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Engaging Ideas for Flexible Teaching: Preparing for Fall 2020
Summer 2020 Teaching Matters E-Newsletter

Your ideas for engaging online and flexible teaching 
Andrea Follmer Greenhoot, CTE/Psychology

It’s mid-July and our Spring 2020 rapid shift to remote teaching already feels like a distant memory. It was really an incredible feat of agility and creativity—with little preparation, KU faculty and GTAs moved thousands of courses into an online teaching environment in a matter of days.

As we move toward the fall we know it will not be easy, but we have two things going for us compared to spring: more time to prepare and intentionally build adaptability into our courses, and opportunities to learn from the many creative and thoughtful approaches KU faculty developed in the spring to maintain connection and bring enjoyment and fun back into their classes.

For this special issue of CTE’s newsletter, we invited colleagues to share their engaging ideas for online and flexible teaching: instructional activities or assignments that were especially successful in engaging and stimulating students, were fun to implement, or took advantage of the online environment in ways they had not discovered before. I hope these examples spark some new and innovative ideas for your fall courses and help energize your preparation.

For more comprehensive guidance for Fall 2020 course design and a listing of workshop and consultation opportunities, please see our online instructor guidebook,

Building interactions with/among students

Mini art galleries
Jennifer Gleason, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Celka Straughn, Spencer Museum of Art

Last spring, students in Biology 420/652 Comparative Animal Behavior were given PowerPoint slides of art work in the Spencer Museum of Art that depicted animals in relation to course concepts. The artwork was selected by the curator (Straughn) and instructor (Gleason) for a diversity of themes, media, time periods, and cultural influences. For the assignment, students selected three to four pieces of art that they thought represented a concept in the class. Students assembled small PowerPoint presentations with an introductory slide that explained the theme portrayed by the artwork, and then with each art work on a separate slide, explained how that piece fit with the theme. Each mini art gallery was posted on a discussion board in Blackboard. Students then could see all the art galleries and were required to comment on at least five of them.
     The comments were engaging, and students were thoughtful about groupings they had not considered. Some had similar themes, but different pieces. Overall, the exercise had them think about the connection between art and science while also engaging with their classmates, which was difficult to do in an asynchronous class.

Promoting accountability
John Nalbandian, School of Public Affairs & Administration

In my small classes, to promote self-accountability among students, at the beginning of the class I ask students to write what they expect of themselves for the class period. Then, at the end of the class, I ask them to comment on how well they met their expectations. They submit their expectations/comment to me at the end of class, and after class is dismissed, I email brief responses to them. My responses are not judgmental. I do not evaluate for grade purposes. I try to be helpful.

Active student responding
Thomas Zane, Jessica Juanico, and Robin Kuhn, Applied Behavioral Science

Of the many variables that are highly correlated with (or perhaps even causally related to) positive student outcome data, active student responding (ASR; e.g., Malanga & Sweeney, 2008) is one of the most critical. Instructors can easily implement ASR activities into online instruction with video quizzes. Media Hub makes it super easy to embed questions into an existing video lecture (or any video, depending upon copyright protection) to which students must respond while watching. Media Hub has simple-to-follow instructions. The result is that students will watch the video, answer questions that pop up at any point in the video, and must answer correctly before continuing the video.
   Susan Marshall, Psychology

I developed Afterthoughts as a group sharing assignment in my Psychology 318 Cognitive Psychology course (large enrollment of 160). It can be done in any size class by making discussion groups of 12-15 on Blackboard. I’ve also done it using a Facebook group in a small Honors class so it could be done in some other platform (Slack, MS Teams, etc.).  Assignment instructions (built into Blackboard) can be found 
     After the deadline, my TA collects the winning posts from each discussion board, and they are shared class-wide. Winning students also get extra credit on an exam. There are great examples that students can use for studying, videos/TED talks/links to articles that I’ve later incorporated into my class, etc. It’s a great way for students to continue thinking about the content and also a good resource for me to find new examples that are relevant to my students as I update my class.
Cheryl Wright, Curriculum & Teaching

   Check-ins can support student engagement and sustain teacher-student communication if instructors are using asynchronous online instruction. The intentional use of check-ins ensures instructor presence, monitors student understanding, and encourages ongoing and flexible learning. Last spring, I found that using check-ins via email, reflective questioning, and brief surveys was effective in assessing students’ questions, gauging their well-being, and maintaining a sense of connection between the classroom and online instruction. Specific characteristics of check-ins can be found 
     Students might hide behind a screen when using other forms of technology; using check-ins elicits feedback to guide instruction and promote a caring learning environment. Providing on-going opportunities to remain connected appeared to have been a benefit for those who struggled with social isolation. As one student shared with me in an email, “I really appreciate you checking in. It shows you not only care about my learning, you care about me!”
Creative Approaches
Songs for life
Carol Holstead, Journalism & Mass Communications

Responding to a prompt in a journalism media survey course, students told a story about a song that was meaningful to them, and then I created a Spotify playlist featuring 36 of those songs. Journalism 101 Media and Society is a large undergraduate class, 208 students in the spring 2020 semester. Before the course moved online, the class featured lectures on media topics, and students were tested on the material. When the course went online, I ditched the tests and created weekly prompts that would get students to apply knowledge from lectures.
     One prompt asked students to write about a song that was meaningful to them. In the related lecture on music, I talked about how music forms our identities, provides comfort during transitions, and bonds us to our parents. Here was the prompt: “This week, write about one song that you identify with—one that represents you personally, or has bonded you with your parents, or you’re listening to right now because it’s making you feel better. Explain why this song is important to you, represents you or is part of a bond. There’s a story to your song. Tell it.”
     In response, students shared stories of heartbreak, of the death of friends and parents, of addiction, of coming out, of achievement, of dancing in the living room with their families, of learning to communicate with their parents, of falling in love. The stories they told were the stories of how they had navigated their lives. An unexpected benefit for me was I learned more about individual students in a large class than I would have otherwise. The assignment resonated because it allowed students to tell a meaningful story about themselves.
     I listened to every song, and created an eclectic Spotify playlist, “101 Songs for Life,” of 36 of them. Find it 
Brain imaging online
Rob Fiorentino, Linguistics

Neurolinguistics II (LING 542/742) is an advanced course examining how the brain-imaging technique electroencephalography (EEG) can be used to study language and the brain. The Spring 2020 cohort included nine undergraduate and seven graduate students. We began the semester by discussing basic principles and best practices regarding EEG study design and implementation. I planned for students to collect new EEG data, extending a pilot experiment that had begun in a previous semester, and to report their findings in a poster (undergraduates) or paper (graduates). Since instruction moved online before data collection began, I made sure that students could access MATLAB on their computer or via the KU Virtual Lab, assembled a package of free MATLAB-based EEG analysis toolboxes, and made available a set of already-collected EEG data from this experiment.
     In weekly online activities, students worked with me to analyze and prepare visualizations of the data and to interpret results. The undergraduates worked in teams using Slack and Zoom to draft a poster reporting the study and proposing a design change to address an unexpected outcome. Undergraduates then shared their poster with graduate students via Slack for their feedback. Each undergraduate then submitted a revised version of the poster addressing the graduate students’ feedback and making their desired changes. The graduates submitted an EEG experiment proposal that they worked on during the semester. Using this approach, the students were able to gain experience with brain-imaging research design, analysis, and reporting in an online format.
At-home labs
Jennifer Delgado, Physics & Astronomy

Last spring, in our introductory physics labs, we developed “at home labs” for our 1300 students. The labs used things that students could find at home or on their smart phones. For example, we had students determine how the time period that a pendulum would swing was affected by the length of the pendulum, and how distance from a light source affected the illuminance. We found “standards” for length that students could use to make a measuring instrument in case they didn’t have a ruler, like batteries or DVD cases which have standard dimensions. We also set up a system to share data if they did not have the materials they needed. 
 Sketchfab for online labs
 Matthew Downen, Geology

 Geology is often a sample-based and very hands-on science, and as a result a significant component of the geology curriculum is laboratory work. In the lab, students learn to identify minerals, rocks, and fossils based on samples. With the switch to online instruction, the lack of in-person classes created a substantial challenge in geology lab-based courses. For two undergraduate courses, the introductory geology laboratory (GEOL 103) and the upper-level paleontology laboratory (GEOL 523), I built lab exercises using Sketchfab (, an interactive online platform for publishing and sharing 3D models. Many natural history museums and universities have dedicated efforts to digitize collections and used a variety of 3D imaging techniques to create these models, with the rotating and zoom capabilities.
     In Sketchfab, students were able to explore virtual collections of samples and answer questions similar to what they would experience in class. In GEOL 103, activities on metamorphic and sedimentary rocks used 3D models from Sketchfab. In the paleontology lab, virtual collections of fossils helped students explore the diversity of animal groups. In both classes, it is important to visualize samples from different angles to see things like mineral alignment in a metamorphic rock, ripples in a sandstone, or morphological features of fossils in different anatomical directions.
      GEOL 103 students participated in an informal survey on their experience with the online lab format. Students reported that the lab exercises using 3D models from Sketchfab were the most enjoyable, and that they felt like they learned a lot from those activities. The applications of Sketchfab aren’t limited just to geology; I highly recommend other disciplines like art, biology, engineering, and others to explore how these 3D models may be used in online instruction. The virtual collections are available 
Annotation for peer work
Jacob Stutzman, Institute for Leadership Studies

This assignment was the culminating assignment in LDST 710, History and Theory of Leadership Studies. The course was fully online from its inception with a small group of students, some of whom were enrolled for a graduate certificate and some whose home program was LDST.
     There were three parts to the assignment. First, each student wrote a personal leadership philosophy. The audience for this document was general, such as potential employers, supervisees, or colleagues. Once students submitted their philosophies, I copied the text of their philosophies onto a blank page in Blackboard for each student. This created a unique URL for each student's philosophy. At first, I gave each student access to only their own philosophy.
     The second part of the assignment was to use to annotate their own philosophy. is a free service that facilitates annotation and highlighting of web-based sources. We had used the tool for several assignments earlier in the course, keeping all of our annotations in a private group for the class. On their own philosophies, students annotated the text with a more expert audience in mind, identifying elements of or reactions to specific theories.
     After those annotations were complete, all students had access to all of the philosophies and were instructed to annotate each other's work. They could reply to annotations from the author, create their own annotations, reply to each other's comments, and so on. The goal was to "make your classmates the best version of their leaderly selves that they can be."
     The use of allowed clear and public communication about a text in a way that would be inelegant, at best, in a discussion board. Creating the document and then a second layer to the document pushed students to engage with their own writing reflexively and rigorously.
Made it!
   Bernie Kish, Health, Sport & Exercise Science

A couple things helped me make it to the finish line in the spring, having to convert three classes to online mode in one week in March.
  • I created a new special syllabus for each class. The enrollments for my three classes were 60-70-74.
  • I knew most of my students from our first seven weeks of class. However, I made an extra effort to stay engaged with them via Zoom, plus I made videos that previewed and reviewed each week.
  • I invite guest speakers to my in-person classes. I had not done that for my summer online classes in the past. But with Zoom, it proved very doable and effective. I had a total of 14 guest speakers in my three classes, cutting-edge professionals. They supplemented what we were studying with real-world experience. Students appreciated them. I also had students volunteer to introduce the guest speakers, which was a good way for them to connect with a professional.
  • I had three terrific Graduate Teaching Assistants, one for each class. They were my “Logistics Guys”—set up Zoom and coordinated with guest speakers to make sure we were all ready to go. We also communicated with each other several times a week.
  • The students. They had such a wonderful “can-do”—“I am interested” attitude. Attendance for the guest speaker classes was part of their attendance grade. Really great attendance. Some kids could not attend because they had jobs. But my GTAs taped all of the speakers—the kids who missed were able to watch it later and then write a short one-page paper on the presentation.
So—all these things combined for  a very gratifying experience for this “Old Perfesser.” The late great Grambling Coach Eddie Robinson used to say “You can’t be a good coach unless you love ‘em,” and I say “You can’t be a good teacher unless you truly care about your students.”
The ”Unknown Project”
Eileen Hotze, Undergraduate Biology

In previous semesters, students in the Bacterial Infectious Disease Lab culminated the semester by working on the “Unknown Project.” For this, students worked independently to identify five unknown bacterial species from mixed cultures. Students would have used media-based lab techniques to isolate and characterize their bacteria, and results were presented in the format of an unknown lab report.
     Due to COVID19, we had to reimagine the project. We paired students, in lieu of working independently, to maintain some peer engagement. With GTA support, we used discussion boards to upload daily results of their now mock experiment. Students were required to discuss results and agree upon next steps before ordering new tests to be performed. Students were also asked to prepare a PowerPoint presentation of their results with their lab partners instead of a lab report. While the partners worked together to prepare the presentation, each was required to record their presentation using Kaltura and upload their presentation to our Unknown Presentation Gallery on Blackboard. Each student was then required to watch and evaluate two of their peers’ presentations. Students also evaluated how they and their lab partners contributed to the project. Rather than focus on laboratory techniques skills, we shifted our evaluation to scientific communication, team work, and peer and self-evaluation skills.
     While  students were initially disappointed this project was moved online, we received positive feedback from them in our post-project survey. For future in-person BID labs, I intend to include the Media Gallery component as well as peer and self-evaluation rubrics developed for the online presentation. Check 
here for a screenshot of our presentation gallery and student feedback.
Virtual ELISA laboratory
Jack Treml, Undergraduate Biology

This exercise simulated an Enzyme-Linked Immuno-Sorbant Assay (ELISA) laboratory for a small class in Applied Immunology (BTEC400). ELISAs are assays that use antibodies with colorimetric dyes to represent the concentration of target molecules within an unknown based on comparison to a standard curve derived from known amounts of the same.
     The prompt: Given a sample of serum from patient X, what is the concentration of IgG and IgM in this patient’s serum? Your patient is a normal, healthy adult. Expect normal values. Students were challenged to generate two ELISA protocols to determine the concentration of antibody (specifically and independently: IgG and IgM) in a patient’s serum. The results of the virtual laboratory were impressive. Check 
here for details.
Online case study debates
Amy Leyerzapf, Institute for Leadership Studies

One of my courses is LDST 203: Introduction to Leadership, Honors. As a Core Goal 5.1 (Social Responsibility and Ethics) option, the seminar-style course attracts Honors students from all degree programs and at all stages of their academic career. 
     This assignment was designed, in part, to satisfy the core requirement of applying “principles, decision-making processes, and, as appropriate, ethics codes to specific ethical dilemmas (such as case studies) in which important values conflict."  It was designed for two 75-minute class periods. As part of the course, I added this debate to our final case study last spring. I’d not done a debate with my honors group before; we’d just always done case studies with discussions. By the time we got to the final case study, our energy was flagging a bit, and I wanted to try something to bring some energy back, which it did. Students debated the topic “The Curious Case of Donald Trump: Leadership, Professional Ethics, and the Goldwater Rule.”
     For details about the assignment, check 
Rethinking Finals
Empowering students through options
Meghan Davidson, Speech-Language-Hearing

Last spring I taught an introductory language development course with about 40 students. After we switched to remote teaching, I did something that I had never done before and gave students several options for completing their cumulative final exam. Students choose between a traditional, cumulative final exam and a mini-cumulative project plus module exam (students were tested only on content from the final module of the course).
     If students chose the second option, they had further choices about the format of their mini-project: a 
brief workshop for parents, letter to a new parent, or brochure for a pediatrician’s office. All options focused on students explaining language development to someone unfamiliar with the content—parents—and were graded on the same criteria.
     I provided options as a way to give students flexibility to work within their capacities at that time, and I thought that most students would choose #2 (mini-cumulative project plus module exam). To my surprise, roughly 50% of students completed each option, and students varied in their choice of project format for #2. Grades were comparable across the two options. I felt that having options helped reduce students' anxiety. I learned that providing options for the final exam empowered students to determine the best method for them to demonstrate their understanding of course content.
A new kind of studio
Stephanie Zelnick, School of Music

Though I missed teaching my students in person, the KU Clarinet Studio reframed their final assessment to a recorded project instead of the usual jury that we have at the end of a semester. The parameters were that the project was a video of high artistic value and related to the clarinet. Students adhered to complete social distancing and did not collaborate in any live fashion with anyone else. While working every week on standards from the clarinet repertoire in Zoom and FaceTime lessons, we also tailored ideas that were completely student-driven.
     The students submitted brilliant final projects that included a:
  • Bosnian folk tune transcribed for solo clarinet with a discussion of cultural significance
  • Discussion of the thematic imagery in Carl Maria von Weber'sGrand Duo Concertante
  • Video of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody performed and recorded in four voices by the same clarinetist
  • Complete tutorial of useful tips for the beginning clarinetist
      We also continue to meet as a studio by Zoom but were able to invite some of the greatest clarinetists of our time to conduct the classes from the comfort of their living rooms.
Making your voice count
Pam Rooks, Sociology

In SOC 161, Social Problems and American Values, Honors, my students completed a public project. The Coronavirus pandemic highlighted racial disparities in health care, slicing across topics we had planned to explore in the second half of the Spring 2020 semester. It was disappointing to have to move the class online, but the quality of students’ input remained high and by the end of the semester, I wanted to find a way to provide a wider audience for their perspectives. Given the stress of the pandemic, though, I also wanted to downsize the final project, which had originally been planned as a large research paper.
     This project, Making your Voice Count, served both goals by asking students to write an op-ed article as a public sociology piece. They were required to provide six sources to support their argument and were prompted: “Choose a social justice concern and discuss how you think it will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
     The challenge, however, came in finding a way to make a public sociology project truly public. It became a group effort that could not have been accomplished without the creative endeavors of Melissa Wittner, the sociology department’s Administrative Assistant, who designed the web page and coordinated student permission forms; Lisa-Marie Wright, Assistant Teaching Professor of Sociology, who shared extensive, thoughtful guidance and resources for getting the project underway; and Office Manager Beth Hoffman, who provided ongoing support. I was also very grateful to the sociology department for letting us post to its website and Facebook page for students to see and share.
     The completed collection of student articles is 
here. Check 
here for the project description and rubric, as well as the student consent form.
Collaborative book chapter for future students
Drew Vartia, Chemistry

In CHEM 149 online last spring (~35 undergraduate engineering students), I wanted to provide a more formal introduction to materials science. However, ready resources—especially in chemistry texts—don’t exist. What an opportunity! In a nutshell, students gradually and semi-collaboratively built these missing resources for future students in the spirit of a non-disposable assignment. Through a series of four writing assignments on particular topics, students gradually built a large repository of quality information that other students could draw on later. Because these supporting assignments were both small and gradual, I had the opportunity to intervene if necessary (e.g., if a student encountered and included misinformation.)
     For the final project, each student built a comprehensive book chapter about a materials class of their choice. While the list of required topics for the book chapter was large, the task was accessible because much of the initial work was done by the class as a whole via the smaller assignments. Editing peer work to create single consistent style and significant supplementation with new additional information were also requirements of the final project.
     Several students mentioned wanting to do well on supporting assignments, since their peers might see—or even rely on—their work. The format also satisfied my goal of trying collaboration in an online environment while still honoring student wishes for no assigned groups (mid-semester survey results.)
     Nearly all the student projects were of good to high quality. Notably, the assignment generated at least two exceptional and comprehensive book chapters for use by future CHEM 149 and CHEM 150 students. Check 
here for more details about this project.
Posters and peer review on a Wiki
Megan Greene, History

As one of a set of scaffolded assignments leading to the production of a research paper, I was going to have a poster day in class. Students were to produce a poster on their research topic that described their topic and discussed materials they would be using to support their argument from three sources. They would also review and comment on the ideas in their peers' posters. The assignment encouraged them to make their posters look nice, but did not require it. At first, when we transitioned to online, I thought I might have to give this assignment up, because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to recreate in Blackboard the same sort of easy to use, gallery effect that classroom walls would have given me. After a quick consultation with Toshi Urata at CODL, I built a wiki and loaded into it a table with three columns and enough rows for all of the students. I then modified the peer review requirements so that each student would review only two posters.
     Students uploaded their posters to the wiki and had several days to look over their peers' posters and review them. I had done a poster day once before, in a different class, but I noticed that this time I got much more visually stimulating posters. I think that by doing this assignment entirely online and without having to worry about printing or sizing posters and the associated costs, many students felt freed up to add more graphics and relevant images to their work.
     The course is History 604: Contemporary Greater China. It had 21 students, 19 of whom were undergraduates (mostly advanced, but not necessarily history or EALC majors), and two of whom were non-degree seeking students thinking about going on to do graduate work in history. It was a fairly heavy reading course and I mostly ran it as a discussion class, though given that only a few students had background on China, I had to do a bit of lecturing during the first couple of weeks.
     This assignment was designed as a way to give students an opportunity to present their research to the whole class and get a bit of feedback on their ideas from their peers without taking up the amount of class time that oral presentations would have required. We could do the whole thing in a single day. It was the final assignment in a set of four assignments (1. topic statement and preliminary bibliography, 2. thesis and outline, 3. 500 word chunk) leading up to the production of a research paper. They got comments from me on all four pre-assignments, but this was the only one for which they got feedback from their peers. For details about this assignment, check 
Paris memoirs
Steve Padget, Architecture

In the fall, students selected for the Paris Academic Internship Program (ARCH 810) attend classes at l’Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Architecture, Paris – Val de Seine. In the spring, they serve internships in some of the most select architectural practices in Paris. Typically, at the end of their internships, each student-intern must submit an internship report which both documents the work they did in the office and reflects on what was learned, special challenges, and other observations. With the COVID-19 lock down, the offices closed their normal operations, the internships abruptly ended, and the students came back to the U.S.
     As the internships were so short, and the access to their work in the offices was unavailable, the normal internship report could not be done. Soon after students returned, I held a Zoom discussion with them about how to complete the semester. I could tell from the conversation that they were suffering from a kind of trauma. They missed the place, the work, the people, the independence, and the discoveries about Paris, and themselves. They seemed a little depressed.
     I had them do memoirs. Each day, they were to do (from memory – no photos allowed) a sketch of something memorable about living, studying, and working in Paris. In addition, they were to write a short paragraph or two about why that thing, scene, image was so memorable to them. Every Monday, we met on Zoom for each student to share at least one memoir. This served as a great way for the students to collectively be “in Paris” if only for a couple of hours. The discussions were slow to develop at first, but became increasingly lively, and joyous as time went on. One of the students offered that this was his favorite time of the week. His fellow students agreed.
     On these 
webpages, I have included several of the daily memoirs. For additional credit, several students expanded their memoirs into mini-research projects, adding historical context to their personal memories. Two of these are included.

News & Notes

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