Low Tech Strategies

Low Tech Strategies

Think creatively about how you will reach your students to check-in, and connect them to your course activities. Use the Remote Assessment page along with these low tech strategies:
  • If you or your students cannot access the internet – you can still hold meetings and discussions via phone conferences. To find out how use the Webex audio conference global call-in guide.
  • Assign supplemental writing prompts to be completed by students either individually or in groups (students can use any platform they are comfortable with to complete the work).
  • Assign supplemental problem sets and case studies to be completed by students either individually or in groups (students can use any platform they are comfortable with to complete the work).
  • Have students listen to podcasts that apply course content to novel or contemporary applications. Have students create podcasts (perhaps recording on their mobile phones and uploading to CyBox or Studio in Canvas) explaining course content to lay audiences or to members of their academic community.
  • Assign supplemental readings and have students apply them to cases or writing prompts (either individually or in groups).
  • Send out your slide deck to the class and ask them to annotate the slides to show their understanding of the content. This can be done individually or in groups.
  • Send out your slide deck and ask students to video themselves teaching the content to their peers. These videos can be uploaded to Sakai so all students in the class can watch.
  • Have students create TED talks applying course content to a new application (what is a TED Talk page). If the primary objective is to practice presenting to peers, students can film themselves speaking and upload the videos to Studio in Canvas. If the primary objective is writing the application, students can write the script for the TED talk but not actually perform it.
  • Send out discussion prompts and students can have discussions in online chat spaces of their choosing. They can submit the transcript of the discussion as evidence of the conversation.
  • Ask students to work collaboratively to generate review guides for final exams/projects.
  • Assign students to take exams at home in open-note/open-book formats to mitigate potential academic misconduct. Review the Open Book Exam page.

Shifting Our Thinking: Bandwidth Immediacy Matrix

If we compare these factors on a coordinate plane with bandwidth on the vertical axis and immediacy on the horizontal axis, we can divide instructional technologies into four categories or “zones.” By reflecting on the unique pros and cons of each zone and the drawbacks that come with high-bandwidth/high-immediacy tools, we can identify ways to make our courses more flexible and accessible.   

A matrix describing low tech vs high tech synchrounous vs asynchrounous

The Green Zone: Underappreciated Workhorses

Starting with the green zone in the lower left, we have readings with text and images. These types of assignments may not seem exciting, but sharing readings with students in a consistent and organized way provide your online course with a very practical, solid foundation. Email and discussion boards also belong in this quadrant. Online instructors have been using these three tools—file sharing (for readings and such), email, and discussion boards—for decades. And while that might make them sound boring, you can create some fantastic instructional experiences with just these three tools.

The Blue Zone: Practical Immediacy

Moving over to the lower right, we have low-bandwidth tools that can add immediacy to student interactions. If you’ve used Microsoft Office 365 or Google Drive, you’re probably already familiar with some of the features and benefits of collaborative document editors. These tools allow multiple people to edit and comment on the same document, spreadsheet, or presentation slides. Depending on how you structure your assignments, students could collaborate over an extended period of time, or they could go online at the exact same time and write and edit each other’s work simultaneously. When it comes to group chat/messaging, there are lots of free apps that can be useful in an educational setting. Slack and GroupMe are two popular examples. These mobile-friendly apps allow students to post text-based messages and images without requiring anyone in the group (including you!) to share their phone numbers. These tools allow students to communicate quickly and easily without scheduling an entire day around a formal video conference.

The Yellow Zone: Audio and Video on Demand

Many instructors like to move in-class lectures and demonstrations online by creating screencasts. Screencasting allows you to record what’s on your computer screen—from PowerPoint slides to math equations to works of art—and add audio narration as you record. Screencasting adds a human element to online courses because your voice creates a sense of presence that plain text can’t. Learning how to create pre-recorded lectures can be intimidating, especially if you don’t have any experience with video production. It can also be challenging to create concise screencasts that keep students engaged. Students are more likely to watch a series of shorter videos than a single, longer video, which is why I recommend instructors try to divide long screencasts into five- to ten-minute segments (whenever possible). If you’d like to explore a free screencasting tool on your own, Screencast-o-Matic is one that I’ve been fairly happy with. There are many other options available, so I’d recommend talking with the instructional technology specialists at your institution to see what they recommend. At Iowa State, for example, we have detailed guides and trainings on Studio, the screencasting tool, and video-management platform integrated with our learning management system. It’s also worth noting that you can use a videoconferencing tool like Studio to record slide narration even if you’re the only person in the meeting room. Once you’ve started a Studio session, you can press record, share your screen, and voila! You now have a recording of you talking over your slides or whatever else you might show using the Share Screen feature. The only major disadvantage to this approach is that you’ll have to use a separate program if you want to edit your recording. The right side of the yellow zone is home to asynchronous discussion with audio and video. If you’re not familiar with this concept, I’m referring to discussion tools that allow students to respond with audio and video instead of just text. One tool that’s been a leader for a long time in this multimedia discussion space is VoiceThread. While VoiceThread’s defining feature is its user-friendly approach to audio-based commenting, it can also be used to create narrated presentations with PowerPoints slides, images, and video. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the interface of a traditional screencasting tool, VoiceThread is worth exploring as a simpler way of recording online lectures and fostering discussions that go beyond plain text.

The Red Zone: Natural Conversations at a Cost

The upper-right quadrant is reserved for tools that require both high bandwidth and high immediacy, and the best examples of this are videoconferencing tools like Webex or Zoom. Videoconferencing is a great way to engage with students when they truly need to see and hear each other in real-time. It can also be useful for online office hours, since it’s easier to feel connected and avoid misunderstandings when you have the benefit of tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Unfortunately, videoconferencing is one of the most inflexible and bandwidth-intensive activities we can ask our students to do. Before you rely on it too heavily, look at the other quadrants and ask yourself if there’s any other way to accomplish your learning objectives without it.

Make it accessible

Some of the low tech tools may not be readily accessible to students with disabilities, particularly to those students visual or physical impairments. Instructors should be prepared to offer reasonable accommodations to such students so that they may participate fully in course activities.
Low-Tech Strategies, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Low-Tech Strategies, is a derivative of Videoconferencing Alternatives: How Low-Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All developed by (retrieved on June 29, 2020) from https://www.iddblog.org/videoconferencing-alternatives-how-low-bandwidth-teaching-will-save-us-all/.