Spring 2021 SART Digest Archives

Thursday, January 14

Dear colleagues,

Welcome back! We are hopeful that your break included precious restorative time and that you are eager to work alongside each other and our students to foster learning and growth this spring.

Please find below several updates, reminders, and resources for teaching, learning, and professional development from the Strategic Academic Redesign Team (SART). In an effort to reduce the size of your inbox, our email communication this semester will include only periodic messages when a critical mass of pertinent updates is assembled for distribution.

Previous digest messages are archived here. Additional information and answers to many of your important questions about University operations can be found on the Furman Focused website.

Critical FurmanFlex & Online Instruction Reminders

Instructional Modality Flexibility: Because we anticipate ongoing uncertainty with regard to the impact SARS CoV-2 will have on our ability to conduct courses in person this semester, it is imperative to plan courses with “modality flexibility” in mind. Just as individual students may need to shift between online and face-to-face interaction (see information about health notices you may receive when this happens), so too may individual faculty (i.e., for illness, exposure) or the entire campus community. Planning your course around one of four guiding principles (see more here) of flexible course design – learner choice – will allow you to provide meaningful, alternative participation modes throughout the semester as conditions demand.

Preparing for the Unexpected: Although Furman continues adhering to thorough health and safety guidelines, we encourage you, before the semester begins, to familiarize yourself with procedures to follow in the event you become ill.  You might consider the following to prepare for such an event:

  • Draft an out-of-office message (sample here) with contact information for those whom should be contacted if you are unavailable.
  • Add at least one colleague to your Moodle course (instructions here), so that they can access the course if you are unable to do so.
  • Set up an alternative host for your course Zoom sessions.
  • Prepare and post course material as far in advance as possible.
  • Discuss contingency plans with your students, making them aware of how to proceed and whom to contact if you become ill and are unable to continue instruction.

Build Your Own Breaks (BYOB) & Instructional Variety: Although a couple of new weekday breaks are included in the spring 2021 calendar (February 18, March 10, April 2), extended breaks have been eliminated to reduce potential travel. As such, consider opportunities to build your own breaks/breathing room for you and your students by diversifying your instructional practice throughout the semester. Some colleagues have suggested the following strategies:

  • Plan an active asynchronous course activity that provides an opportunity for students to reflect and share ideas, deepen their thinking, or compose their thoughts to replace one of your synchronous course meetings.
  • Substitute a synchronous session for a “writing and/or research day” for students working on culminating projects or designate time for groups to collaborate on a joint project.
  • Consider adjusting assignment deadlines so that they do not fall directly after one of the weekday breaks this spring, to ensure that students are able to take full advantage of the breathing room provided.
  • Substitute a full class synchronous session with short small-group consultations around a major project, paper, or in preparation for an exam.
  • Periodically elicit student feedback or conduct a poll to determine the ideal time for a just-in-time instructional adaptation.

Course Attendance: Instructors are encouraged to design attendance policies that take into account the unusual conditions impacting instruction during the pandemic. These policies must be explicitly stated in the course syllabus and explained orally at the beginning of the term. All absence policies must stress the need for students to stay away from the classroom if they are unwell; instructors should remind students of the health and safety measures required by the Paladin Promise.  For more information about remote learning and absences, please see this document. The document includes a link to the FDC’s syllabus template, which has optional language you might consider for absence policies (pg. 5).

Gallup Insights: An Ethic of Care

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Gallup spoke with 95 current Furman students. During virtual focus group conversations and individual interviews, students were prompted to reflect on their time at Furman—but with additional emphasis placed on COVID-19 exigencies. Over the next several months, insight from these conversations will be shared with our community.

One crucial take-away from the project – students recognize and appreciate the adaptability and commitment of Furman faculty and staff. When asked about their academic experiences, students consistently highlighted “how hard faculty have been working and how much care they have shown during class and in e-mail communication.” Students recognize and deeply value the ethic of care demonstrated by course instructors.

Such care is also extended in the other direction. Students are remarkably attuned to faculty well-being. Many expressed concerns about their professors’ stress levels, “as they care deeply about their faculty.” When an instructor was perceived as being overly “stressed,” students were sometimes “less likely to want to reach out for support.” As we prepare for another semester of pandemic teaching, this insight underscores our community’s collective need for flexibility, grace, and understanding – starting first with ourselves, and extending to our colleagues and students.

FurmanFlex & Online Instruction Resources

Faculty Development Center FurmanFlex and Online Teaching Resources: The FDC has assembled an online repository of resources for your pandemic teaching. This includes:

  • Quick Guide for FurmanFlex/Online Course Preparation – with abbreviated guidance for course design and student preparation before your course begins/during the first few weeks of the course, as well as information about preparing your online course platforms.
  • Course Design Toolkit – with a set of promising practices, examples and ideas, and reading and resources to support your efforts to design activities, build community, and ensure inclusivity in your courses, regardless of modality.
  • Assessment Resources – with tips for adapting your quizzes, exams, or culminating projects and expanding your assessment practices for online or hybrid spaces.
  • Instructional Technology Guidance – with Moodle, Box, and Zoom tutorials, information about Moodle quizzes, and other supplemental technology (e.g., Perusal) for use in online and flexible teaching.
  • Consultation Resources – Want to chat with someone one-on-one about your teaching? Please submit a consultation request.

Frequently Asked Questions for Faculty about FurmanFlex and Online Instruction: Still have a question that you can’t find an answer to? Check out our FurmanFlex and Online FAQ page with information about:

  • Addressing urgent classroom and technology needs (I.23)
  • Supporting virtual small group interactions (II.9)
  • Helping students maintain a virtual presence during synchronous sessions (II.15)
  • Adapting lectures for online engagement (II.16)
  • Soliciting ongoing feedback from students (II.21)
  • Using virtual office hours (II.27)
  • Helping students prepare for instructional technology use (III.2)
  • Low-tech flexible or online teaching options (section IV)

You may also be interested in student FAQs on the first week of the spring semester and delaying a return to campus.

Peer Assisted Learning Support: The Center for Academic Success is hosting a Peer Assisted Learning (PALS) information session for faculty on Friday, January 22 from 12:30-1:30pm

Learn more and register to attend here.

“Talking Teaching” Series: Join the FDC for a new series of conversations called Talking Teaching this spring. With topics particularly germane to pandemic teaching, this series is designed to provide an opportunity to build community and reflect on links between our teaching practice and student learning experiences. Visit this link to peruse topics for Spring 2021 and register to attend one or more sessions.

With hope for growth and learning this semester,

The SART and Jeremy

Friday, January 22

SART Tip Sheet: Promising Practices to Continue On-Campus Remote Learning 

Patience and AdaptabilityOur community has demonstrated immense care and flexibility in supporting our students and each other during the past year. As we respond to ongoing community testing and the need for quarantine, students may need to travel home, adjust to a new housing environment, or be without access to reliable internet or certain technology. Although instructors are provided pertinent information about the health status of students as quickly as possible, each student situation is different.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to isolation and quarantine. For more guidance about notifications for students who elect or are required to participate in remote learning, and any associated impacts on course absences, see herebut please remain flexible with your students in enforcing course policies as they negotiate health needs this semester 

Pandemic Teaching Instructional “Hacks”: Although generally focused on FurmanFlex instruction, many of these instructional hacks that were crowd-sourced from Furman faculty can be applied to remote instruction.  For more online instructional strategies for asynchronous assignments, group work, virtual active learning, virtual office hours, and much more, see the FurmanFlex Online Learning tab here 

Student Access to Class Materials: Approximately 200 students delayed return to campus until this coming week. The bookstore has been mailing books to these students free of charge and will continue to do so as needed.  If students are quarantining on campus the bookstore will deliver materials.  To ensure students can apply aid/use their student accounts to purchase of books students should order online at furman.bncollege.com. There, they will be able to select shipping options. 

Adapting Course Assessments: Many instructors begin assessment after the first couple of weeks of classes – these tips might allow more effective remote assessment even as students are gathered in small pods on campus. For more detail, see the FDC assessment webpage 

  • Clearly communicate both the importance of academic honesty and how a student can meet your expectations during your assessment. For sample statements, see the Academic Integrity section here 
  • Utilize open- and closed-book application activities. Assessing learning through project reports, individual or group presentations (delivered live or recorded and shared online), and other forms of authentic assessment are often appropriate in all modes of instruction with very little variance needed. 
  • Consider encouraging students to work in small teams, asking them to include who they work with and in what ways. A hybrid version of this is two-stage collaborative exams 
  • Think about the option of oral exams—by setting up individual or small group video meetings with students and asking them to respond to questions in the moment. 
  • Integrate self-assessment and peer assessment activities throughout your course and reduce the weight of one-time, high stakes exams.  
  • Utilize the Moodle quiz feature to conduct synchronous or asynchronous exams. Use isomorphic questions (identical, with small changes) and randomization (scrambling answer or question order) to give each student a different (but equivalent) exam. For more information about using Moodle for this purpose, see the Moodle section here. 
  • Check out these seven tips for promoting academic integrity in your virtual or hybrid classroom without joining the “arms race” in cheating-prevention tools. 

Situational Factor Awareness: Not only is it valuable to get a sense of who is in your class at the beginning of each semester, but gathering regular information directly from your students will be helpful for identifying those with extenuating circumstances (e.g., quarantine at home, an ill family member, shifts in housing accommodations). Regular communication with students allows more seamless adaptive instruction. You can use the Feedback feature in Moodle to gather this information.  A sample prompt:  

  • Please share any information you are comfortable disclosing about your ability to access course materials, participate in course activities, complete course assignments, and any external demands on your time that may influence your ability to fulfill course requirements.  

Supporting the Whole Student: When students experience distress, worry, and anxiety, creating supportive, safe spaces for learning is essential in our role as educators. Drawing from experts in trauma-informed pedagogy, you might find this set of suggestions helpful as you work to best support our students and their learning endeavors.  

Fostering Virtual Social Interaction: Recent data from student interviews and focus groups suggests that students crave social interaction with their peers and instructors. Given the current need to isolate on campus, social connections via courses are essential opportunities for students to build and practice community. Now more than ever you are encouraged to invest  effort into how best to build community and engagement among your students. You might consider this thorough list of strategies to “humanize” online teaching.  Other ideas for fostering more social interaction in your courses include: 

  • create “water cooler” virtual platforms where the class might seek extra support or group interaction from classmates; 
  • set up designated group collaboration space where students can share ideas, work together on assignments, or study for a test; 
  • arrive in your virtual classroom a few minutes early, or wait to “end” your Zoom session until all students have exited. 

Campus Operational Phases: In case you missed information about the various campus operation phases in a recent Furman Focused communication, you can find those at this link. Using the common language of these color-coded phases will help create a shared understanding of how campus operations in each phase will affect instruction. 

Want to chat with someone one-on-one about your remote teaching? Please submit a Faculty Development Center consultation request. 

Wednesday, February 17

Dear colleagues, 

Please find below several updates, reminders, and resources for teaching, learning, and professional development from the Strategic Academic Redesign Team (SART). Previous digest messages are archived here. Additional information and answers to many of your important questions about University operations can be found on the Furman Focused website. 

You may yearn to connect with “new-to-you” colleagues across campus to enhance community and feel a little bit more normal again (within safety protocols, of course).  If so, consider participating in the newly-launched Paladin Pals program for all Furman employees, developed by the Staff Advisory Council, and coordinated by Melanie Armstrong (learn more and register here).


FurmanFlex & Online Instruction Reminders


Mid-Semester Feedback: In just a few weeks, we will reach the half-way point in the semester, a productive opportunity to solicit early course feedback from your students. If you’d like to consider a more formal mid-semester feedback process, find out more about the FDC’s Small-Group Instructional Feedback support. You could also utilize the Moodle Feedback feature to employ the simple Start, Stop, Continue feedback approach. Consider posing the following two questions to your course participants:

  • What could I as the instructor stop doing, start doing, and continue doing to help you learn?
  • What can you as a student stop doing, start doing, and continue doing to promote your learning?

Peer Assisted Learning Program: With limitations on group and social interaction, some students may struggle with self-directed learning habits. Please continue to suggest Furman’s new Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program. Students can sign up for a session here. If their course is not currently offered, students may submit a request form here. Email jean.schwab@furman.edu or katlyn.sepsey@furman.edu with any questions or comments.

Test Taking Accommodations: As you prepare to administer mid-term examinations in the next few weeks, please keep in mind your students with accommodations as you design these assessments for new online or hybrid spaces. SOAR provides several test-taking accommodation services. Please don’t hesitate to contact SOAR if you have any questions on how to provide accommodations in your new instructional format.

Collaborative File Sharing and Editing: As our colleagues in ITS have recently highlighted, Furman provides robust collaboration tools for storing and sharing electronic information through Box and Micrsoft Office suite applications. Functions available through popular applications like Google Docs (please note: Furman does not have an established relationship with Google) can be replicated with existing applications like One Drive. For a brief tutorial on file collaboration in the Office 365 suite, see this handout.

Student Holiday on Thursday, Feb. 18: There are no classes scheduled for this Thursday – our first “mental break” day included in the spring calendar. We encourage you, too, to set aside this day to regroup and rejuvenate as much as is feasible for you. Celebrate the progress you and your students have made during your learning journey this semester, taking a moment to rest and reset for the weeks ahead.


FurmanFlex & Online Instruction Resources


Affordable Learning Webinars: PASCAL will be hosting several Affordable Learning webinars during Open Education Week (March 1-5), including sessions on STEM open pedagogy, open-source homework, copyright and course materials, and open textbooks. These webinars are open to all faculty at any PASCAL member institution (Furman is a member). More information and a registration link are available here.

Discussion Boards for Inquiry and Connection: One of the most common methods of facilitating asynchronous inquiry and interaction in courses is via virtual discussion boards to encourage exploration, interaction, and engagement. Structuring these to support student learning and engagement can be a challenge. For tips on how to “level up” your discussion board game, click on the cognitive presence tab here and look for the section on virtual platforms to facilitate inquiry.

Flexible Active Learning: No matter what modality or learning environment, at this point you may be looking for new active learning approaches. Two resources to explore include the Teacher Toolkit  and Ditch that Textbook. To read more about how others are maintaining active learning in a physically distanced classroom environment, click here, and for a number of useful suggestions, see here. You might consider this resource for physically-distanced activity adaptations and/or supplement these activities with active asynchronous interactions.

Talking Teaching: Cognitive Overload and Mental Bandwidth: Addressing Pandemic Brain: Join the FDC on Friday, February 19th at 11:00 a.m. as we continue a new series of informal conversations called Talking Teaching. Our next session focuses on “pandemic brain” — the impacts of cognitive overload, both during the pandemic and for other reasons, along with opportunities to proactively enhance mental bandwidth among students. Visit this link to peruse topics for Spring 2021 and register to attend one or more sessions.

Group Projects, Engagement, and Assessment: With important limits on social interaction outside the classroom, students have consistently indicated a strong desire to connect with peers and instructors through course interactions. You might consult this guide on using group projects effectively from Carnegie Mellon University for more ideas about designing projects, composing groups, and assessing collaborative learning outcomes.


Closing Thoughts


As we approach our collective anniversary of the first day of remote teaching (March 23, 2020), we may be well-served by taking a moment to reflect on the year, the ways we have adapted, and how we have learned to remain resilient. One early aim of this digest was to acknowledge the challenge of supporting students in and beyond the classroom during a pandemic. You may recall this video featured in the May 22nd edition of the Digest.

Even the ways we shore up under stress have necessarily changed, so this recent viral snippet of a lawyer in full cat video filter mode may be working for you now. Perhaps you find yourself, after so many months of pandemic life, fighting the “pre-mads”, or continuing to find ways to celebrate everyday occurrences (check out and add to our Furman “Snow Padlet”). However you continue to cope, reflecting on how you shore up by reviewing the 7 kinds of rest touted here may prove beneficial.

With you and our students we celebrate our campus’s recent improvement to a yellow campus operational phase, which might bring this oldie (but goodie? You decide!) to mind.

The SART and Jeremy