As the second largest undergraduate college at Cornell University and the third largest college of its kind in the United States, it is imperative for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to have high-level teaching. Our faculty and teaching facilities are among the finest anywhere, and the college's educational programs are carefully designed to ensure that every student's education is geared to contemporary, real-world issues. With our teaching — one of the three components of our land-grant mission along with research and extension — we strive to improve the nation's food supply and maintain its safety, to enhance the environment, and to help people improve their lives.
CALS Canvas and Online Course Accessibility Support
All spring 2021 classes need to offer their materials for remote learning, even during the “in-person” portion of the semester, so that students who are not in Ithaca have access. The Office of University Counsel is requiring that online course materials launching Summer 2020 and beyond must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Accessibility ensures that all students can equally access, use, and understand learning content. To facilitate this initiative, CALS leadership has created a college-wide network of staff to support instructors of CALS classes, ensuring that the online course content is accessible.
This quick guide to accessibility outlines the requirements for compliance. You will need to think about items including the following:
- Hyperlinks – don’t use the URL in a link, describe the page
- Text design – use styled heading, simple fonts, high contrast colors
- Use alternative text for images/graphics
- Add closed captioning for pre-recorded audio and video
- Text and PDF documents should be searchable, allowing learners to search for words or phrases within a document
- Your syllabus should contain an accessibility statement
Staff assigned to instructors are to provide support related to CALS classes only, but may assist faculty from any college. Staff will assist an instructor with general accessibility questions and with getting started with converting their documents, images/graphics, PowerPoint presentations and audio/video closed captioning. Staff will not be able to complete complex accessibility requests, design an online course, or fully complete accessibility-related conversions for all class materials, as those items remain the responsibility of the instructor.
The Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell also offers this guidance on accessible course materials. Instructors with questions about the program can email Sue Merkel, CALS associate director of academic programs, at smm3 [at] cornell.edu.
CALS studios for classroom lecture capture
As instructors of CALS classes prepare their course materials for remote instruction, instructors may need to record their lectures in advance. Some instructors may not have an ideal location, equipment, or network conducive to create quality recordings of course content. CALS IT has equipped three rooms (Emerson 251 and 255 and Stocking 115) to be used as mini-studios for online instruction. These mini-studios provide a reservable location where instructors can present or record electronic course content. Read more and reserve a studio.
More about the college’s teaching activities
- Academic Programs
- Academic Departments
- Academic Calendar
- Academic Priorities
- Experiential Learning
How we prepare educational leaders
Graduate teaching assistants (TA) make many valuable contributions to CALS courses and to the students in those courses, and they themselves benefit from the TA experience.
The Top 10 Challenges for Teaching and Learning in a Remote Environment
Remote teaching and learning brought many challenges to teaching faculty and students. The CALS Committee in Support of Teaching and Learning had student panels and surveyed faculty to explore some of the challenges and ideas for best practices moving forward as we prepare to teach in the spring. This information has been summarized into “Top 10 Teaching Challenges.”
The Top 10 Challenges for Teaching and Learning in a Remote Environment
- Getting on-line students to engage with the material
- Managing active learning in the virtual classroom
- Having students interact in breakout rooms
- Using more outside resources (e.g. recorded lectures and readings) to cover material
- Creating an inclusive and supportive community of students, TAs, and teachers
- Having an informal way to talk to or get to know students
- Getting students to work with other students when they couldn’t meet face-to-face
- Having students work under a heavy and uneven work load
- Dealing with integrity issues and student confusion during online exams
- Learning new technical tools and solving computer problems associated with the online environment
Best Practice Solutions
We asked faculty and students for their suggestions for what worked well. We present them in more detail below as some best practice solutions.
Creating an inclusive and supportive community of students, TAs, and teachers
- Acknowledge your challenges and the difficulty of teaching on-line.
- Ask for student feedback on the class (early and often).
- Have students share anything positive that happened to them since the last class.
- Ask students for input on why and how to encourage camera use.
- Have students add their name and preferred pronouns to Zoom.
Not having an informal way to talk to or get to know students
- Have students post a reflection after each lecture about what part of the lecture interested them and why.
- Hold office hours at various times of the day.
- Schedule a discussion time with each group during a group project.
- Dedicate time for the students to get to know you and each other: have them “bring” their pets to class, discuss a fun topic in breakout rooms, etc.
Managing active learning in the virtual classroom
- Use PollEverywhere or Zoom polls to ask frequent questions.
- Allow students to record their thinking in Google Doc, with link embedded into Canvas pages.
- Have someone designated to monitor the chat room and use it.
Getting on-line students to engage with the material
- Ask low stakes or no stakes questions to start and end the class.
- Move some of the real time discussion over into discussion board posts.
- Let students see who is lecturing when using Zoom Power Point presentations.
- For asynchronous classes, have various times each week during which students can interact with the teaching staff and other students.
- Have frequent “think-pair-share” discussions.
Having students interact in breakout rooms
- Have students define the “rules” of etiquette for breakout rooms.
- Give each breakout room a clear question to answer, then have them report back.
- Make sure each task for the group is well defined.
- Identify a “reporter” each time a task is assigned in a breakout room.
Getting students to work with other students when they can’t meet face-to-face
- Set up groups at the beginning of the semester to create pods of study groups.
- Ask “get to know each other” questions as a warm up to class.
- Groups students by commonalities (major, year, home town).
Learning new technical tools and solving computer problems associated with the online environment
- Use the fewest different tools you need for live activities (e.g. Zoom and Google drive).
- Have a contingency plan for computer glitches and share it with students.
- Identify a student or teaching assistant to help with technology.
- Attend webinars and online instructor groups to learn about managing an on-line classroom.
Using more outside resources (e.g. recorded lectures and readings) to cover material
- Use learning outcomes to prioritize what material to teach and why you are teaching it.
- Be clear about which assignments are required and which are recommended.
- Provide alternative ways to access material in case a URL does not work (e.g. add to Google folder or Canvas module).
Having students work under a heavy and uneven work load
- Define expectations and provide feedback before the final assignment.
- Give students evenly-paced assignments throughout the semester; don’t put all big assignments off until the end.
- Be consistent with assignments due dates, rather than having different due days and times for each assignment.
- Do not schedule exams on the weekend.
- After each class, send a summary announcement listing next assignments due.
Dealing with integrity issues and student confusion during online exams
- Use multiple means of assessment so that grades do not depend on a few exams.
- Make sure students understand what is allowed for open-resource assessments
- Give students practice questions, especially for critical thinking questions.
- Give students practice collaborating before a collaborative exam.
- Make sure students can use the “back button” to review previous questions when doing Canvas exams.
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