The global COVID-19 health crisis has closed thousands of campuses and forced millions of students and instructors to move to online learning – and quickly! Many are moving into a new territory of learning, which is as unsettling as it is rewarding.
To help ease the stress, here are a few tips to quickly transition courses to an online modality, based on a recent webinar I hosted for instructors.
1. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. It takes months to design and create a great online course – many of you are doing this in weeks or days. Be realistic about what you can actually create on your own in this time frame; the goal right now is not the development of a perfect online course, but the utilization of digital tools to ensure continuity of learning for our students.
Also, remember that many of your students are just as new to this as you are – they did not sign up to take an online course and are likely nervous about the change, as well as their ability to learn and succeed in an online environment. It’s important to ease your students’ fears and let them know you are here and focused on helping them succeed.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Where possible, use content that has already been created (for example: TED Talks, Teacher Tube, or Khan Academy videos), reach out to colleagues who are already teaching in the online environment, or look to the resources and tools provided by your publisher.
Also, capitalize on digital tools you are already using (like your LMS or Google Docs), and if you are going to add some new technologies (such as synchronous Zoom lectures, or asynchronous recorded lectures using a tool like Screencast-o-matic) try to limit to just one or two new digital resources to make things manageable for you and your students.
3. Communicate. Communication is key when it comes to online instruction, and is even more important during this time when students may feel isolated and unprepared. Communication throughout the rest of the semester should be frequent, robust and at least as many times each week as you would have if they were still on campus. Make sure students have multiple ways to reach you (email, an office phone that is being forwarded to your home, or via your digital office hours using a tool like Zoom).
Also, consider how students will connect with you if they don’t have access to a computer with reliable internet. The LMS should be your main communication hub – it provides continuity among classes for students, uses push notifications to alert students to new content/communication, and archives records of connection and communication between you and your students.
4. Set clear expectations for learning. This is tough, but it may not be realistic to expect to cover all of the course content you originally hoped to. Prioritize what students really need to know in order to achieve the learning outcomes for the course, and adjust teaching, assignments and assessment accordingly.
If you decide to have synchronous class sessions, be conscious of internet issues, students’ ability to get to a computer at the same time each day/week, technological issues, childcare, etc., and consider recording those class meetings so students that are not able to attend live will still benefit from the lecture (use video capture tools that have closed captioning to ensure all of your students have equal access to those resources, or upload your videos to YouTube to use that closed captioning feature). Provide an overview at the start of each week with a list of what students will read/watch/complete over the week (noting how much time it will likely take to complete each activity).
A weekly module format in the LMS is helpful so students can easily locate everything they need to learn for the week (links to the reading/videos, assignment guidelines, links to discussion boards, rubrics, a drop box for submitting their work, links to live class sessions, etc.). In the LMS, note any major changes to the syllabus or changes to projects or assessments (i.e. an oral presentation now changed to a recorded presentation). Be clear and direct about how projects will now be assessed (criteria both in writing and via recorded video help). Finally, provide your students all the resources they need right inside the LMS (i.e. if students are writing research papers, provide links to your library’s digital archives or other scholarly database tools).
5. Celebrate success. Finally, extend grace to your colleagues, your students, and the departments at your academic institution that are providing support. We are all trying our best to quickly adjust to this environment, and taking time to celebrate the small accomplishments makes us all feel connected and valued.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. This is a big transition for everyone, and you should absolutely acknowledge the impact your hard work is having on your student’s success!
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