WITH THE SPREAD of the new coronavirus, colleges and universities around the country are shutting down and asking instructors to move their classes online. For those of use who teach, the question is … how? What should we be doing to make this as effective as possible for our students?
There are so many issues to consider, and I'm not sure there are good answers to all of them. But as a physics professor, I’ve done a lot of thinking about teaching methods in normal times. So here I am. I'll try to offer some guidance on these questions. My lens on this is science related, but there’s plenty here that you can extrapolate to any subject. Let's go.
This is the immediate concern. What exactly do you do? Well, this is tough, since you didn't have any time to prepare for this transition. But here are some options, from bare minimum to something better.
1. Just give a reading assignment. Tell the students which parts of the textbook they should read and give them some homework. This is the default option, and we can all agree it’s not ideal.
2. Put your PowerPoint slides online. Hopefully your class is more than just PowerPoint slides, but if that’s how you were teaching, your solution is simple.
3. Share some YouTube videos related to the topic. This is still essentially the same as the previous two ideas, but in video form. I am positive you can find a YouTube video on just about any physics topic.
4. Make your own videos and post them online. I’ve been doing this for a long time (here’s an example that I like quite a bit). This way I know the video matches what I would say in class, because I am the same person as myself. You might even find you enjoy this and want to keep it in your toolkit in the future.
Interact with students as they work. Whether it is commenting on a document as it is drafted online, dropping into a chat room or simply acknowledging students in live sessions, make the journey with them. This environment is very appropriate for the constructivist role of “the guide on the side.” Let them know that not only are they looking at you, you are looking at them. Solicit questions. Hold online office hours and encourage students to come and bring their questions. The barrier to entry is lower than it would be coming to your physical office, and it is one of the best ways that faculty members can create relationships with students.
Mix it up. In class, think of what you are teaching in smaller “chunks” -- micro-lectures, interspersed with silent activities and group work. Highlight students’ individual experiences. Unlike a physical classroom, students online are in different places, living different lives. Encourage them to share those distinct experiences and help them tap such experiences for their coursework. For those of you venturing into online education for the first time, we should share one more secret: the distinct engagement and bonds we build online don’t just enhance the student experience. They breathe a whole new life into the teaching experience, as well. Embracing the digital revolution and making the leap into online classroom sessions can be nerve-wracking. Making online classes interesting is even harder. There’s an awful lot to learn and many obstacles to overcome this school year.
But whilst online classrooms are limited in some ways, they also open a virtual doorway to new learning experiences. Learning experiences that are more accessible, more interactive and — dare we say it — more engaging than ever before. All it takes is a digital mindset, the right tools and a focused approach. As ever, the secret sauce is engagement. If you can’t capture your online learners’ attention, then you won’t be able to deliver an effective learning experience. But if you follow our thirteen top tips, then you should be well placed to capture your audiences’ imagination, drive motivation and encourage participation. It won’t be easy, but you have all the tools you need. Good luck and happy learning.