Social distancing now means distance learning. In education, as in performance art, the show must go on. And you may be wondering where to start and how to avoid uncertain challenges ahead. I have been building websites and online interactions for a decade and a half. As new professors suddenly face teaching remote student populations, I hope they’ll avoid the mistakes I made.
Following are seven simple rules for faculty to take an on-the-ground class to an online class.
1. Use your current platform
Now is not the time for radical new ideas. You don’t have the buffer space. Do nothing big or different. Keep it simple. Your existing school software will have the functionality you need.
Do you really need a, well, novel solution? Have mercy on tech support. These professionals worked hard to keep up with demand in the old normal. Let’s all look to simple solutions for the rest of the semester.
2. Consider synchronous and asynchronous methods
Distance education delivered online can be administered in two ways: synchronous and asynchronous. Each comes with advantages and disadvantages.
The synchronous path of videoconferencing has the benefit of real-time interaction, which can enhance the teacher-student rapport. But connections, power, hardware and software can fail. Have a backup plan.
Be ready with an asynchronous approach. This has the course content and your recorded lectures online and available at the convenience of students. Click here for an example.
With this lesson plan, there is no school bell to signal the beginning and end of class. The student decides when to start and how long to work the lesson—independent of when the teacher speaks. The student has control and autonomy, which is especially valuable for the nontraditional students in your course.
There are no back rows in online education, and there is no rest for the weary teacher. There is more writing than ever, but it’s necessary and not busy work.
3. Prepare for discussion
No matter which method you choose, your class assignments should remain the same. Indeed, there will be more written deliverables if you go asynchronous. Writing becomes class participation. Just as comments in the classroom are in the public domain, written work should not be hidden and should have a large audience. All classwork should be visible to all students. And the class should be alerted beforehand. If there needs to be a confidential conversation, then this should be offline. Grades on an assignment are private, of course, but not the writing itself.
4. Allow for reaction to discussion
As the students address discussion topics in a public forum, other students should be invited to read individual essays and to make public comments.
Sometimes, the conversations will deserve a wider audience, and you can use social media to amplify and bring in perspectives from even outside the classroom. See #AlertStudent on Twitter.
5. Provide time for reflection
Assign a self-assessment. This should be a graded “Dear Diary” that allows an instructors to learn what is important to a pupil.
We tested online public accountability at The Catholic University of America and discovered that writing is better when there is the “threat” that essays could be read by thousands or as a writing sample for a potential employer.
Remind the learners that their essays can be read by anyone.
6. Evaluate student performance
What is school without testing? Online is not a test-free zone. Evaluate student performance weekly. Academic integrity still applies in all worlds, including the virtual one. But let us help the learner by encouraging open-book testing without a time limit—albeit with individual effort and no sharing. Why cheat if books, notes and time are at your discretion?
7. Offer feedback
Every submission from the student should get a reaction from the instructor. This is a lot of work for everyone. Nobody can hide in online education. There are no back rows in online education, and there is no rest for the weary teacher. There is more writing than ever, but it’s necessary and not busy work.
Jack Yoest is a consultant and assistant professor of practice in leadership and management at The Catholic University of America in The Busch School of Business, Washington, D.C. He teaches both graduate and undergraduate students online and on the ground.
UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.