Alternative learning activities for remote students

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Instructors teaching fully in-person or hybrid courses this spring may be able to offer alternative learning activities for remote students who are isolating or quarantining for COVID-related reasons. These substitute activities could be designed to meet the same learning objectives as missed in-person activities.

Replacing unique in-person experiences

Many in-person, experiential learning activities simply can't be replaced, substituted, or simulated by something else. Performing a titration in Organic Chemistry lab, playing Cordelia on stage in King Lear, and counting duck nests in hip waders are all singular experiences that result in deep learning. However, for each one of those activities, there have always been students who could not participate or who missed all or some of the experience through no fault of their own. How would a student in a wheelchair participate in your duck nest count? How would a student who can't see perform a titration? How will students who have to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 learn what you are teaching in your in-person class meetings? Before you say, "Impossible! They will just have to drop the course," consider the learning objectives aligned with your singular in-person activities. Are there ways that your missing students could achieve those same objectives by a different route? Learning should be accessible to everyone and teachers are obligated to find ways to make what they are teaching accessible to all students. This is the fundamental principle behind Universal Design for Learning.

Alignment

When considering a replacement for an in-person learning activity, it may help to map that activity on to its corresponding learning objectives. What exactly are you hoping your students will learn by participating in that in-person activity? Write those objectives down. They should be specific and measurable. There may be one or many. Next, write down how you assess whether your students met those objectives. You may use a quantitative exam or some performance measure. The bottom line is that each learning objective should be aligned with an activity (i.e., what your students do to achieve the learning objective) and an assessment (i.e., how your students demonstrate that they achieved that objective). Once you have that mapped, it's easier to consider other activities that might also be aligned with that objective and assessment. There may be many activities that you can plug into this map, giving your students tremendous flexibility to demonstrate that they have learned what you have taught. This isn't about building another course for students who need accommodation. It's about making your course more inclusive and accessible to all students, something you should have done from the beginning. It's never too late to start!

Example

Learning objectives

  • Student can conduct a waterfowl breeding and habitat survey
  • Student can compare two survey methods
  • Student can describe the features of a wetland habitat

Activities

  • Student participates in instructor-led duck nest survey
  • Student watches a recording of the instructor conducting the survey
  • Student interviews a wetlands survey expert in Zoom
  • Student visits a local wetland habitat and conducts her own survey

Assessment

  • Performance on selected questions on a test
  • Grade on reflection on her interview with the expert
  • Video evidence of local duck survey
  • Acceptance of duck nest research paper by undergraduate research conference

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