Preparing Your Platforms & Students for FurmanFlex Learning

The information below focuses on helping our students succeed in a hybrid learning environment. Some of the information included will only apply if you are using specific strategies or learning modalities. Please utilize and adapt any or all of the following information to best suit your individual course preparation needs.

Before You Begin Your Course

Before your hybrid flexible course launches, instructors should review the design of their course(s), polish up and post welcome announcements in online learning platforms, make sure instructor information is current and get organized. If you are offering an online learning modality, we encourage you to consider reviewing these Online Teaching Competencies (McArthur) before launching your course. There are several things you should do prior to the first day of class:

Prepare Your Learning Platforms:

  • Review all pages in your Moodle course page to ensure accuracy. Click on all web links to ensure they are live and lead to the appropriate site.
  • Please ensure that you have posted a course syllabus (see sample template here), technical requirements for course participation, required materials for the course, and instructions about how to access additional learning platforms in your Moodle course prior to the course start. It is recommended that this information be posted early to ensure enough time for students to procure the required materials and test technical connections before the first day of class. You might find these examples of online and HyFlex course syllabi helpful.
  • Set up a course calendar with all due dates (including any assignment deadlines) and submission instructions (at least for the first few weeks of the course).
  • Post your preferred communication method. Advise students how they can get in touch with you during the course regardless of the learning modality they are in. Options for contact can be through email, a course discussion board (e.g. “ask the Instructor”) or by phone.
  • Develop a space (e.g. forum) for students to connect and introduce themselves online and consider positing a welcome announcement or video to introduce the course and the Moodle site.
  • If students in your courses require accommodations, you will be notified by the SOAR office as students request those. Please keep in mind that some accommodation processes require timely submission of material or information, like requests for the delivery of printed materials.

Communicate with Your Students:

We recommend that you share information with your students at least two weeks before classes begin:

  • Post an announcement or video welcoming your students to class on your Moodle course site. In your welcome announcement, you might consider highlighting how to navigate the Moodle platform.
  • You might consider querying your students about their readiness to engage in various forms of online learning to help identify situational factors that might impact course engagement as a means to help your students identify strategies and resources to enhance their online learning. A pre-course Online Learning Student Readiness Survey template is available here.
  • Help your students understand what hybrid-flexible learning means: A) Classes will take place through a mixture of online and in-person modalities. Some students may engage fully in-person, some fully online, and some may move between modalities for a variety of reasons. All in-person interactions will follow Furman Focused protocols. The most frequently used online mechanisms for interaction will include Moodle, Zoom, Box, Microsoft Teams, or some other combined system that allows students and instructors to communicate (sometimes in real-time, sometimes as you are able). B) Instructors may utilize two different types of virtual course interactions including synchronous interaction (live, real-time engagement in a virtual setting) or asynchronous interaction (online interaction that takes place independent of time or location, as you are able).
  • Ensure that students are provided with adequate training and set-up/login information for any additional learning platforms you plan to utilize in the course (Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.)
  • Encourage students to have copies of textbooks purchased and available prior to the start of class.
  • Encourage students to visit the course website (in Moodle) to preview the syllabus and become familiar with the course format so they are prepared to start on day one.
  • Remind students that if they have technical issues email service.center@furman.edu or call 864.294.3277.
  • Remind students to check Furman email and MyFurman announcements regularly and frequently.
All students should be encouraged to check technology, internet connections, and resource access before classes begin. You might remind them to:
  • Log into Moodle and check any course resources needed for the course
  • Students should make sure they can “enter” your Zoom classroom. For information about how to do this in Zoom, click here. Students should also be sure they are able to open the Teams app on their computer. For information about how to do that, click here.
  • If they plan to use a phone for Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings, students should download the appropriate app now to be prepared for classes ahead of time.
  • If students plan to use some sort of video interaction, they should be sure to test their mic and speakers here before the first class.
  • Students should consider how they will access library resources wherever they are by familiarizing themselves with these services.
  • Now is a good time to consider these tips with regard to managing and organizing email.
If you plan to hold synchronous class sessions through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or some chat feature you might consider sharing the following additional guidance with your students:
  • When your synchronous sessions will take place and where they can find a calendar or course schedule with this information.
  • You will access your online meeting room through a link in your email, via Moodle, or through a direct invitation from Zoom. Note: students do NOT need special accounts to join these class meetings – just click the link provided.
  • Although using a computer is preferred, you can join a Zoom or Teams meeting using only a cell phone (you’ll want to download the appropriate app).
  • It is helpful to be able to see each other during our synchronous sessions. If you are joining our sessions virtually, I expect you to turn on your video unless you’ve discussed an extenuating circumstance with me that makes this unreasonable. 

In the First Week

The first week in a hybrid flexible course is a crucial time to engage students and address any questions or concerns your students may have about the course. Research shows most students engaging virtually in a course drop out in the first week of the course because they feel a lack of connection with the course or the instructor. Several steps instructors can take to establish presence and engage students joining virtually during the first week include (McArthur, 2018): 

  • For those students joining online, monitor logins and student access, contact missing students to encourage participation, and raise flags as needed.
  • Contact missing students to encourage their participation.
  • Provide support information when needed, e.g. , how to get access to the library, register for credit/no credit, drop the course, or use the publisher’s study materials from various locations (on or off campus).
  • Encourage students to post introductions and share experiences in an “Introduce Yourself” forum.
  • Model good participation. Use a conversational tone for responses that is inviting, personal, friendly, and encouraging.
  • Advertise your office hours!
  • Set explicit expectations for behavior in the class and discussion boards. What are your group expectations for interactions, confidentiality, and civility in person and online? For one robust example of how you might communicate discussion board expectations, see here.

Your students will benefit from early modeling of the “go-to” technology you plan to use under various instructional scenarios throughout the semester in the first week of classes. Your students will thank you in the event that infection rates require a totally remote transition. Some ideas to consider:

  • Set aside some time to introduce your students to the features of whatever platform/s you are using and ensure that they’re able to navigate and utilize those you plan to use the most. For an example of what this might look like with an overview of important course set-up and new instructional technology, watch this video where Associate Professor of Sociology, Kyle Longest, provides an introduction to online learning for his course. 
  • Utilize a Moodle forum online while students are discussing in class to help students become accustomed to online discussions. Require interaction by creating application prompts and providing feedback.
  • Use Zoom or Teams for office hours from the start of the semester.
  • You might even consider conducting one class session fully online early in the semester as a trial run. This will help your students see your online engagement norms (asking students to monitor/sign post the chat so it can be reused as a coherent transcript for example).

Reviewing Netiquette

If you are using any sort of synchronous or asynchronous interactive technology, it is a good idea to share some basic netiquette tips with your students as a starting point for a more personal conversation you have with each of your courses about norms of interaction and engagement online. Some general guidelines taken from these CAS Remote Learning Guidelines for Students include:

Refrain from typing in “all caps.”– Readers may think that you are shouting and that is not how you should convey your message.

Sarcasm is not appropriate.  – In general, sarcasm is difficult to understand, but it may be taken as rude behavior when using online. It is appropriate to be direct in communication, but do not use sarcasm.

Do not abuse the chat box. – This is a place to share an idea or ask a question, not a place for commenting on everything that is said. Do not ask questions that are unrelated to the topic or irrelevant to the discussion. The chat box is not instant messaging or for texting.

Use proper grammar and be respectful. – Chat boxes are not a place to type things that you would to your friends. Use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. Refrain from using “short hand” words or abbreviations. However, you are not the grammar police. Do not scold others for making a mistake. This is not casual conversation – You should address your professor by the appropriate name, as well as other classmates. Formality is still expected, as if you were writing a “business-like” or professional email.

Read before you respond. – Scroll through discussion posts and chat posts before posting your own answers, questions or statements. When you duplicate such things, it shows that you are not paying attention.

Think before you type. – Words can often be forgotten or overlooked, but posting to a chat is part of a digital record. Again, be respectful. If you are comfortable sharing your typed words in a classroom setting in front of others, then it is generally OK to post.

  • Adhere to community standards – University policies (including the conduct code and policies around discrimination, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment) still apply to your online learning environment. Behaviors that would not be appropriate in the classroom will not be tolerated online.

More specific netiquette for synchronous video interactions include:

  • Check your internet speed once you’ve logged in to the learning platform (Zoom, Teams, etc.). If you’re on free wifi you may need to keep your camera off to improve quality.
  • If you turn your camera on for a video session, be sure to have it at eye level.
  • For a live audio or video session, stay muted unless you’re talking to reduce background noise.
  • Try to sit in a well-lit and quiet place if you are in a video session with a lot of participants and be mindful of what is going on behind you. Try to situate yourself in front of a solid wall behind you.
  • Do your best to minimize distractions while online – this is not the time to show off your new puppy!

Fostering Consistency and Success

  • A weekly note to the class with the week’s details and a link to your schedule (with any changes or updates) will prevent them from struggling to figure out the modes of instruction you will use (e.g. online forum, synchronous Zoom session) and what is due, so they can focus on understanding content and developing skills, rather than a confusing schedule. Announcements posted in Moodle are automatically emailed to all students enrolled in the course.
  • For each hybrid flexible class session, is a good idea to set an agenda or plan for the class by sharing a document or slide at the beginning of the session. This gives students a clear idea of how the session/activity/assignment will progress, what will be covered, and how they will engage.
  • Encourage students to use time management resources. One helpful suggestion for students to organize their time is to use the First Things First Matrix outlined here.
  • Share time estimates – students may under-estimate the time needed to devote to keeping up with courses in a hybrid environment. A good rule of thumb: predict how long a task might take and then add 50%. You can help students determine the amount of time they will need to complete a task by using this course workload estimator.
  • Help minimize distractions – learning in hybrid flexible environments puts more demands on attention. Encourage your students to keep fewer windows open when they are learning, whether synchronously or asynchronously.  Some research on this topic is available here. 5 research-based tips for improving focus are available here.
  • Encourage help-seeking – remind students that tutoring, consulting, and research assistance services are available.

Monitoring Engagement

As instruction begins, if you have a concern about a particular student, including a student’s understanding of or access to the technology required for their learning, please Raise an Academic Concern Flag in Success@Furman. Please use the flags below early and often, as the window to correct these issues in online spaces closes quickly.

Several flag options include:

  • Academic – General Concern’ flags can be raised by anyone for any reason. Example reasons may include students who indicate they do not have access to necessary technology or internet, students who are struggling to engage remotely, or students who find navigating various technology platforms challenging.If a student is not responding to communication or not “attending” class, please raise this flag.
  • ‘Housing Insecurity’ flags can also be raised by anyone when students indicate they have housing insecurities or are unable to leave campus to return home.
  • All other regular academic performance and general behavior flags can continue to be used. Campus support resources will reach out and communicate with your student.

Works Cited

Online Teaching Competencies. McArthur, J. (2018).