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A Semester with the FlexTeaching Listserv

By Julianne Morgan

As 2020 comes to end, I thought I’d take a few moments to add my own submission to the obligatory “year-end / reflection / wrap-up” theme of articles. This piece, though, is about YOU, the instructors of UD, and how you’ve supported each other throughout this semester. I’m certain you have been helping each other in many ways that I haven’t seen (I heard rumor of random acts of cookie deliveries at some point . . .), but I can share the ingenuity and kindness that I have witnessed on the FlexTeaching listserv.

The FlexTeaching listserv was created in June of 2020 as a way to enrich the faculty-to-faculty support network at UD. We encouraged participants to seek advice about teaching and learning, solicit ideas about engaging ways to use face-to-face class time, and find and share new resources. Once we put the listserv “out into the wild”, eLearning took the position of mostly hands-off. We’d step in when we could assist with a technical question, but we really wanted to leave the conversation to instructors, because if there’s anything we’ve learned over the years, the people doing the teaching know best. We have ideas, we read articles, some members of eLearning do teach classes, but we’re not in the classroom every day like you are. And when it came to the prospect of blended/hybrid teaching, we knew that you would have a unique perspective about how exactly your own classes could work in this format.

If the goal of the listserv was to enrich the faculty-to-faculty support network, then I think the listserv has been a resounding success. Since its inception, 229 participants have joined the listserv. There have been 202 unique discussion threads and 885 messages exchanged throughout those threads. Numbers don’t necessarily indicate quality, though, so let’s take a look at some of the themes that arose from these conversations.

Student Engagement Ideas

A common theme throughout the listserv was how to effectively engage with students. We all know from listening to our students that they are craving interaction with you and with each other. Here are a few highlights about this topic from the ListServ:

  • The Question tool in the Lessons tool of Isidore can be used as quick checks to ensure students are understanding content, to have students vote on an opinion, or to scaffold online activities.
    • Dr. Anne Crecelius shared her experience with this tool: “I've been using the question tool a lot in the activities for my summer class that "replace" what I'd normally do in class and pose a question to the class. (ex: look at this slide, what do you think would happen if...) I actually like it better because I get to see each student’s answer. Typically I just fill in the feedback for correct and incorrect answers similarly. I have used it where I set something (a video to watch for example) as a prerequisite that must be complete before doing the question. Or, if questions are scaffolded, the second-fourth questions require answering the first."
  • In September, Dr. Steve Wilhoit asked the community, “what is the easiest way for pairs of students to share and comment on rough drafts of their essays.”
    • Dr. Sabrina Neeley shared, “I think a lot of students just default to using Google docs. I gave a small group assignment in my class last week and within 10 minutes, every group had created and was working on a shared Google doc.”
    • The Peer Review feature in Isidore was also noted by Dr. Amy Krug: “I have used peer review in Isidore a lot and generally like it. When you use the function, Isidore should just assign a paper to a partner if you set it up right. I think the student just goes to the assignment and should be able to see [the assigned peer’s paper].”
  • Online synchronous collaboration can be tricky, but luckily there are tools to facilitate this. Dr. Michelle Pautz asked the listserv, “What apps, tools, software do you like to use with students to create concept maps? I'm eager for suggestions!”
    • Dr. Yvonne Sun shared, “I've been doing synchronous Google slides in Zoom breakout rooms that work well for students to work together and create something on slides.”
    • Dr. Grant Neeley suggested that “Google Jamboard could work for this.”
    • Dr. Melinda Warthman added that she uses LucidChart for concept mapping. Please note that is recommended over LucidChart due to licensing restrictions on LucidChart.
  • In the same vein, Dr. Vincent Miller sought suggestions for how to give students the chance to work in self-selected breakout rooms in Zoom. He observed "some real hesitance on the part of some students to speak in randomly assigned groups. My question is more social. Is there some thoughtful practice for letting students self-select that can avoid reinforcing exclusion?"
    • Dr. Aili Bresnahan shared that she gives students a Google form that "asks them to select a couple of names of students they would like to be in a group with. I only promise that they will get "one" of their choices (in groups of 5-7 students). Then I engineer the rest so that no group has too many "quiet" students in it. I don't allow full cliques to self-select."
    • At the time this question was asked, it wasn't possible to allow students to self-select breakout rooms, but Zoom thankfully added this feature in October 2020.

Time-Saving Strategies

Our "clicking fingers" are tired! A ubiquitous query on the listserv was advice on how to save time and clicks as student papers and tests transformed to digital. 

  • Dr. Margaret Pinnell found herself re-entering students' accommodations one-by-one into the settings of Tests & Quizzes in Isidore and asked the group for a faster approach.
    • Dr. Jana Bennett contributed her resourceful idea to "create a group in the roster of students who need extended time. Then, when I'm assigning an exception, I just give the exception to the whole group." Here's a 2-minute video demo of this process.
  • With over 600+ questions to grade, Dr. Maddie DeBeer wanted to know how to efficiently provide feedback on her weekly problem sets: "Is there a way to set it up in Isidore to release a generalized feedback for each problem set once a problem set has been completed?"
    • Paul Dagnall shared the approach of using the Model Answer feature in the Assignments tool in Isidore that allows isntructors to do exactly this. The instructor provides a model answer, then can set it to release the model after the student submits.  
  • Dr. Denise Taylor utilized specifications grading not only to save "gobs of time in scoring" but to also guide students towards an increase in quality of work. Specifications grading throws points-grading out the window and specifics levels of quality in a pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory rubric. Students who fail or submit unsatisfactory work are provided with feedback, then given another attempt to meet the satisfactory specifications. This type of grading helps students develop their skills and keep making progress on the learning goals of the course. 

Resource Sharing

Need an article, webinar, video, or even virtual conference about a topic? The FlexTeaching listserv has all that and more covered. Resources were widely shared, but here are a few that especially caught my eye:

  • Michael Key works directly with students who are struggling at UD. He relayed some helpful tips he gives to students to help them keep moving after missing work. 
    • To-Do List: Everything that is due today goes on this list. Note that you should use verbs like submit, complete, etc.  Even if you've only completed part of an assignment, submit it if it is due. A 20% is better than a 0 in the gradebook.
    • Wishlist: These are tasks you can start or continue, but are not due today. They might be due tomorrow or later. They may also be things that aren't graded but are essential for performance (study, take notes, practice problems, etc.).
    • Make-Up List: Items you have the opportunity to make-up go here. They should never prevent you from submitting an assignment or starting something before it is due.
  • With students often entering and leaving Zoom rooms, or moving into breakout rooms, the Zoom attendance report can sometimes be difficult to interpret. Dr. Merete Hvalshagen developed her own Excel macro to generate a Zoom attendance report that combines multiple student entries into a single row, and then was kind of enough to share the macro with the listserv. I tested it myself and can confirm its utility! 
  • The technical requirements alone for conducting a hybrid class were enough to daunt even the most intrepid of instructors. As soon as classrooms opened up in August, Denise Platfoot Lacey, Esq. enlisted a few colleagues to test teaching in the classroom and via Zoom simultaneously. Her report documenting her tips and tricks for hybrid teaching was one of the most valuable resources for the listserv/ 


These are only a few of the many informative exchanges that occured on the FlexTeaching listserv throughout this semester. I wish I could share them all! 

I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the conversation. I also want to thank the folks who are "lurking" on the listserv - those who are silently observering but not jumping in. I see you, and I'm glad you're sticking around. Lastly, I want to welcome instructors who are interested in joining the listserv. This guide will walk you through how to join (it's just a quick email to an automated service). Once you join, feel free to lurk or begin contributing! 

One final thought. With regard to the impact of this listserv, I think Dr. Deb Bickford (Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Learning Initiatives) captures it best: "People are sharing their ideas, strategies, questions, and reactions, and also, creating community of practice around teaching. HALLELUJAH!"

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