Coronavirus has interrupted the education of millions of kids around the world. But it doesn’t have to. There’s never been a better time to use online resources to teach your students effectively.
Here are five different ways you can teach online so that you and your students don’t fall behind.
1. Simplify the Process.
A lot of people are overwhelmed by all the options and all the equipment. Don’t be. You can keep it very simple. Essentially, if you have a laptop, you have enough equipment already! You don’t need to buy fancy lights; you can use natural light or a table lamp. Just make sure that the light is facing you directly rather than coming from behind.
Use the microphone in your computer. For the most part, that will be good enough. If you’re getting a little bit of audio feedback, try putting on a pair of headphones. You probably have all of this stuff in your house already and really don’t need to buy anything extra.
When it comes to using online platforms and communication methods, think about the one or two things that you need. If you want to create a direct communication channel with your students, use a messaging platform or email. If you already use one video conferencing platform like Skype, use that, and stick to it. Use whatever you are the most comfortable with, as long as it makes sense for your students as well. (That probably means MSN messenger is out!)
Another way to simplify the process is this: If, for example, you teach four sections of the same class in one school day, why not have all four of those sections meet together every day live online, rather than repeating yourself four times online. One of the major advantages of online learning is you can put 80 people into an online room more easily than you can put them into a physical classroom.
The big picture here is that it doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think. You don’t need fancy equipment. You don’t need to use 15 different programs and you don’t need to repeat yourself multiple times in one day.
2. Respect the Medium.
Online education is just different from in-person education. You can’t necessarily transfer what you do in your classroom to an online platform. But your life will be so much easier if you are prepared for that reality.
If you run science labs, you’re not going to be able to physically have people in a laboratory in a lab coat with pipettes. So forget the pipettes. You need to think of a new way of doing online labs. You could do this by using online resources that already are structured labs, having students study scientific research, or even watch videos based on what’s going on inside of laboratories. You have to work with the medium; you have to respect it.
If you run discussions within a literature course, you need to think about maybe using an online discussion board where students type their answers and responses to each other. That makes a lot more sense than trying to have 30 people talk over each other on their microphones online.
If you run a foreign language class and you have students do oral presentations, maybe they could record those as audio files and send them to you. It’s a way of assessing the same skill and the same learning, but in a different medium. Pay attention to the limitations and the advantages of online media and you’ll be successful.
3. You Need to Be Open-Minded.
Online education presents challenges and opportunities. That may mean you have to change your learning objectives. Maybe you run a math class and you’re expected to do some SAT math prep throughout the year. Maybe you haven’t gotten to it yet. What about taking this two- to four-week window in front of you, and using that for intensive SAT prep? Maybe you teach literature. Instead of the book that you were hoping to teach, which is going to be awkward to try to teach online, what about talking about a Shakespeare play and then using film adaptations of that play, to have vibrant discussions and new paper assignments?
This is a way of using the two- to four-week window to maybe achieve different goals from the ones you had on your structured year-long plan, but that’s something that’s still valuable for your students. If you’re open minded in this way, you can find a lot of success with online teaching.
4. Communication is Key.
You have to have one single path for communicating with your students so that you’re all on the same page. If you teach in a conventional school building most of the day like I do, you can walk by and see your students in the hallway. You can see them before or after class, you can put announcements on the board. You can’t do that here. Where is your whiteboard? Find yourself an online space that can be your “whiteboard.” Maybe you have all of your class content in one Google Doc, maybe you use WhatsApp and you create a group thread where everyone can communicate with one another. Of course, you have to follow the policies of your school about interacting online with students. But if you have one centralized location, one email list, whatever it is, you can unify the conversation so the kids aren’t confused about what assignment is due, or when they have to meet.
Now, this might be awkward for you. I know I’m not used to running a group text thread with my students. But remember, your students are doing this all the time. They’re communicating on all these different platforms and social media accounts. So if you just find one channel, it’ll be very natural for your students to jump on that channel and speak with you.
5. Use Interaction.
The burden of this whole problem is not on your shoulders. You don’t have to lecture online for six hours a day – you can make your online classroom reciprocal. Make your students produce the content that gets you through the day. Make sure that you’re asking them questions throughout a live online session so it’s not just you talking at them for 40 minutes.
Make sure, for example, that if your online chat platform (let’s say you’re using Crowdcast, or Skype) has a chat feature, you have the students interact: Answer questions, answer polls, solve problems together, have them do short presentations of two to three minutes in front of the class, etcetera, rather than you doing all of the work.
This is really key. Learning online passively for five or six hours a day is a terrible way to learn. Learning online with tons of interaction and group work is a much better idea. You could have your students all inside a Google Doc editing an essay or building a research project together. Let’s say your students watch a video. Let’s say that’s the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet from the 1990s. You can have a live chat going among the students where they’re interacting with each other live as they all watch the movie at the same time.
Whatever it is, make sure that the students are producing content: audio files, video files, text, papers, whatever medium you can think of that takes the burden off of you and makes this process more fun and engaging for them.
ONLINE MESSAGING PLATFORMS TO TRY
VIDEO CONFERENCING PLATFORMS TO TRY
John Moscatiello is the founder of Marco Learning. He has been a teacher, tutor, and author for AP® exams the past 17 years. Over the course of his career, John has taught more than 4,000 students, trained hundreds of teachers, written content for 13 test preparation books, and worked as an educational consultant in more than 20 countries around the world.