Learning environment

UCR continues to create a robust distance learning environment for students and faculty


Since the campus closed in mid-March, UC Riverside teams have worked diligently to develop a robust educational technology framework to meet the needs of students and faculty, choosing to invest in multiple teaching solutions and effective distance learning to keep the UCR community safe. the campus remains closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The URC made a rapid transition to distance learning at the onset of the pandemic in the final weeks of the winter term, rapidly moving courses to the iLearn learning management system and implementing Zoom to facilitate interactions with faculty members and students. Now, six months later, UCR’s Exploration Center for Innovative Teaching and Engagement, or XCITE, in collaboration with Information Technology Solutions, or ITS, and other campus partners, have added a number of new platforms and services for the fall term and to better serve the campus community during the closure.

“Over 97% of our courses will always be remote,” said Richard Edwards, Director of XCITE. His team has helped facilitate the transition to distance learning and the adoption of new technologies. “To support this, we knew we really wanted to upgrade our technology infrastructure. “

While iLearn will continue to serve as the learning management system for the majority of classes in the fall, the campus is in the process of switching to Canvas, a cloud-based platform that Edwards says offers a wider range of features. XCITE started piloting the software during the second summer course session and will expand Canvas to 50 courses in the fall. More courses will be added each subsequent quarter over the next two years, with the goal of retiring iLearn by summer 2022. Edwards said the change was in response to faculty members’ requests for an alternate option. as iLearn, and interested faculty members can be added to a waitlist for the software starting in the winter term.

A major addition to the multitude of new technologies implemented since March is YuJa integrated video platform. While Zoom will continue to be used for live lectures, YuJa offers a must-have solution for capturing lectures, allowing faculty members to record their lectures with slides and whiteboard demonstrations, which students can view at their own pace, Edwards said. Other key features include unlimited video storage, automatic video captioning, and the ability to insert quizzes throughout the recorded lecture to ensure student engagement, among other tools.

“Zooming is a very effective method for synchronous communication, but faculty members were missing a few key elements of teaching video transmission that YuJa solves for campus,” said Edwards.

Finding more ways to facilitate remote monitoring was also a priority during the shutdown, and the implementation of YuJa also provided instructors with an additional monitoring solution. Through YuJa, instructors can ask students to register themselves and their screens during exams, which will be automatically uploaded for instructors to review afterwards. Respondus LockDown software, which prevents students from accessing other websites and files on their computers during exams, was also purchased to help secure the test taking. UCR’s in-house solution for remote live monitoring, now called R’Proctoring, remains an option for instructors as well. Faculty members can learn more about the different monitoring solutions on the site Continue to teach website, which continues to serve as a clearinghouse for instructors with the latest information regarding distance education during outage.

The campus has also invested in GradeScope software, which allows faculty members to more effectively grade homework online, Edwards said. The software was already widely used by Bourns College of Engineering and UCR’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, but has since been made available to all colleges. The platform offers a suite of tools for more streamlined grading of paper, digital and coded assignments, as well as statistics to better assess students’ understanding of questions and topics.

The Slack communication platform will be available to most of the campus community starting this winter. The software will begin testing in the fall, with priority given to the approximately 5,000 incoming first year students to allow new students to communicate with each other, as well as with instructors. When fully implemented, every student and faculty member will have an enterprise-level Slack account with various channels configured to facilitate collaboration and socialization.

“Most of these students have never been to our lovely campus,” said Edwards. “They haven’t met our teachers or worked at the recreation center. We wanted an academic response so that student government and activity groups could form and students could communicate with each other beyond email and maybe the text circles they create.

Richard Edwards, Director of XCITE, in front of UCR’s Rivera Library (UCR / Stan Lim)

XCITE has also worked with ITS to help various departments and instructors better adapt to distance learning, including increasing Creative Suite licenses and improving remote labs, as well as providing personalized assistance to students. faculty members for the redesign of courses. XCITE has also worked with the Marshal’s Office to support the limited number of performing arts labs and courses that have been given special permission to meet on campus, most of which will also provide a remote option.

“Any of these technologies would have been a good year for UCR, and we’ve had them all in the last six months,” Edwards said, noting that the investment in new distance education solutions has been. made possible thanks to the support of many campus partners. “We are committed to giving faculty and students the tools they need to thrive during distance education, because we know the virus is in charge, so we have to do our best as a university. to rise to the challenge, and I think we ‘I did it really well.

To ensure that faculty members can get the most out of these new technologies and services, XCITE has developed numerous training webinars available on the Keep Teaching website, with two to three offered each week. A new self-paced course in six modules entitled “The arts and crafts of distance educationHas also recently been made available to those who wish to learn how to improve distance education during the pandemic. Originally intended for teachers at UCR, the course has already registered more than 600 registrations and has now been extended to teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Efforts also continued to ensure that students are prepared for distance learning and have the technologies needed to be successful. All incoming students were interviewed to confirm they had the appropriate devices and Wi-Fi access before the start of the fall term. For any student who still needs a device, the Loan2Learn Program remains available. Students can also submit a ticket for help with Wi-Fi through the Keep learning website, which has served as a distance learning center for students since the closure.

Among other training and information resources for students, the Keep Teaching website will soon be home to a new video series called “Hey Scotty Bear,” which the XCITE team helped produce. The student-focused 10-episode series will consist of short videos featuring UCR’s mascot Scotty offering tips on how to be successful during distance learning, with each video also connecting to a document on Keep Learning. The series will begin at the end of September.
Edwards credits the UCR community for coming together and making the transition to distance learning a success. He notes that the support of the chancellor, the acting provost, the finance team, the ITS and UCR libraries, among others, has made this possible.

“Those of us on the inside feel the campus has largely responded to this challenge,” he said. “A lot of campuses haven’t progressed as much as UCR, and the credit comes from top to bottom. You really need the campus to get involved and we are so grateful that they did. No one wanted this crisis, no one asked to close our front doors and walk away completely, but if we have to do it, let’s do it right. “

Header Image: (UCR / Stan Lim)


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