There are a number of critical activities that are essential during a crisis to ensure continuous teaching and online learning

Adapting to online learning in a pinch (Part 2)

There are a number of critical activities that are essential during a crisis to ensure continuous teaching and learning

“…there is only one time that is important – now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”
– Leo Tolstoy, The Three Questions

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools, colleges, and universities are helping teachers and students rapidly prepare to continue teaching remotely.

This series on teaching continuity plans synthesized key elements from the many resources and recommendations shared through the Canvas LMS community. In Part 1 we looked at three things institutions can do BEFORE a crisis. I’ll now shift to critical activities that must happen DURING a teaching continuity event.

Note that these ideas do not have to wait until you shutter classrooms; advanced preparation is always recommended.

Focus and prioritization in this stage is critical. Starting with the most important and the most urgent activities will help your teachers, students, and staff stay sane and make it through. For each idea that you have, ask yourself, “Is this critically important for learning?” And, “Is this critically urgent for the student experience?”

Focus teachers on adapting and enabling, not transforming

Someday online education researchers and practitioners will look back on the necessary rush toward online teaching spurred by the coronavirus and start to make some sense of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Today we must deal with the now: Schools that choose to continue classes at a distance must make the best of it, often with faculty who are untrained or uncomfortable with online teaching. There is no time to waste, and a positive attitude can help sustain colleagues and students through this experience.

It’s hard for me to say it but, in a crunch like this, teachers who are new to online education should simply be encouraged to adapt their current teaching practices to the online environment. The most efficient way to preserve teaching continuity is what Graham refers to as enabling uses of technology – using online environments and tools that enable equivalent results with as little disruption as possible.

For teachers using Canvas, here are some the seven core tools to adapt to remote teaching:
1. Post Announcements to communicate news and updates.
2. Schedule Conferences for live lectures and discussions using tools like BigBlueButton or Zoom (but be sure to have a plan B if the video conference fails).
3. Share recorded lectures from previous semesters (or quickly create them using tools like Snagit) to add flexibility when students can’t make synchronous sessions.
4. Share Files – but just those that students will need.
5. Open Discussions in Canvas (or live chat tools like Pronto) to field questions and lesson discussions.
6. Create Assignments with due dates to keep students on-track, and to make collecting and assessing student work faster and easier with SpeedGrader.
7. Organize with Modules, working chronologically, and set Modules as your Canvas course home page to simplify student navigation.

Last but not least, teachers should hide tools that students don’t need, and don’t forget to publish!

A simple checklist can help faculty adapt to emergency remote teaching quickly; here are just a few examples: U Central Florida, Quality Matters, TLI.

Share pre-designed course templates and materials

Speaking of quality, experienced online faculty should be encouraged to share materials (and their experience) with other faculty, especially when there are many sections of a course taught by multiple teachers. Ideally, faculty would make their materials Open Educational Resources (OER) under a Creative Commons license.

Canvas Commons gives teachers access to a wealth of OER that can help them get started. Commons makes it easy to find, preview, import, and remix all or part of a shared course’s materials. Course materials that you’ve created can be shared just within a department or institution or with the world.

Course templates can help teachers get started quickly when faced with an empty course. We’ve shared a “ground to online” course home page template as one example.

Don’t forget the students

Students will need to know what is happening in their courses when an emergency arises. Frequent, consistent, and simplified communication will help students know what to expect and how to respond. Consider providing students with their own checklist, such as Western Washington U has done, to help them prepare.

Some students will be more directly affected by the crisis or the shift to remote teaching than others, including those who get sick, must care for others, or who have disabilities that require accessible format content. Teachers should communicate a willingness to make accommodations based on students’ individual circumstances.

And while we might expect our students to be “digital natives”, we can’t assume all students will have equal access to the technology or internet connectivity that they need to learn online. Institutions should have a plan to help their students get and stay connected, for example providing equipment for check-out, or referring students to low- or no-cost internet providers, or even provide subsidies for internet access.

Help desk staff should be prepared not just for an influx of students with technical questions, but also to support those students who have teachers that are struggling to adapt to online.

Teachers should also help students can help each other, by providing access to peer-to-peer communication tools through the LMS (see above) or through integrated partner tools like Pronto, CircleIn, Zoom, Google Apps, or Office 365:

– Set up a Q&A forum for each class and ask students to field each other’s questions related to the class in general or use of technology
– Set up topic-specific forums corresponding to each lesson for content-specific Q&A
– Pair or group students for peer support. Canvas Groups can help you set these up quickly and easily

Finally, make sure your course web site has links to Canvas Guides for Students or other technical support resources.

Whenever a situation forces campuses to close there will be anxiety, uncertainty, and additional workload to maintain teaching continuity. Planning ahead — and communicating those plans clearly and consistently — will make the experience easier for everyone. And focusing on the most critically important needs during the event will help everyone get through it without losing their minds. With luck, our teachers, students, and staff will emerge better equipped and motivated to prepare for a future event.

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Jared Stein

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