Ready or not, many teachers are now going to experience delivering instruction online. Prep time has been far from optimal, but there are a few steps teachers can take as they venture into the delivery of online learning to their students. Whether experienced pros or newbies to online delivery, it’s all about the learning, not the technology. Don’t get wrapped up in the technology. Don’t try to use every feature at the get go…or ever. Stay calm. Focus on the learning and continue to be the learning leader, regardless of what technologies your students use—even if you don’t use technology!
If you’re going to do this, here are some considerations when moving instruction online.
It’s about LEARNING, not just being online. Just because your class may have an online component now, that doesn’t mean it ALL has to be online. We learn in a variety of ways, and much of it is offline. Use online components to bring students together, check on their progress, and provide feedback. Then send them off to interact with content, read some things, watch some videos, complete projects, and create new products that they can then share with you.
Ask your students how THEY want to learn. This is a great opportunity to put personalization and differentiation into practice—true personalization, in which students are given the opportunity to determine what it is they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and how they’ll demonstrate what they’ve learned. If your learning goals don’t require writing an essay or answer a multiple-choice question, then don’t force students to do these things. Ask your students for their ideas. They might turn their mad Instagram, SnapChat, and TikTok skills into demonstrations of what they know and can do. And if they’re intrinsically motivated to use the tools at their disposal, you’re likely to get better learning out of the experience.
Focus on the learning, not the technology. At the end of the day, or your class, what is it you want your students to know and be able to do? Learning isn’t measured by time spent watching a video or the number of responses made on a discussion board. Very often, there are a variety of tools students can use to demonstrate their learning, not just one single tool. Give students one simple option—the lowest common denominator—for submitting their work, but encourage them to suggest and justify other tools. As students explore and use other tools successfully to capture their learning, share those exemplars with the rest of the class.
Every online activity is an opportunity to promote digital citizenship, but your students may need support being good digital citizens. Create practice opportunities to model how to use common online tools, like how to engage in an online discussion effectively. I like the simple “compliment-connect-question” format, which I learned from some teachers in Lee’s Summit, MO, but you can find lots of protocols online. Consider creating simple narrated slides or screencapture movies that reinforce appropriate procedures, like using online resources, citing intellectual property, or even how to use some features of your LMS. Share exemplars of past student-generated documents, videos, or other artifacts so students have expectations when creating and submitting their own.
Give your students responsibility for the online environment. Just as you would have helpers in your class, establish ways that students can contribute to the online learning environment. If you’re going to do some synchronous webconferencing, put students in charge of monitoring the chat room, creating a question queue, summarizing main ideas, and determining next steps. If you’re incorporating student groups, consider using students contracts with different roles and have students be responsible for monitoring and reporting on how well the group is meeting timelines and creating information. Most importantly, determine how students can contribute to the online learning activities that you incorporate. You do not have to be the leader of every activity. To do this you need to ask them.
It doesn’t always have to be online. Every day we communicate with others through a variety of means, even at a distance. Consider whether phone calls or texting can support your students as they learn from home. The Remind app sends text reminders to students and parents who have signed up for them. Service like Free Conference Call can let you set up group calls to check in with your students. And while email is technically online, it’s also a great way to interact with students, and automated emails and reminders can be generated through some LMS, calendar programs, and other tools.
Take a deep breath. We’re all going to get through this. Keep focused on what you do well—lead learning for your students—and let the learning continue!
John Ross has been developing and delivering online learning to students of all ages for more than two decades. His astronomy course developed with his friend and expert science teacher Anita Deck was honored as one of the Best High School Courses on iTunes U, and he has shared his experiences in his book “Online Professional Development. Design, Deliver, Succeed!” published by Corwin.