All students are capable of succeeding in online courses, but the way courses are designed and taught matters. The variability in instructor agility explains why some students love online learning, and others desperately want to return to the traditional classroom. Although the recent widespread transition to online teaching is unfamiliar for many, some of the key skills and techniques can be learned and mastered to meet the current and urgent challenge. Since you are in the business of teaching and learning, you have an advantage. Here are the top 10 tips to get you started and prepare yourself and your students for success.
1. Be Open to Learning:
You are used to being an expert in your field, but if you are new to teaching online, keep a beginner’s mindset. Be aware of the many free resources that are available, including SAGE's remote teaching solutions and Social Science Space's 16 Answers to Your Questions about Teaching Online, both of which include tools and resources to support students and instructors. You will realize that online teaching practices can be developed, and skill development comes with time, insight, and experience. Keep your commitment to excellence in teaching front and center while you remain open to acquiring the teaching skills needed for today's modern learners.
2. Provide Technical and Informational Support:
Partner with your institution’s IT department to determine the top technical issues that students encounter when accessing and navigating an online course. If you’re using a textbook that has online support or courseware for homework delivery, make sure students know how to access the publisher’s tech support. Be aware of differences in textbook editions, including international and online versions. If a student does not have a "piece of the puzzle" because of their edition, help them locate it, or be willing to adjust the assignment as needed.
3. Use Technology as a Means to an End:
As you make this quick transition, don’t get too bogged down with the technology itself, but think about pedagogy and engagement. The goal is to use technology in order to facilitate teaching and learning. Technology’s tools of engagement are just that—tools, not the actual engagement itself. A learning management system (LMS) and the available tools are no substitute for an experienced and trusted instructor. Your pedagogy and teaching approach--not the convenience of technology--should drive all of your choices! Keep your focus squarely on learning!
4. Employ Both Asynchronous and Synchronous Tools:
The online environment offers access to a variety of tools and resources. Asynchronous tools don’t occur in real-time (discussion boards, Prezi or PowerPoint presentations, pre-recorded lectures, podcasts, and social media options); allowing learners to access lessons at the time, pace, and place of their choice. Synchronous tools include real-time communication methods (web-conferencing, Skype, Google Hangouts, or Zoom); offering immediate engagement, lessening feelings of isolation and creating a sense of community. If you are new to Zoom, check out these useful tutorials: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-Video-Tutorials. Try to make use of a thoughtful combination of tools depending on the content of your course AND your students’ abilities and needs.
5. Reconceptualize Face-to-Face Teaching Materials:
Transform face-to-face teaching materials into content that makes best use of the online medium as a unique communication forum. Develop activities that are related to the course AND meaningful to your students. Simply filming yourself in front of your computer dictating the same lecture you would have delivered in a traditional class is not an effective way to teach online. Thoughtful integration of audio and visual imagery will convey content more effectively, making concepts easier to understand and remember.
6. Ensure Accessibility:
Be aware of the “digital-divide”; not all students have equal access, and some home environments are more conducive to studying than others. At the start of a course, outline the technology requirements, and have each student confirm that they have access to everything needed for the course. All content must be inclusive by providing multiple opportunities for engagement, interaction, and challenge. Be flexible in the ways that information is presented and the ways in which students can respond or demonstrate their knowledge and skills so you do not overlook individual differences regarding learning preferences and abilities.
7. Be present!
Log into your course every day, and consistently remain visible and available by staying in touch. If you require students to post an introduction, then do so yourself - and try to respond to theirs. Find something you may have in common to establish rapport and a connection with each student. Soon after your class begins, reach out and ask students how things are going. Make use of group communications to touch base frequently. Respond to all student requests as soon as you are able, so that you do not leave your students “hanging”. Demonstrate that you consider your students active partners in the learning experience by asking for their feedback, and making changes accordingly.
8. Apply Appropriate Assessment Measures:
Make sure students know how and when to access testing, and that they understand all requirements and expectations. Offer a practice exam that will provide an opportunity to become familiar with online exam technology. To deter cheating, consider changing test question sequence and offering different versions of the same test. Remind students of academic integrity policies by posting a video explaining guidelines for online examinations and reviewing the institution’s academic integrity policy. Be sure to provide individual, extended timing settings for students who are approved for testing accommodations.
9. Reflect on Your Practice:
Each day you will develop a greater understanding of the complex challenges and barriers that exist in the online environment. You will also develop awareness of how to facilitate meaningful and engaging online learning experiences, and ways to increase opportunities for success and achievement. Embrace the opportunity to reflect on and consolidate what you have learned, and think about how to best apply your new-found knowledge and skills. Make notes about what worked well, so that when you return to either hybrid or face-to-face teaching, you can continue to implement these new practices.
10. Seize the Opportunity to Pave the way Forward!
This unprecedented time has come with multiple challenges. You have been forced to question your traditional pedagogy, push beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone, and reframe your ideas of what effective instruction looks like. You are also having to plan courses while facing a great deal of uncertainty. View this as a valuable opportunity to focus on learning, shift to student-centered instruction, and explore opportunities the online setup affords. Take time to re-examine learning outcomes and the development of universal skills, instill in students a sense of resilience and the ability to adapt to unfamiliar territory, and help lead education forward.