPosit and Zoom.
      Why PlayPosit met Speer’s requirements:
      • PlayPosit never charges learners to use the platform. In an institutional or enterprise license model, individual instructors will also never be required to pay additional fees. 
      • PlayPosit features seamless LTI integration with Learning Management Systems that is complex and powerful. That means that learners never need to access third-party websites, content is simple to assign, and grades sync accurately. 
      • Instructors that have existing slide decks, lectures, or video content can bring their resources into PlayPosit in minutes. From there, they can keep it simple through templates or start getting creative using the robust library of modular interactions (in case you’re wondering, Speer decided to get creative!). 
      • PlayPosit allows instructors to copy and edit existing content for synchronous and asynchronous instruction. 
      Why Zoom met Speer’s requirements:
      • Zoom is freely accessible by anyone in Speer’s institution. 
      • Speer needed a way to communicate with her learners in real-time. 
      In order to ensure that access is equitable, Speer has chosen to slightly restructure her course. She began recording her lectures in easily digestible snippets and built interactions to mimic the discussions and questions that she would be raising into PlayPosit. Speer has done the same with famous speeches and presentations that she has previously showcased to her learners during class time. Now, she is able to build interactions into the content, measuring the engagement level of every learner, and ensuring that meaningful engagement is taking place. In this way, her learners are able to participate in her lectures and supplemental content when they are the most likely to be successful and engaged with the content and in a way that traditional class time restricts. 

      Her regularly scheduled class hours have been transformed into virtual office hours using Zoom. Speer wanted to ensure that her learners continued to feel supported and would be able to raise concerns if they were to arise or ask for clarification if the content was particularly challenging. 

      For the time being, Speer is requiring her learners to submit assignments such as original speeches and “how-to” tutorials using YouTube and then creating a discussion forum for peer feedback purposes. However, she is looking to streamline the process for her learners through the use of learner-made bulbs for learner-created content and peer review applications. 

      * While Speer opted to use only her individual content, institutional and enterprise license clients have access to private media libraries that are not accessible by individuals outside of their institution. 

      In one week, Speer had the knowledge to begin recording her lectures and uploading them to PlayPosit in order to ensure that learners were not only viewing her lectures but engaging in them. Her supplemental content was also able to benefit by being transformed from passive video into an interactive and engrossing experience. Regular class times became virtual office hours, ensuring that learners were not falling through the cracks or struggling. By choosing to solve the unexpected problems that COVID-19 created for her instruction model, Speer has been able to effectively deliver course content and track where she has succeeded and where she has needed to improve her approach. As an added benefit, Speer has ensured that she will be prepared in case of extended campus closures while also being able to improve her in-person instruction.

      Through PlayPosit and Zoom, Professor Speer was able to deliver her learners the content that they signed up to learn when they registered for her course. She found the platform to not only be priceless for the problem at hand but showed her the benefits of bringing technology into her more traditional classroom environment -- something that she had avoided since her teaching focuses on embodied performance. There were some hiccups along the way, we’re not going to pretend that it’s easy to change your approach to teaching overnight, but with some minor adjustments, she was successful and found inspiration for the future. 

      In the case of extended campus closures, she is able to quickly and easily recycle her existing content with the flexibility to make changes as she desires. She is able to enter the next semester with a sense of what works and the knowledge to help her learners succeed even when they envisioned a more traditional classroom experience. 

      But it gets better. Upon returning to the classroom, Speer will have a repository of content that she can reference easily for at-home assignments or for synchronous classroom instruction using broadcast.

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      Annika Speer is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at the University of California-Riverside, with a pedagogical focus on Public Speaking. She is the Co-Director of the Public Speaking Initiative, a UC system-wide program invested in embodied rhetorical performance and discourse. She completed her Ph.D. in Theater Studies with a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara and a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Communication at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include gender and communication, and documentary/interview-based activist theatre. She has publications in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Communication Quarterly, and Contemporary Studies of Sexuality & Communication: Theoretical and Applied Approaches. In addition to academic work, Dr. Speer works as a dramaturgical researcher for films, most recently for The Girl on the Train (produced by DreamWorks Studios and Marc Platt Productions, 2016) Men, Women & Children, (produced by Right of Way Films, 2014), Walking Stories (produced by Out There/Frenesy Film, 2013) and Call Me Crazy: A Five Film (produced by Sony Pictures Television, 2013).