Recently a colleague of mine, Jeffrey Klausman of Whatcom Community College, asked our professional listserve what training colleges were providing students for this sudden switch to online. And of course he was right – there was very little support or guidance provided. I’m sure that many institutions, like mine, quickly pulled together tip sheets and the like, but that is not at all the same. Also, it does not help with the larger problem that students often have with online classes and is intensified by our current circumstances (as my own college-age son tells me daily) that of time management and motivation.
Jeffrey pointed to a Inside Higher Education article “The State of Online Education, Before Coronavirus” which noted that 70% of colleges do not require students to go through any training prior to taking an online course. I have been teaching online for a long time and when I first started I pushed for an entrance exam of sorts to gauge student readiness for online work and often conducted an initial triage myself. However, I do feel that most students (at least at the college level) have acquired more of those basic skills than my students possessed a decade ago. I am also loathe to dump a load of remedial training on students at the start of the semester when I am more focused on building community and starting off write (pun intended). So now when I teach online and hybrid classes I ease students in with simple tasks and just-in-time instruction with many many reminders and tips during those first weeks. I also possess the experiences of past classes to guide me in the structure of those tasks, instructions, and reminders, so here is what I do. And in truth what I am re-doing for my classes because in the midst of all this upheaval we can all use a re-orientation.
I begin my classes each semester with a Google slideshow orientation filled with videos, memes, and Mom jokes to take students through what I think are the key things they need to know. It is extremely silly so hopefully it calms some fears and gives them a glimpse into who I am as a person and a teacher. I then follow up with a Google form that at first appearance is for accountability but is really just to review the highlights. Bonus: the quiz quickly teaches me which students have a sense of humor – key information that I require.
I’m loathe to share my orientation in public – it is too corny for words – but it amuses me greatly and the feedback from students indicates the same. And honestly, your orientation, or (re)orientation as it were, should be unique to your class, your context, and your personality. Hopefully the two docs I’ve shared should be helpful as a prompt or inspiration and the rest should come from you. Pro tip: I share my Google slideshow orientation in presentation mode by changing the “edit” in the link to “present” – no quotes so students only see the presentation. Similarly, I change the link to my HyperDocs to “view” so students can’t accidentally make changes.
I am working on a (re)orientation slide show right now to guide us through the remainder of the semester and to help everyone adjust to our new reality.
Our first activity as a class is an introduction to the community and that introduction always includes some key elements that we return to over and over throughout the semester (six word stories, snaps, for example) that utilize Google docs in ways they likely haven’t used them in the past, so everything is doing double duty – which is just the way I like it. Students are guided through the process using a HyperDoc and learn how Google docs work and are used in our class by using those Google docs. I model each of these as well as offer guidance and instruction. I am currently working on a plan for everyone to check in with me and with the community so we can recalibrate our class community. I’m thinking some slam poetry might help us do that and release some stress as well.
Keep It Simple
But most important of all. Keep things simple. Don’t try to introduce too many new tools, don’t try to replicate the instruction that would happen in more normal times, and remember that your students are stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances as well as grieving the loss of their normal routine and college life. Be graceful and forgiving in your plans and your interactions as well as with yourself. Times are stressful and uncertain for everyone. Cut back to the essentials and focus on only what you decide is the most important takeaways for your students. Make the work fun, engaging, and/or rewarding so students will be motivated to do the work, but build in safeguards so students who become overwhelmed by life are not penalized when they need to take a break.
Let’s be careful out there. The grocery store aisles might be mean, but your online classroom doesn’t need to be. Your class can be a refuge and a comfort if you make it so.
Artwork via Pikrepo