Reshaping Your Fall Semester  – Summer 2021 Newsletter 3

By July 19, 2021April 5th, 2024Smeal Academy Newsletter

Summer 2021 Readiness – Week 3

The goal of the Smeal Academy is to equip everyone with best practices and strategies for teaching, learning, and technology to ensure the Smeal community is prepared to respond to the unique teaching challenges of this time. Throughout the summer, we will be sending emails with practical tips and information, providing live sessions, and holding virtual consultations.

Last week we discussed the Lessons Learned from the pandemic. This week, we share resources that can help you look to the Fall and how you will reshape your courses to meet the demands of students, and the need to keep them engaged. During your teaching in the last year and a half, you may have started using technologies you never used before.

Collaborative Technologies

You may have used collaborative technologies like discussion boards, slides, notes, polls, whiteboards, collaborative documents, Zoom chat features, and videos as a way of engaging students in constructing their understanding of your content. You may be thinking about your Fall courses and wondering how you can take the best of what you did and mix it with your teaching methods used before the pandemic. Students often want to use their technologies in the classroom, anyway, so why not leverage their tech and put it to work?! Consider having students bring their devices and connect to some of these collaborative technologies while engaged in your face-to-face teaching.

Informal Course Communications

Using Zoom chat and discussion boards or other technologies that capture students’ responses has become a new way for students to connect with you and each other. You may have found in some classes that you were challenged to get students to “unmute” and be engaged. We find that at times students are as unlikely to unmute and share ideas in virtual classrooms as in-person students are to raise their hand in a live lecture. However, the chat stream may have been very busy essentially forming something we call the “backchannel.” This channel permitted you to engage in less formal ways. Students may have felt it was less risky to answer a question in the chat interactions. You can continue to capitalize on this channel in the coming year if it aligns with your course and student needs. When used purposefully and with inclusive and respectful communication, backchannels can offer an important communication mode for students to interact with course content, the instructor, and each other.

Breakout Rooms

During the pandemic, if you wanted to facilitate small groups, you may have turned to using breakout rooms for collaboration between students. You may have used breakout rooms to ask students information about their prior knowledge, to have them work on problems or cases, or to wrap up and identify points of interest or confusion. You can continue to use these tools in your face-to-face learning to garner the benefits of the additional tools that came along with them, like whiteboards, screen sharing, and internet searching. In socially distanced, mixed audiences and fully face-to-face classrooms, a student can put on headphones and get to work together on meaningful activities. You might be surprised to find them doing this even outside the classroom if you leave your digital space open to students.

Come to this week’s Smeal Academy webinar to learn more about ways to reshape your courses this fall.


Glantz, E., Gamrat, C., Lenze, L., & Bardzell, J. (2021, March 16). Improved Student Engagement in Higher Education’s Next Normal. EDUCAUSE Review.

Current News

Zoom Storage

Zoom, Penn State’s video conferencing solution, has limited storage capacity and is not intended as a long-term storage solution. Penn State IT asks that everyone reviews and deletes recordings stored in Zoom which are no longer needed. All Zoom recordings are automatically transferred to Kaltura and are currently stored on that platform. While temporary links to videos stored in Zoom are fine, permanent links should always direct your viewers to Kaltura. Later this summer more extensive plans will be shared to help manage Zoom storage, including matching links from Zoom to Kaltura, updating permalinks that you may have, and documentation and help resources. For now, we ask that you review your old Zoom recordings and delete those which are no longer needed. For more information how to delete recordings in Zoom, please refer to Zoom: Delete Cloud Recordings.

Piazza Model Change

The Piazza vendor informed individuals at Penn State with Piazza accounts that they are reversing course on placing ads in its discussion platform as previously announced, however, Piazza will be shifting to a paid model. A free version of Piazza can be used, but starting August 1, 2021, premium features such as polls, statistics, and class locking capabilities will only be available in the paid version. Check out the full story in Penn State News.

VoiceThread New Assignment Interface

VoiceThread’s New Assignment interface is being turned on university-wide on June 30, 2021. Until that date, instructors may, if they choose, enable New Assignments on a per-course basis. After June 30, the New Assignment interface will be turned on for all VoiceThread users and the old interface will no longer be available. Read this article on how to enable VoiceThread New Assignments. To learn about the new features, check out the following resource: VoiceThread: Using New Assignments. Please refer to our knowledge base article How to Incorporate Learning Tool Integrations (LTIs) in Your Course to learn how to activate VoiceThread or any other integration into Canvas. If additional support is required, please email

Top Hat

Top Hat is a cloud-based student engagement platform that leverages student’s devices to increase in-class engagement and real-time feedback. Instructors can engage students in and outside of the classroom with interactive slides, graded questions, customized content, discussions, polls, and assessments. Top Hat is free for all Penn State faculty, staff, and students. Additionally, Top Hat offers free and low-cost textbook options to increase affordability for students. If you are interested in learning more about Top Hat, ITLD and Top Hat are offering “bite-sized” classes on how to help you get acquainted with the tool a little bit at a time. Visit the ITDL events calendar to get started.

Upcoming Live Sessions

Scaling Courses for Growing and Changing Enrollments

Student enrollments are beginning to shift to reflect the long-term desire of some students for flexible learning with the option of accessing the robust remote learning designs you offered during the pandemic. Enrollments may increase or may vary in delivery mode with students attending class from multiple audiences (face-to-face, hybrid, and/or online/asynchronous). In this session, we will discuss how to respond to the growing demands for your class and best practices in scaling your course for continued engagement shifts, regardless of course size or delivery mode.

Join us Tuesday, July 27 from 2 to 3 p.m. via Zoom.

NOTE:  Recordings and resources from previous sessions can be found on our eLDIG Website.

Tips of the Week

Tip #1: Give more feedback with fewer grades.

A letter grade will never help a student grow the way specific and timely feedback from you will. You might give a lot of grades because you feel a certain number of points or letter grades should be posted on a regular basis. If you want higher quality learning to happen in your classroom, consider emphasizing more focus on student feedback as much as you can. Assign students more robust, collaborative, project-based tasks, develop strong grading rubrics, and prepare specific feedback to student’s submissions. Canvas now allows you to save frequently used comments in Speed Grader to make student feedback more efficient.

Tip #2: Offer open-resource tests and quizzes.

Offer students more open resource (“book”) tests, let them use a variety of non-print resources that they now have available to them. Academic Integrity continues to be a critical issue. Information is readily available in books, articles, online, and through many other resources and, as a result, memorization is becoming much less necessary. What we should be asking from our students is doing something WITH that information—like developing and defending an opinion about it or higher order tasks that require a level of originality that can’t simply be memorized. If designed well, our assessments could be open-book, open-note, open-resource, and still be an excellent measure of what our students have learned.

Gonzalez, J. (2021) No More Easy Button: A Suggested Approach to Post-Pandemic Teaching, Cult of Pedagogy, June 29, 2021.


Helpful Websites


Check out the eLDIG website for more resources and support.

Contact Us

Email us at: or fill out our Remote Teaching Support form.