Dr. D. Christopher Brooks ’92 is director of research at EDUCAUSE, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the goals of higher education through the use of information technology. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Indiana University and taught comparative politics and political theory at St. Olaf College for a few years before pursuing research in information technology in education. He offers his expertise as colleges and universities around the country have been forced to quickly close campuses and pivot to remote learning due to COVID-19.
“After my last semester as a professor, I took a position at the University of Minnesota in the Office of Information Technology as a researcher in the Digital Media Center,” Brooks says. “I began conducting research on the impact of educational technology on teaching practices and learning outcomes in partnership with faculty from across the university. I would work to design experiments, develop instruments to evaluate and assess the treatments, and publish the findings.
“One of the most important projects with which I was involved was to evaluate the impact of some technology-enhanced classrooms on teaching and learning called Active Learning Classrooms, or ALCs. Some previous research had found that these spaces held promise for improving learning outcomes and student engagement, but the studies lacked the proper controls for us to understand if it was the space, the instructors or some other factors leading to the observed benefits. My research, which employed a quasi-experimental design, was the first to isolate the impact of the space itself, empirically demonstrating that ALCs had an independent and significantly positive effect on student learning as measured by grades.”
Brooks’ research led to authoring multiple papers on the subject and eventually a co-authored book, A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice, that offers a research-based approach to understanding how and why ALCs work, how instructors can make the most of the affordances of such spaces, and how to conduct one’s own research in ALCs.
He began working at EDUCAUSE in 2013, and today as director of research, he manages and contributes to the entirety of the EDUCAUSE research portfolio including the annual Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, the biannual Study of Faculty and Information Technology, the Higher Education IT Workforce, the Horizon Report, and many others projects.
The extraordinary circumstances colleges and universities currently face due to the closure of campuses in reaction to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has placed new demands on faculty and students in response to the implementation of emergency remote learning options. He offers the following advice to faculty for this temporary shift of instructional delivery and student learning under the conditions of a crisis:
1. Temper your expectations for what you can and will accomplish for the remainder of the academic year. The semester you planned is not the one you currently have. Revise your syllabus and assignments accordingly.
2. Do not attempt to simply do in your online course what you had originally planned to do in your face-to-face course. This typically doesn’t work under normal circumstances and is even less likely to work under these conditions.
3. Avoid recording long lectures and posting them for students to watch. Lecturing is less engaging and effective than active learning approaches in face-to-face courses; it will not become more effective in an online environment. Instead, record and post micro-lectures of 3-6 minutes to set up planned tasks, explain bottleneck concepts of a particularly thorny topic, or other engaging activities.
4. Be flexible. Expectations that courses will continue to be taught synchronously at regular times, that assignment due dates are inflexible or absolute, or that exams can be taken under classroom conditions overlooks the real-life circumstances that students may be experiencing away from campus. Many students are food and housing insecure. They may not have technology or connectivity to participate in regularly scheduled synchronous events. They may be taking care of siblings, parents or elderly family members who have fallen ill, or they may be ill themselves.
5. Be empathetic and kind. Because you do not know what students are currently going through right now, it is important to take them at their word, to listen, and to offer advice and support as best as you are able. Faculty are not necessarily trained to be counselors or advisors, but I believe that they care about their students and can offer much needed guidance and reassurance during these difficult times.
EDUCAUSE has developed a COVID-19 resource page to help higher education institutions navigate campus disruption.
by Cindy Long
April 23, 2010