What Happens When Life Forces Your Class Online?

All, Teaching Tips

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe and the United States, I have watched education Twitter burst into flames as instructors who have never taught online are suddenly faced with the strong possibility that they will be forced to do so and many who have taught online (or at least hybrid) are being conscripted to share their expertise. While this rapid ramp-up to online education is at an unprecedented scale, it is important to remember that many individuals and institutions have many years of experience teaching online — and we began when folks were still using dial up and platforms were clunky and prone to failure. Long before online classes became popular people were completing coursework via mail. There are lots helpful resources and guidelines to help. We can do this folks and everything will be a lot easier and less stressful if we remember three simple concepts.

Simple is Better

I have expressed my love for Hyperdocs in the past. They are a really handy way to present an online lesson, but they are also a thought-provoking pedagogical tool. What I love best about Hyperdocs is that they forced me to really think through the entire cycle of a lesson from the information students needed to begin the process to the interaction to facilitate learning to the culminating experience to demonstrate learning. Thinking through that process for my online and hybrid classes generally improved my teaching because it made me reconsider all the aspects of what I was doing in the classroom. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes you can make an activity serve multiple purposes if you aren’t worried about meeting seat time requirements. Sometimes you can just give students a writing prompt (for example) or a series of reflections. Support nay encourage creativity. Are there ways to encourage students to explore their home, their life, their imagination to support their learning that do not require internet or school supplies? Think outside the box (of your classroom or school building or computer housing).

Don’t Replicate

Do not transfer your face-to-face lessons into a paper packet or online form. This almost never works as well and creates a lot of wasted work for you and for your students. Similarly, do not try to hold your class meetings online via some sort of web conferencing technology unless you and your students have a lot of practice–and maybe not even then as I suspect some systems may overload under the increased demand. Moving to asynchronous class activities will make your life and your students’ lives so much easier. Heck you might even find that giving your students time to process and reflect might make your interactions better. I know that I have experienced that as both a learner and a teacher and that is one reason I teach hybrid classes and all my online classes asynchronously. Think about your bottom-line goals for your class and then consider how students can achieve those goals in your new circumstances. Now that you are freed from the constraints of seat time what do you want your students to think, to experience, to do?

Remember the Students

One advantage of the timing of this particular crisis is that it is hitting at a point in the semester or school year when most of us know our students and know a lot about their circumstances. Carefully consider what you know (or can learn) about their access to the internet and to a computer as well as textbooks (or other course materials). Also consider what you know about their living conditions. I always have a number of students who are parents which will seriously impact their life if schools are closed. Many of my students live in rural areas where internet and cell coverage is spotty and/or unavailable. Some of my students work at jobs (such as emergency services or hospitals) where they might face increased work demands or risks. Your students and your region may have very different concerns and challenges, but any plan that does not consider these is setting up your class and/or your students to fail. And this means you need to be flexible with your coursework and your deadlines as students navigate these challenging times.

Here in Kentucky, as I write this, we only have a few confirmed cases and none of those are in the counties where I live and teach, and Morehead State is one week out from our Spring Break. All of which means things are very fluid right now. We might not come back from Spring Break. We might continue as normal with instructions to handle individual cases of students unable to return to campus. Or maybe we will fall somewhere in between. Who knows? But I feel confident that my hybrid classes can switch to online easily thanks to our experience and my Hyperdocs. If you are in a position where you know that you will be switching your classes online then spend some time reflecting and considering these concepts (Simple is Better, Don’t Replicate, and Remember the Students) before you leap into action and I strongly suggest that you check out the Hyperdoc resources and community that I collected. Hyperdocs changed my teaching before there was a crisis and they are keeping me (and my students) calm now. My only regret is that circumstances may force us to hold our game jam online. There are enough worries right now, but taking advantage of the rich resources available to support your transition to online instruction can and should ease your stress in this one area.

Note: I chose not to label this a pandemic guide even though COVID-19 inspired this post, because there have been and will be other life occasions that force a sudden shift in instruction delivery. I have colleagues suddenly tied up by jury duty or health challenges (not related to quarantine) or family demands – and I imagine you have too. We never know when life will suddenly change.

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