In an effort to reduce social contact and the spread of Covid-19, education facilities around the world are moving their instruction online. Attempting to “flatten the curve” poses new challenges for academia and teaching at large. Not least among these is the sheer urgency with which the new format is required, with many teachers having been told to transition away from in-person classes from one week to the next.
If you are a teacher affected by this abrupt transition, the chances are your employer has been supplying you with updates and advice on preferred solutions and tools, if not outright mandatory instructions in the interests of maintaining cohesion throughout your educational institution. In addition, some pearls of wisdom from those more readily familiar with the format may prove helpful. With this in mind, Hospitality Insights has scoured the Internet to compile the common threads of advice for successful online teaching from remote teaching and education technology experts.
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One of the most common tenets of advice seems to be the increased need for clarity during this challenging time. Paul Huckett, Assistant Dean for Learning Design and Innovation at the Whiting School of Engineering, as quoted in Johns Hopkins University’s Practical Guide to Adapting Courses for Online Learning, reminds us to consider how students might feel about any ambiguity as regards their courses and recommends that we “communicate clearly with the students about what this transition means for their class”.
Of course, this includes what might happen when exam season rolls around, but it is also relevant at a very granular level: What software might students need to download? Is there any equipment they may no longer have access to now that college or university premises are off-limits, and what might potential workarounds be? How can students get in touch with you? Will you be providing virtual office hours? All these questions should be addressed as clearly as possible.
When you teach on site, you draw on your full array of communication skills to ensure your students get the message: Explaining, guiding, illustrating, demonstrating, asking and answering questions. When you transition to online teaching, you need to find a way to support your students’ learning progress even though you aren’t there in person. In doing so, whenever you give assignments, be sure to provide clearly worded instructions. Channeling a more conversational style even in written assignment descriptions or uploading a brief explainer-video will increase clarity. Rather than overwhelm students with overly detailed instructions, attempt to strike the balance between thorough and digestible information. Be transparent and explicit. Provide any relevant links with unambiguous designations. Use examples to avoid misunderstandings and make sure you give students the opportunity to ask questions. The “A-Z of Online Teaching Challenges” recommends you take this one step further by making available pre-emptive FAQs.
Addressing course topics from various perspectives is another way to improve clarity. In its comprehensive Advice Guide on How to Be a Better Online Teacher, the Chronicle of Higher Education recommends incorporating existing videos into your classes that “put another spin” on certain topics. Alternatively, it suggests recording “short guest-lecture videos to let students hear from another expert in your field”. Students may also be able to solidify their understanding by explaining course concepts to one another. In the absence of in-person classes, consider adding this element to your next homework assignment.
This may be the time your institution’s learning management program comes to the fore. Whether it be Moodle, Blackboard or otherwise, these tools provide the ideal platform for you to compile your course materials and add structure to your offering. Make your LMS your students’ one-stop-shop for everything related to your classes: Upload readings and video material (give edpuzzle a try) along with links to relevant references and sources, create a discussion forum and activate the assignment submission functionality. As well as a chronological course structure, you might like to include a more general section featuring overarching course information, such as your course outline, a student contact information matrix, a grading rubric or timeline of learning milestones, deadlines and exams. For a concise step-by-step guide to Going Online in a Hurry, see Michelle D. Miller’s advisory contribution.
If you plan on teaching in synchronous online sessions (for an explanation of synchronous versus asynchronous teaching and much more, consult Stanford University’s academic-tech specialists’ detailed Google doc), you can include also login links to your classes on your LMS course page.
Bear in mind that a heavier reliance on online platforms brings its own set of challenges as regards accessibility. Ensure your content is barrier-free by enabling screen readers for the visually impaired and incorporating subtitles or transcripts for the hearing impaired. Your college or university may be able to help with this if it is relevant, though there is approachable information to be found online.
Just because your classes have moved online, there’s no need for them become flat and lifeless. Inside Higher Ed recommends exploring features of live meeting tools, such as Zoom’s breakout rooms, that allow you to split you class into smaller groups for pair or group work. You might also permit your students to share their screens so they can give presentations to the class, incorporate polling or post quiz questions during your live session. Resources like Flipgrid can add an extra dimension to your classes.
UNESCO has put together an extensive overview of distance learning programs for public perusal, while Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching has made its Resources for Just-in-Time Online Teaching available to all.
In light of potential technical failings, it pays to be well organized. Support your time management with reminders if necessary and try to find a new routine. Those around you will need to be made aware of your lesson times, so they can give you the space to concentrate on your students. All the while, remember that you are only human. One of the hallmarks of this phase is that we have to be flexible with ourselves and one another. We may need to have a plan B up our sleeves and be accepting if it is called into action. As Feilim MacGabhann of Johns Hopkins points out “perfection is impossible, so don’t strive for that”.