Going Online Quickly? Nine Tips to Help You AdaptAleksandar (Sasha) Tomic | Associate Dean for Strategy, Innovation and Technology in the Woods College of Advancing Studies, Boston College
The United States education system is going through an unprecedented shift to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Colleges, universities, primary and secondary schools have all asked faculty to rapidly move their classes online in the past couple weeks to support the guidelines for social distancing issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Similar actions are happening around the world.
As someone with more than a decade of experience teaching and developing online courses, I feel compelled to share some tips and my support with my colleagues across the world!
First, I highly recommend taking advantage of your institution’s instructional designers (IDs), if your institution has them. If they’re available, IDs are a fantastic resource to help you take your course online. If you need to move online more quickly and/or with little to no help, here are some tips from my own experience developing classes.
1. Take a deep breath!
While you likely need to begin teaching online in a week, not all of your material has to be online that quickly. Most of us will be online for the rest of the semester, meaning another eight to ten weeks, so keep in mind that there is time to learn new things and enhance your practice and delivery.
2. Be flexible with assessments coming up soon
If you have any sort of evaluation planned, try moving it out at least a week. Keep in mind: your students are also still navigating this disruption and adjusting to this new way of learning as well as personal upheavals. Some might be dealing with the virus directly. So, I recommend not having a test or a presentation due immediately, if possible.
3. Make a plan as to for how you will teach online
What materials do you already have that are easy to post online? How will you structure your weeks? Do you want to use live sessions? Do you want to use discussions (I highly recommend this if you can)? Spend some time think of the class’s structure first.
4. Now that you have a structure, post the materials for the first week
Starting with the materials for the first week will give you an estimate of how long it will take you to create materials for the upcoming weeks. It is okay to post your content as the course progresses. Personally, even when I have all my content, I usually publish one week at a time. If you see that this is taking less time than you thought, get as far ahead as you can.
5. Try to settle on which technology you will use for live sessions
In my experience, most platforms are relatively comparable, but some require a premium license for certain features. Most likely, you have received some guidance from your institution on this matter, so follow it unless you are already comfortable with another solution (and have the necessary license). Many providers are removing time limits on free accounts, but no one knows how long that will last.
6. Reach out to a colleague that you know has taught online
Preferably, reach out to someone who has taught in your or a similar discipline. What do they find useful? What technology do they suggest? How do they deal with…? Many of your colleagues have taught online for a while and know some tips and tricks.
7. Think about what you need to invest in technology/equipment-wise
If you use the board a lot for formulas, graphs, or anything that cannot be typed easily, you should consider having some device with touchscreen capability for your live sessions. As far as which app to use, PowerPoint will do just fine, just make sure to activate the “pens” option. Consider buying a pen for your device. Apple Pen, for example, will work great with an iPad, but other Bluetooth-enabled pens will do. If you already have a tablet or a laptop with a touchscreen, you should be pretty set. While smartphones can work, writing quickly on them becomes constrained by screen size. Whatever you do, installing a board at your home and pointing a camera at it should be your last resort, as it will likely not work very well for broadcast.
8. Think about the assessments in your class
What do you have to have done in class? If your institution has remote proctoring software, familiarize yourself with it and feel free to use it. As long as answers to your exam can be typed easily, this is not a bad solution. While doable, remote proctoring is trickier when there is a lot of writing/drawing. I recommend splitting such an exam into “in-class” (i.e., proctored) and “take-home” portions. The “in-class” section should be made up of multiple-choice, true-false, and matching questions, or an essay without graphs or formulas. The “take-home” portion should be made up of items that require more handwriting. Other assessments, such as papers, presentations, etc. can be easily collected via your Learning Management System, and your students are no more likely to cheat when they are online than when they are in class.
9. Take another deep breath!!! You can do this!!!
You will definitely learn new technology, approaches to teaching, and resources that you didn’t know were available. This is why we are all in this business: because we like to learn, and we want to share knowledge. No, you will not begin wishing to only teach online moving forward. Yes, you will pick up some cool tips, tricks, and technology that will enhance your in-class teaching.
At the end of the day, this too shall pass, and you will emerge stronger and a better teacher for it.
Editor’s note: This piece was submitted on March 18, 2020.