Classes have moved online as campuses are closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic—here’s how to make the most of it

10 tips for a great online class


Classes have moved online as campuses are closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic—here’s how to make the most of it

This story on designing a great online class, originally published on April 9, was eCN’s No. 8 most popular story of 2020. Check back each day for the next story in our countdown.

So, all your classes just went online, and your students are turning to you for technical as well as emotional support. Your institution may be scrambling to get each online class up and running, but you don’t have to scramble.

You can help the transition go more smoothly with some sage advice to give your students on how they can succeed in the digital classroom. Here are 10 online class tips to share with students:

1. Don’t be a stranger. Ask your students to log into their courses every day. Yes, every day. You may be sending out announcements, posting assignments, and responding to discussion forums every day. Remind students that it’s not enough to check in three times a week, as they normally would. Encourage them to be vigilant with their school-issued email accounts. If not, they will surely miss a deadline or some positive feedback they might have received on one of their brilliant posts to the discussion board!

Related content: 5 ways to focus on student success in a pandemic

2. Open sesame. Seems basic, but caution students to remember their passwords to Blackboard, Canvas, or any other learning management system (LMS) that your school may use. Maybe your institution has 24/7 tech support or a “forgotten password” function. If so, you are lucky. But, if not, warn students that they don’t want to try to log in to the LMS at 11 p.m. only to find out that they can’t get into the system until the help desk opens at 9 a.m. the next day.

3. Avoid Netflix. Gently remind your students that the cancellation of face-to-face classes is not an open invitation to binge-watch their favorite series while trying to work. Ask students to reduce distractions when they are working online. Tell them, yes, this means putting their phones away! There are apps—like Freedom or Cold Turkey Blocker—that block online access while students are studying. Students may need to go online to access the LMS or do some research, and that’s fine. But once they have the information they need, they should step away from digital distractors.

4. Run. Walk. Run. Emphasize time management methods like the Pomodoro technique. The idea is to focus on a single task and work in short 25-minute bursts, followed by five-minute breaks. Do this four times, then take a longer break. This will help students concentrate and increase their productivity. It will also help them avoid that constant itch to see what’s in the fridge, text a friend, or take a nap. Caution them that a three-hour marathon to catch up will only exhaust them and increase their chances of making mistakes.

5. Don’t get left behind. Tell your students that it is easier to stay caught up than get caught up. Once they fall behind in an online course, the volume of work will seem to go up exponentially. That’s because they will be cramming two, three, four, or even five weeks of work into one miserable and stressful weekend. As tempting as it may be for students to procrastinate, advise them that they will feel more relaxed if they stay on top of their work.

6. Sit in the virtual front row. Invite students to contact you as much as they need to. This doesn’t mean you have to answer your phone in the middle of the night. But establish your contact information and encourage students to touch base—via text or email—often. This will prevent rework or the 11th hour question about an assignment. Suggest that your class is like an academic social media campaign. Students can enhance their “online presence” by engaging often with their target audience: you and the other students in the class. Online learning works best when it is social. So, encourage students not to get too isolated.

7. Go analog sometimes. Here’s some advice I learned the hard way. Suggest that students compose their writing offline before entering it into the LMS. Online platforms may freeze or crash just when students are inputting a well-crafted response to a discussion question. Suggest students use Word or offline Google docs to save copies of their work. This will prevent students from having to tell you that the “LMS ate my homework.”

8. Get ready for a close-up. Remind students to come prepared for your live online class. If you are using Zoom (or any live online platform), call on them as you would in class. Warn them that you will do so. Suggest that they put on a clean shirt and invite them to turn on their cameras to say hello at the beginning of class. As the semester winds down, prepare students for the fact that they may be asked to do an online presentation. Set the expectation that they should tend to all assigned work before showing up in your virtual classroom. That said, pajama bottoms are acceptable!

9. Work hard and smart. Dissuade students of the misconception that online classes are easier than face-to-face classes. Your students may hold this belief. Debunk this myth immediately. Tell your students the truth. Online courses can feel—and often are—more intensive than “in person” classes. While students may be used to coming to class two or three times a week, they may not be used to the amount of writing and online activity that occurs in an online class. Even if you are meeting your students in Zoom each week, remind them that participation is not optional. Everyone participates in an online course. There’s no flying under the radar.

10. Embrace innovation. Assure your students that online learning is not just useful during a state of emergency; it has benefits beyond this crisis-point. If they are introverts, they will get to shine with their more talkative classmates; if they have family or work obligations, they can still ace your class. Night owls can work at midnight, and early birds can work at 5 am. Non-techies can dip their toes in the water, and techies can work in their native environment.

Ultimately, the true innovators in this time of rapid change will not be your institution—or even you. The true innovators will be your students. Remind them that this is amazing! And tell them to keep calm and revolutionize education in the digital classroom.

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