A lot of educators that I know went back to school yesterday – virtually, in-person, hybrid, flex, or otherwise.
As classes resume, one of my roles as an education director for a nonprofit organization is to help our former adult education students transition into new spaces.
One of my former students stopped by to have me help her buy books for her classes at our local community college. It’s her first semester back to school after many years away, and she’s feeling overwhelmed by returning to school during COVID. She doesn’t have a lot of the resources that she needs right now: a laptop/device that she can write papers on and/or Zoom through, books for class (which are out of her price range at the campus bookstore), or internet that consistently works.
What she has is a fierce core of determination and strength.
We have been working on her financial aid paperwork for nine months now. NINE MONTHS.
She has been out of work for nearly that long.
She is working her hardest to make sure that she can finish her education to earn her early childhood license in order to better provide for her family.
My student is one of many people who are returning to school this fall who may feel unprepared, overwhelmed, and out of place.
Please be gentle with your students right now, friends. Be gentle with them, and be gentle with yourselves.
We are in the middle of a pandemic. Many schools and institutions of higher learning are struggling to navigate next steps for their students, instructors, staff, and families. At this point, we’re really trying to mitigate risk. Is it riskier to keep students at home and deal with the fallout from not meeting the academic and social needs of our most vulnerable populations? Or is it riskier to bring students back on campus and have to manage the outbreaks of Covid-19 that will inevitably occur? These are hard times for everybody involved in education.
If I could wave a wand and go back to “precedented” times, I would.
But I can’t. So here’s what I have to offer.
If you are an educator planning for the upcoming year or semester, my biggest pro-tip for you is to create one plan: asynchronous online.
Let me explain why.
If you’re teaching face-to-face or hybrid, you can use the online content in your instructor-led teaching, just as you would any other material. It not only provides a framework for your students who are in the classroom with you, it also helps to keep students who have to miss class up-to-date without a lot of heavy lifting on your part. AND if you have to move to a virtual environment midway through the semester, your students will already have experience working within the learning management system that you have set up.
If you’re doing a hyflex model (where you’re teaching the same class both online and in person at the same time), this helps to add continuity for students in the class, regardless of where they’re learning.
If you’re teaching a synchronous class online, you still need a way to organize your materials, and planning an asynchronous class with your synchronous meetings embedded in it might be the way to go. Because of time constraints, time zone differences, family responsibilities, and all of the #GarbageFireLife that goes with Covid-19, some of your students will not be able to attend your synchronous class times – no matter how well-intentioned they are. Record the synchronous meetings, share them in your LMS, and call it a day.
This is not a perfect solution. But this IS an opportunity for all of us to play with our teaching models to figure out a system that is more equitable, more accessible, and, well, better for our students in general. There are ways to build in classroom discussions, empathetic pedagogies, rigor, and relevance, and most – if not all – of the pieces that we’re most concerned about maintaining in our classrooms can be woven in.
If you’re on a college campus and need help with this, talk to your instructional-design teams. If you’re teaching in a K-12 school environment, reach out to your instructional coaches and/or technology directors.
And if you need a coach to guide you through the process or bounce ideas off of, touch base with me.
Terry Heick has a great post about the concepts on Richard Millwood’s Learning Theory graph, with definitions of key ideas that might be helpful as you create new projects and curricula for the upcoming school year. I always appreciate having this visual resource as a touch-point when I’m thinking through new teaching ideas and how my students could learn from them, so I wanted to share it with you.
For a PDF version of the Learning Theory graph, click here.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably give yourself a week or two of free time, then start thinking about how you want to approach teaching in the fall.
I was lucky this spring. I was already teaching two classes mostly online by the time we were told that our students wouldn’t be coming back to school after spring break. And because I have been teaching hybrid and online classes for roughly 15 years, the transition was pretty straightforward for me. Not so much for many of my K-12 friends and former students. By necessity, “one day at a time” was the unofficial motto of Spring 2020.
Now that we have more planning time, I wanted to share some general pro-tips for you to consider as you think about structuring your class(es) to go online this fall:
Organize your materials by unit or topic, and make that structure clear to your students through an outline of units/topics for the semester.
Create one content page per subtopic or week, and make them easy to find. Bonus points for linking them from the original outline structure.
On the content page, use headings to chunk out your material. Incorporate links and shortcuts to assignments and submissions. Embed videos and images. Look for ways to include white space.
For each content page, include a mix of elements:
Intro or overview of topic: text and video, if possible
Headings for each section of material
A blend of text, video, images, and bulleted/numbered lists presenting content: short and digestible
Action items for students to complete: write, read, respond, watch, think about, work on, etc.
Preview of upcoming materials and/or lingering questions for students to consider
Have a consistent due date (every Friday night, for example) for assignments. Consider using one due date per week.
These tips are easiest to incorporate if your school is using a Learning Management System (LMS) like Canvas, but they could be adapted for MS Teams, Google Classroom, and other sites as well.
What other pro-tips do you have for organizing online classes?