While I want to acknowledge that accessibility issues exist, I love online learning, because it is accessible to those with physical or practical challenges to education. Social distancing regulations due to covid-19 are causing many of us to have these challenges right now, but many people face everyday physical and practical challenges. I learned most of what I know about teaching online while breastfeeding my infant son. I held my smartphone up to me while he nursed and completed an Online Teaching Preparation Program on my phone. I faced the challenge of being a full-time professor, a primary caregiver to my son, and desiring to improve my teaching effectiveness. Online learning enabled me to overcome the challenges. Here are some critical elements to being effective in online teaching.
Be Human. We are all in this unique situation together. I was on a Zoom call with a colleague and his 16-month old was screaming in the background. I have to tell you that I’ve never felt more connected to my colleagues and students. I was sorry for that father and his screaming toddler, but it made him human to me. Are you having challenges with technology? Tell your students. They may be having challenges too and it will make you human to them. They will feel more connected to you and the content you are teaching.
Explain Assignments/Concepts in Different Ways. Students are in their homes with the same distractions that you have at home. They may be watching or reading your assignment description or lecture and miss exactly what you said completely or misunderstand what you said. Explain what you mean in different ways. I have found that it helps to address students that missed my first explanation or misunderstood my first explanation.
Organize Consistent Modules. I get positive feedback from students on my course design. I use modules based on topics with consistent folders with headers. For example, Module 1 for my research methods course might be titled, “Module 1: What is Research?” and the folders are: “Readings”, “Video Lectures”, and “Assignments”. These same folders are found for each module. Of course, the content within each folder differs based on the module topic needs. In addition, due dates for assignments are consistent. For example, I may have final module assignments due on Fridays at 10:00pm.
Free Online Teaching Tools.
Screencast-o-Matic: This user-friendly app is perfect for screencasting and/or video lecture recording.
VoiceThread (available in CI Learn): This video, audio, and/or text discussion-based tool is perfect for adding engagement to lectures. You can upload powerpoints into VoiceThread, add audio to each slide, and require that students ask you or each other questions or respond to questions on certain slides.
Padlet: This is a pin/discussion board tool that allows you to pose a question for students to address. Students can post a “pin” including their text response to your question and even add links to websites. I have used this for an assignment where I have students find research cited in the news media and then try to find the research article to assess whether they believe the research was accurately portrayed in the news based on the research article. They provide links to both the news article and research article. Other students are asked if they agree with their peers’ conclusions.
GoogleDocs, Draw, Forms: Google tools are collaborative, so they are wonderful for group work. Google Docs is great for peer reviews of writing assignments or group-based writing assignments. Google Draw can be used for:
- architecture and design assignments or
- math calculation assignments where you want to see a student work through a math problem.
Google Forms is a survey tool. I have groups of students design a survey together in this app. I like students to learn how to use Google Forms, because it is one of the only free survey apps and it may be useful for them in the job market.
I hope that these tips and tools are helpful to you and that you begin to enjoy online teaching as much as I do. We are all juggling a lot. I wish you peace, health, and happy teaching.