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Teaching courses online
UW Biology: Information for teaching courses online beginning Spring 2020
See also UW Center for Teaching and Learning's Teaching during the coronavirus outbreak
This page is a collection of tools and advice that should help to guide you as you restructure and run your Spring course. This list is not exhaustive; there are many other tools and ideas out there, although there will also be opportunistic products and companies that are unreliable. What you read here are the preferred methods and tools from our department along with trainings and models that work well for online learning.
The four tools we recommend are Canvas, Panopto, Zoom, and PollEverywhere. Your course will probably use a subset of these.
Canvas: Use this to host your course website, upload files for students, maintain a gradebook, give quizzes and exams, and store course information like your syllabus.
Zoom: For streaming of video to allow in-class interaction, Zoom Meetings will be our tool. Zoom will let you talk to students, present slides or other files, manage smaller break-out rooms, and take questions. For large courses, the department will buy any large-size licenses needed. There is also in-Zoom polling, although this has not been tested thoroughly. Zoom also allows for videorecording and closed captioning which will be important for many of our courses.
PollEverywhere (PollEv): For in-class polling for students, PollEv will continue to be our preferred tool. While PollEv allows for a wide range of question types, the large majority of existing departmental use is in simple multiple-choice question format. All student internet-capable devices work on PollEv, and virtually all of them will have previous experience with it.
Panopto: Use this to create pre-recorded videos for students to watch. These can be created on your own computer or (in some cases) in the actual classroom. Panopto is good for simple videos displaying a slide deck.
Note that Panopto has a "live recording" feature, but that this feature requires a 10-minute delay and is not actually live or usable with live polling.
A smaller group of people might find Loom to be a useful entryway into Panopto. Loom is a video recording tool ideal for pre-recording lectures or tutorials (not for live-streaming lectures). It allows you to easily share and draw on your desktop/powerpoint, keep your face visible to students, pause and edit recordings, and share the recording via a restricted link. The Pro version is free to educators and students. Feel free to contact Hannah Jordt at email@example.com with questions.
Canvas: General resources are available through UW-IT at
Zoom: General resources are available through UW-IT at
Sigup for live Zoom webinar trainings: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/360029527911
- Zoom: Departmental (1 - 4 minute) how-tos:
PollEverywhere: Resources are available through UW-IT at:
General resources available through UW-IT at: https://itconnect.uw.edu/learn/tools/panopto/
Loom: Training resources are at: https://support.loom.com/hc/en-us/categories/360000251678-Getting-Started
Best practices for exams
Best practices for exams:
There are many ways to run online exams, and none of them are great. If there were a solution for keeping identity secure using course resources, then we would be paying Google big bucks for it. But it doesn't exist.
Here are a few keys, and please write to Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org if a discussion would be helpful:
- You cannot prevent all cheating. Our due diligence to minimize it is mostly for the benefit and peace of mind of all of the rest of the large majority of students who do not cheat. That due diligence is:
- Where possible, try not to provide high-stakes exams for which the sturcture would make cheating very, very easy. A simple multiple-choice exam with one version is so easy to cheat on (with a list of letters) that students will feel that cheating is being tacitly encouraged.
- When possible, give more, lower-stakes exams rather than fewer with higher point-totals. This can spread out the impetus to cheat. It is completely appropriate to have the final exam actually be worth fewer points than other similar exams, especially since it is the variance in exam scores (not the total points) that determine their impact on assigning grades.
- Try to access students from all angles: You can mention punishments and the Student Code of Conduct, but also bring up personal honor and learning opportunities as equally important reasons. Stressing the power of internal motivations can help a lot.
- If appropriate, giving open-note or even open-partner exams can be the best of suboptimal options. These typically call for fewer questions at higher cognitive and creative levels, which helps students to feel that their exams are challenging and worthwhile. In many iterations of open-book Intro Series exams, the vast majority of students report not even looking at their notes they bring (but they do find value in the exercise of organizing them).
- Don't try to beat the cheaters through some technological trick. Without a serious financial investment, all such methods are likely to come across as weak and beatable (and even encourage students to cheat more if they are worried about their peers). Instead, state in the exam fine print that you retain the right to have students prove significant anomalous score gains via oral exams after the fact, and that in that case they would have the option to simply accept a prorated score. In practice, this is often daunting enough that students don't push it (and holding a very small number of short oral exams can be a positive experience for everyone).
- For any online exam, make sure to:
- Inform students that you will give a few extra minutes to account for technology glitches. Giving students 10-15% more time almost never changes scores drastically, and it can cut down on stress significantly.
- In your fine print, make it clear how you want students to contact you during the exam with questions. It can be email, or in a Zoom group, or nothing at all; just be very clear and stick to it.
- In your fine print, be clear about how you want students to report if internet connectivity issues were problematic during the exam. Usually, this is easiest to address by simply giving a prorated score based on other work.
FERPA compliance and recordings
FERPA compliance and recordings:
If you plan to record your class sessions, be sure to include this statement from the UW Privacy Office in your syllabus:
This course is scheduled to run synchronously at your scheduled class time via Zoom. These Zoom class sessions will be recorded. The recording will capture the presenter’s audio, video and computer screen. Student audio and video will be recorded if they share their computer audio and video during the recorded session. The recordings will only be accessible to students enrolled in the course to review materials. These recordings will not be shared with or accessible to the public.
The University and Zoom have FERPA-compliant agreements in place to protect the security and privacy of UW Zoom accounts. Students who do not wish to be recorded should:
Change their Zoom screen name to hide any personal identifying information such as their name or UW Net ID, and
Not share their computer audio or video during their Zoom sessions."
Securing Zoom sessions
Meeting hosts now have the option to restrict access to meetings by requiring UW NetID authentication to join the meeting. When scheduling a meeting, meeting hosts can enable 'Only authenticated users can join' and will have two options: 'Sign in to UW Zoom (UW NetID required)' and Sign in to Zoom (UW NetID not required).
From the Executive Committee
Best practices for storing videos and files
The default Canvas quota for file uploads is 2GB per course. We can increase this on a case-by-case basis, but that need is quite rare. We do have a limit to the amount of data that can be uploaded to the "files" section of Canvas courses as an institution, and need to remain aware of that.
High-res images or huge PPT files are a pain for students to download, so we generally start by advising faculty to downsize/compress their content for the web. Another resource to note is that we do not have a limit on the amount of data that can be shared via UW Google Drive, and faculty also have up to 1TB of data that can be uploaded to Microsoft O365... those can be options for larger files as well.
Video and audio files DO NOT count toward the course quota if they are properly uploaded. Within the Canvas rich content editor (RCE), their is a "Record/Upload Media" button. This has a 500MB/file upload limit for video or audio. However, there is no limit to the number of files that can be uploaded.
If you need video files larger than 500MB uploaded, you have the option of uploading them to Panopto and making them available to the course through the RCE as well (or the Panopto link in the Nav bar). We do not have a limit on the amount of video that can be uploaded to Panopto.
Zoom limits the amount of time we can store content (90 days). Within Canvas, we do not have a limit on the number of videos that can be uploaded via the "record/upload media" button. We can upload as many 500MB files as we want.
Panopto will become an even more important tool over time. However, it does not have a limit on the amount of content that we can upload (literally). We are charged based on "minutes viewed", and it is possible that our bill could go up. The upload can be affected by local internet quality, and home internet connections often do not have the same bandwidth as we see here on campus. However, a "massive" increase in usage by our faculty would represent a very small increase in load on the overall system. There are many universities that use Panopto to a MUCH higher degree than we do already.