Sunday, March 15, 2020

Suddenly the whole world is going online

It's hard to avoid writing a post about the effects of the COVID-19 virus and even harder to add something particularly new given the flood of posts from educators all over the world. I will just pick out a few articles that I have found particularly useful and point you in their direction.

Many countries have already shut down their university campuses and all teaching will now take place online until further notice. Here in Sweden we haven't got that far yet but all institutions are preparing for a possible shutdown. This is an unprecedented move and an opportunity for all teachers to get experience in teaching online. The challenge is to offer the right level of support and advice to teachers new to the field and help them offer a good enough online experience without risking them becoming confused, frustrated and stressed.

On the right here you can see a good infographic by Alison Yang that gives teachers a realistic view of what to focus on and what to avoid when switching abruptly from classroom to online teaching (see original post, How do we teach online). The main advice is to keep it simple: don't try anything fancy, don't get ambitious, don't try to be always available and don't stress your students. Interestingly she advises avoiding synchronous online meetings. In these extreme circumstances you can't be sure that all your class can log in at any given time and they may even have connectivity problems. Another issue with e-meetings is that many platforms have limits in terms of capacity and in recent days there has been an extreme demand on tools like Zoom and Skype resulting in some users being unable to join meetings. A good piece of advice if you are going to have synchronous meetings is to have alternatives such as Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Webex etc. In general it is probably better to focus on asynchronous interaction with recorded mini-lectures and discussion forums.

A post by Rebecca Barrett-Fox with the provocative title, Please do a bad job of putting your courses online, urges inexperienced colleagues to be realistic in what they offer online and remember that the students may have all sorts of other concerns in their lives than just this course. As in Alison Yang's post you need to adapt to the situation and not try to impress your university with your ability to teach online without help.
For my colleagues who are now being instructed to put some or all of the remainder of their semester online, now is a time to do a poor job of it. You are NOT building an online class. You are NOT teaching students who can be expected to be ready to learn online. And, most importantly, your class is NOT the highest priority of their OR your life right now. Release yourself from high expectations right now, because that’s the best way to help your students learn.
Tony Bates' post, Advice to those about to teach online because of the corona-virus, echoes many of these sentiments. Most importantly you need to get support from your university's educational technologists or colleagues with experience in online learning. Most importantly is implementing a less is more principal and remembering that the students have limited time for your course. Let them find information for themselves and encourage discussion.
Ask yourself the question: what is the best way students should use that 8-10 hours a week, if they are studying online? How much of that must be through a lecture? How much could they do for themselves? How can I make sure they are connecting with other students online, so they do not feel socially isolated, and how best can they use that connection to further their learning?
After the current emergency is over all institutions need to take stock and see how to develop teachers' skills in online teaching so we are all better prepared for future emergencies. I suspect, sadly, that there may be more.

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