Transitioning to Online Learning
In the United States, measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a sudden, nation-wide shift in how teachers manage their classrooms, deliver instruction, and facilitate students’ progress. You’ve had to move very quickly, and without much notice, from the familiar brick and mortar classroom to the unfamiliar confines of home and the potentially chaotic landscape of the World Wide Web.
If you’ve been using online resources to supplement face-to-face instruction already, you may have felt more prepared to meet this challenge than some of your colleagues. However, you probably also know, better than most, that using online content to support or enhance your curriculum is quite different from teaching entirely online.
How can you move the rich and supportive world of your classroom online? What tools, technology, and methods should you use? And how do you take care of students—both academically and emotionally—when you can’t always see how they’re reacting? This article will try to answer these questions; it will also suggest some strategies for making the next few weeks or months feel constructive and rewarding, if not completely normal.
Preparation is essential for the success of your online classroom. Before you begin interacting with students online, your entire curriculum—or as much of it as possible—should be organized into modules that students can move through smoothly, without getting confused about what to do next. Organizing everything ahead of time (including activities, lessons, and assessments) will help you create a schedule that is clear and easy for students and parents to follow. And if the instruction is already in place, you will have more time to interact with students and parents when they begin using the materials.
Of course, moving your classroom online requires some key pieces of technology. Make sure that you and your students have access to a reliable computer, a strong internet connection, and a robust online learning platform or system—one that will let you perform the kinds of tasks you’re used to completing regularly in a physical setting. Google Classroom is a relatively easy-to-use platform that many schools have incorporated in various ways already. If your school uses Google Classroom or something similar, you can simply expand the list of features and tools that you already use. Regardless of the platform you use, make sure you know it well. Set aside time to practice using its features—before you give your students access.
There’s no denying that switching suddenly to online instruction can make a student feel isolated. And it can make you feel less able to help students when they need it. Without the immediate and sustained interaction allowed by a physical classroom, you will have to work a bit harder—and differently—to initiate and sustain discussions with your students. This kind of engagement is what brings any classroom to life and determines how your students will feel about you, the curriculum, and themselves.
Without the guiding influence of your physical presence, students will need regular communication from you in order to stay engaged and continue learning and growing. Sending weekly announcements to students and parents is a great approach—it helps personalize the experience for the student and reminds them that you’re still there, even if they can’t see you in the room with them. Of course, you should also make sure your students know the best methods and times to contact you. Post this information in a very obvious, hard-to-miss place on your classroom’s home page and in any email messages.
To invite students to participate in discussions, give them something to talk about. Consider posting a recorded lecture or assigning a reading from a textbook and then having students respond to questions posted in an online discussion board. Facilitate this kind of engagement regularly—at least once a week—instead of just having students turn in weekly assignments. Remember that a substantive discussion is one of the best ways to help students stay interested, motivated, and engaged with what you have to teach them.
The widespread reach of the Internet has given you a unique opportunity—to continue educating in a time of national crisis. The sudden demand to do your job online can seem daunting, but you can turn the potential of online education into a benefit for your students. For instance, you may reach students you would struggle to engage in your face-to-face classroom with its fast pace and social pressures. Also, moving your relationship with students online can give you a chance to learn from them. After all, many of them know much more about technology and its possibilities than you do. Together, you can craft an entirely new approach to teaching and learning.