Online Learning

Online Learning

Updated: 6/15/20.

The University of Washington transitioned to an online education model in light of COVID-19. Classes and instruction will be offered remotely throughout spring quarter. The College of Engineering is providing the following resources and guidance to support remote education.

Resources for students

Our faculty and staff are committed to supporting students in the pursuit of their degrees as we navigate this challenging time. The resources below are tailored toward the unique opportunities and experiences of engaging in online learning. If you haven’t already, please also review the “Facts and information regarding spring quarter 2020” distributed by the Office of the Provost.

Best practices for successful online learning:

  • Turn on Canvas notifications to ensure you receive alerts when there are changes or posts in Canvas.
  • Learn how to find and submit assignments on Canvas.
  • Check your UW email at least twice a day, setting up email forwarding if necessary.
  • Familiarize yourself with Zoom. Zoom Pro is now available to all current students, faculty, and staff.
  • If your instructor uses Poll Everywhere, sign in to the application with your NetID to sync your responses with Canvas.
  • Set up a distraction-free workspace and set aside time to focus.

Resources for faculty/instructors/TAs

The College of Engineering is committed to supporting faculty, instructors and TAs as they navigate the practices and tools that contribute to online learning. 

  • As with in-person labs, consider assigning pre-lab readings/exercises with an online quiz to ensure students are appropriately prepared for lab.
  • For labs where the primary learning outcomes are about analyzing/interpreting data and integrating theory, consider providing data (e.g., as generated in a previous course offering) and refocusing the assignment to analysis and reporting.
  • For labs where the priority learning outcomes concern experimental procedure, your options include video, virtual, and DIY labs.
    • Provide demo video of the lab procedure with detailed explanations.
    • Explore whether your lab can be done virtually/online, referring to the catalog of options co-maintained by Ken Yasuhara (UW ET&L) and LeighAnn Tomaswick of Kent State University.
    • For labs with simpler equipment and procedural requirements, consider adapting them so that students can conduct them at home. This might require that some equipment and materials be shipped to students. Appropriate lab kits might even be available commercially.
    • IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: The College of Engineering does not require, support, or endorse any hazardous remote course activity or assignments. This includes, but is not limited to, soldering (even with lead-free solder), working with chemicals, and using power tools. Courses must not require any lab/project work of this kind; students’ grades must be independent of whether they do any such work. If students elect to do such work, the University of Washington does not support or endorse this work in any way, and we cannot be responsible for their safety.
  • For labs whose emphasis is on experimental design, consider giving students a research question to pursue and having them formulate a corresponding experimental procedure (or critique/augment/correct a provided draft). Consider following this up by having a TA carry out the student-authored procedure, with students watching via web conferencing, and providing students with the collected data. This parallels industry practice in chemical engineering, where different people are responsible for designing an experiment and operating equipment.
  • Many components of projects/capstones can be shifted online via web conferencing, collaborative authoring tools (e.g., Google Docs/Sheets/Slides), and tools for recording and publishing audio and video recordings. These components include client and mentor meetings, proposals/pitches, virtual poster galleries, design, evaluation/test plans, reflection on learning, and online portfolios of design artifacts and other project documents.
  • Hands-on design and fabrication are more likely to require rethinking. As with experimental labs, some of these activities can be adapted so that students can conduct them at home. This might require that some equipment and materials be shipped to students. For some project domains, the focus could shift to mock-ups and low-fidelity prototyping with widely available craft materials (e.g., cardboard, clay) or illustrations (e.g., drawings, SketchUp 3-D models).
  • To help ensure that your project teams function successfully, consider having each team draw up a contract early in the quarter. Similarly, have them agree on criteria for peer review up front and engage them in providing each other feedback at least twice during the quarter: once about one third or half way through the project duration for formative purposes and nominal credit, and again at the end with implications on individual team members’ grades.
  • Hold regular online office hours on Zoom using the Waiting Room feature.
  • A waiting room allows for flexibility with meeting students in groups or one at a time, by admitting students from and sending students to the waiting room as you see fit. 
  • In general, for the sake of connecting with your students and helping them connect with each other, we encourage you to meet with groups during office hours, allowing them to benefit from hearing discussion of each others’ questions, especially in large courses. Matters that warrant more privacy can be handled by appointment.
  • See UW IT’s page Recommendations for conducting quizzes and exams online.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for both you and your students to check whether they are meeting expected learning outcomes. Consider frequent low-stakes or no-credit quizzes, in and out of class.
  • Early in the course, have students complete a no-credit practice exam/quiz that involves all of the question types and exam-taking mechanics you intend to employ later in the quarter. (E.g., if your students are able to use a smartphone scanning app, they might be able to submit written responses like free-body diagrams to a File Upload question in Canvas.) This gives both you and your students a chance to notice and adapt to exam design/administration problems.
  • During the exam, make yourself available for questions and have a communication channel for broadcasting clarifications/corrections (e.g., Zoom).
  • Consider measures to disincentivize and prevent the simplest forms of cheating.
    • Design questions that are similar in format and difficulty to those students have seen in instruction, practiced in homework, and received feedback on. Avoid reusing questions exactly as they were given in past exams; even superficial modifications (e.g., changing numerical constants) are helpful.
    • Accept that the exam will effectively be open-resources (textbook, notes, web) and design questions accordingly.
    • Consider a larger number of shorter, more focused mini-exams/quizzes, vs. one or two high-stakes exams, to reduce student stress and provide both you and students with more frequent measures of their standing in the course. This also moderates the effects of unexpected exam design/administration problems (e.g., network outages).
    • Avoid grading schemes like curving that can pit students against each other and allow a small number of bad actors to negatively impact the grades of ethical students.
    • As prep time permits, use a tool like Canvas Quizzes that supports randomized question variation (e.g., response choice order for multiple choice, numeric constants, question groups).
    • Consider having students pledge adherence to an honor code. Note that research recommends an honor code that is formal and detailed and references consequences of code violation.
  • For more details about administering exams online, see the supplemental FAQ.