7 key principles for teachers who just started with online teaching

Ananda Verheijen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
March 16, 2020
Table of Contents
Higher education in many countries has been thrown into confusion by the outbreak of Coronavirus. Many universities are currently suspending classes and struggling with ways to engage students and provide them with education while keeping them off campus. Consequently, universities are responding to the situation by operating a quick pivot to remote learning

Teachers and instructional designers worldwide including our partners are working hard to transfer content onto digital platforms, assessing new tools and deciding whether to leverage existing technologies or find new ones. But it isn’t as simple as going online. Education goes beyond content. Effective course design requires working with established pedagogical theories to create compelling and efficient learning patterns. It can be an opportunity for better learning, rather than just a tool which enables transmission to larger audiences. Far from being a last resort, well designed and considered online courses can provide many opportunities for students, and for higher education institutions. 

While this is positive news for many EdTech companies, it will be a rushed and confused affair for many universities, who will bear the brunt of translating courses into online versions. Teaching staff need to be aware of key best practices when translating offline content into an online course. Their approach, as it is the case when designing offline classes, should remain student-centric. 

There are several principles which can help guide this process where both time and pedagogic integrity are important:

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1 - Utilize the resources you already have available

While there is a lot of focus in the EdTech community on the latest technological innovation, the most effective technology is rarely the most innovative. Widespread technologies such as video and message boards are better appropriated by teaching staff in times of crises, and less likely to break down at a crucial time. While for many people educational technology means sophisticated apps or visually flashy tools, sometimes more traditional technologies can be more useful.

2 - Don’t use video alone

While it may seem easy to merely record lectures in video format, passive video watching correlates poorly with effective learning. Students need to learn actively rather than passively in order for new information to resonate and be fully understood. Video lecturing can be used in combination with a variety of activities involving active learning, like online discussions, group projects, concept mapping, games, keeping a reflective blog and problem-solving. These activities can often be integrated into current LMS’. It’s also possible to involve students in brainstorming ways to make content more engaging and active – they will often have ideas about how to use technology in ways you did not think of. 

3 - Don’t overdo it with tools

It’s easy for students to be overwhelmed by new learning environments, particularly in situations where they are not supported by their peers. Digital tools are supposedly designed with ease of use in mind but can often be confusing to students. Try to minimize confusion by using as few different tools as possible. If students only need to learn how to use one or two digital tools, they will master them faster and be able to focus solely on their work. If picking a new service provider, try to use one which incorporates several different ways of learning such a platform which includes peer review technologies, feedback capabilities and peer-to-peer communication.

4 - Rethink grading standards

Grading throughout the semester is often based on participation or attendance, as one of the easiest criteria to observe. However, during a viral outbreak, these grading standards no longer make sense. Universities need to come up with alternative ways to assess student work, whether through peer grading, the use of online tests or more regular formative assessments. Teachers need to be prepared for the fact that it will not be perfect at the beginning. They should start with one or a combination of methods and iterate on them further on the way.

5 - Communication is key

Communication with students is a crucial part of effective learning. Particularly in such unusual circumstances, students need to be talked through educational issues in more depth. While video lectures may seem an efficient way of teaching, they leave out any potential form of interaction between students and teacher. Teachers need to have time available for additional communication from students and institutions should support them in this. Furthermore, students should have a clear understanding of all the different places they can find help, whether it be academic, technical or emotional. All sectors of institutions should have a plan for facilitating communication with students.

6 - Communication between students is also important

Communication cannot just be between teacher and students, but also needs to exist between students. Building a meaningful and supportive cohort enhances student learning and encourages group problem solving and social skills. Communication between students is even more important in digital learning as students can feel isolated from their peers and their regular community which negatively impacts their learning. This can be achieved in a relatively low-tech way, such as setting up a Facebook group for discussions or assigning smaller discussion groups for outside classroom work, if it isn’t available through a digital learning platform. Within your LMS, FeedbackFruits' Interactive Video can be of great help to sustain engagement between teachers and students but also among the latters. The tool allows students to start discussions within the videos that the teacher uploads while answering questions or joining discussions that the teacher initiates.

7 - If in doubt, use an expert

Teaching staff can feel overwhelmed at times like these. Adding digital course design to their list of tasks can be overwhelming, particularly as digital technologies can be difficult to work with. Anyone preparing digital courses should be in contact with Instructional Designers at their institution if possible or should gather resources from a reputable source if not. Getting in touch with EdTech companies or companies that facilitate digital course creation is always a possibility, as these professionals will have insights on how to effectively and quickly communicate content.

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