The work of a Faculty Fellow for Technology Enhanced Teaching during COVID-19

A surprising amount of the consulting I did as a Faculty Fellow revolved not around technology per se, but rather around setting up the physical space to teach online. Many did not have dedicated space, as I didn’t when I stated teaching online. On the right is my first home office set up to teach online. On the left is how I do teach online 20 years later.

I was selected as a Faculty Fellow for Technology Enhanced Teaching in the Spring of 2020. I consulted 16 faculty clients in Friday workshops and held two presentations in this role. Both presentations revolved around the design of asynchronous online discussions. However, looking back on my 18 months as a Faculty Fellow, that was not where most faculty were looking for help. I kept detailed notes on the 30 or so consultations I completed and in reviewing these notes, I noticed that there’s more diversity in the department names than in the challenges faculty faced. These consultations spanned over 7 colleges at the university, but the issues fell into four main topical categories. Topics were:

  1. The physical space for online teaching (lighting, standing desks, eye strain ~40%)
  2. Policies for online synchronous classes (eg: requiring cameras be kept on, syllabus language ~30%)
  3. Coordinating digital tools (linking things together, like putting a link to the Zoom space in the Canvas landing page ~25%)
  4. Simple encouragement, collegiality and support (explaining that not attempting to do what you do in in-person settings, and rather re-imagining the activity for at-a-distance might be less frustrating and more rewarding ~5%)

Faculty at UT seem to need very little technical help. Conversations about the home set up, the experience of working from home, and my own personal preferences for how I set up my home space to do this kind of work sustainably entered into each discussion- see pic to the right.   But more important than this, I got the impression that each colleague I talked to sought validation from a colleague that their gut feelings about the way they envision constructing online learning was fair, equitable, and within the conventions of online learning. My colleagues do not search to be taught tools or tactics as much as reassurance about acceptable conventions, e.g.  require video cameras be turned on during sessions. Another example, none needed to be taught how google products work; but all did seem to find the arguments behind requiring students to use their school-issued google accounts that don’t generate permission requests interesting. Faculty do not need to be taught how to use break out rooms; they need to talk to another instructor about how they do it and hear, “yes, that sounds a lot like the way I do it.”

The sharing was healthy. There are little tricks I can learn from other faculty, and there are little tricks I think they learned from me. I learned from Dr Morrow about how to modularize multimedia content stored in Canvas, and her pecha kucha requirement of preloading ALL slides prior to class to save time. I learned from Dr Richardson that the video annotations tools in Canvas were easy to pick up. I shared my strategies as well, e.g. I send out a link to speedtest.net and require all students to restart their router-modems before the start of each semester to proactive solve bandwidth issues in video conferences.  I walked away from the experience seeing it as one of collaboration and sharing. At no point in time did I feel like I was telling my colleagues what to do. I don’t think I could do that even if I were asked.

I originally thought it would be creepy to approach colleagues about their teaching, but that’s not how it played out. “Let me talk to you about your teaching” is not an acceptable request among professional scholars, and that is not what happened. I invited colleagues to talk about their courses, and their descriptions organically led into these discussion topic I listed early in the bog post. The consulting approach helped me feel comfortable and I think helped clients find the areas which were most pressing. I got the impression that the subsequent sharing actually felt good. It also gave me a chance to get these faculty reactions on policies that I use, such as asking our learners to not ask each other for personal cell phone numbers, and instead generate google voice numbers so that classmates can keep their cell numbers private. (As cell numbers are increasingly used for instant banking and two-factor authentication, I am finding it questionable to support their use in the context of classes.) Other things were just a little venting. Instructors were frustrated with learners using personal google accounts that block them out of UT resources. Special permission requests from 50 learners is very burdensome. I built an infographic explaining how to circumvent this here. Other products from these session are linked below.

Packaged syllabus language:

From my course syllabuses in the section on Learning Environments:

This course is delivered asynchronously via Canvas, and synchronously via ZOOM. I DO NOT USE CANVAS EMAIL, but I do use CANVAS announcements. Please go to account->Notifications-> enable announcements to get my course announcements. However, stick to traditional email for contacting me; a personal message sent in CANVAS mail will never reach me. For synchronous meetings, use your UT ZOOM account: login, user guide: ZOOM, my “Zoom room.” If you do not want my answer to your questions broadcast to other students in the class, please be sure to clearly state that your message is confidential. I typically respond to the whole class for every question I am asked. I do not record class sessions for distribution to students who missed class. I am not against you recording class sessions, but you must ask the whole class when you do so because it does sometimes impact the willingness of others to participate.

While in class, your video is expected to be turned on during class time, and your image should be visible. Lurking (attending class with video off, or face hidden) is forbidden, rude, and uncomfortable for other learners. Additionally, please make sure that you have access to an audio headset (with a microphone) for optimum participation in the synchronous sessions. If you choose to engage in activities that are unprofessional, disrespectful to others, or disruptive, you will lose points toward course participation or be asked to withdraw from the course. By EPC policy, driving while engaged in an online class is prohibited.

Being part of this learning community includes being present in online synchronous sessions. We have defined presence in an online class environment as listening to others as well as participating where appropriate. But unlike some face to face environments, there are activities that can make you not present in a video conference setting even when you believe you are. Those include but are not limited to driving during a class, supervising children or pets during class, turning off your video camera or obscuring your face while others are participating, or multi-tasking on other types of work. Of course, we all know the unexpected happens, and rules get broken on occasion. However, plan to follow these forms of peer respect. Plan accordingly as these non-presence activities not only detract from your learning, but also from our sense of community that we build in IT Online. Just a few repeated behaviors can result in a dispositions letter because these behaviors can be so disruptive.

Disability Services Policy

Any student who feels they may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact Student Disability Services in Dunford Hall, at 865-974-6087, or by video relay at, 865-622-6566, to coordinate reasonable academic accommodations.

Useful links:

These are items I gave to all consultees. They are quick fixes for persistent problems that arise simple because those new to online teaching have not encountered these tips.

  • Link to how to set your zoom account to record to the cloud: https://oit.utk.edu/news/zoom-room-fine-tuning/
  • Ookle Speedtest: https://www.speedtest.net/. Zoom needs 1.5 mbps to run. If your students are getting more than that speed, and their Zoom experience is still choppy, they have too many windows open, or their router has not been restarted in a while. See next bullet.
  • Unplug your browser before the start of every new semester. This simple article explains why unplugging the router fixes 99% of your connectivity problems and speeds up the performance of your machine.
  • Remind students to logout of all other google accounts when trying to accomplish tasks in Canvas’s Google. This linked infographic is useful, especially if they have other Tennessee digital identities.
  • To get a google voice number, start at: voice.google.com

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