Blog: Tips for Transitioning to Teaching Online

Tips for Transitioning to Teaching Online

By Nicky Beaudoin, M.Ed., Research and Learning Director at CaseNetwork

Background: We know this rapid timeline to online teaching is not ideal. The first step is accepting that our lives are being turned upside down and transitioning your face-to-face class to online delivery is now the path forward. It is important to recognize that you will not be an online teaching expert overnight, and that is okay. You are an expert in your craft and have years of experience to offer (that experience didn’t happen overnight). Teaching online is a skill, and skills require practice, and feedback, to get better. Everyone is going through this transition together. Be kind to yourself, be patient as a new learner, and leverage your communities in sharing best practices and challenges. We are all trying our best, while literally seeing into each other’s homes right now, showing our vulnerabilities. Share a laugh and embrace the awkward moments!

As a learning community, you may find it helpful to revise your current expectations of yourself, your learners, and each other. As teachers, your objective has not changed, your environment, tools, and resources have. You are being asked to build the plane while flying it. I’m confident each of you have the resilience necessary to make it through this online transition. My name is Nicky Beaudoin, I’m an instructional designer, and I’m here to help get you up and running! 

These tips are written for anyone who is struggling to transition their face-to-face teaching to the online space. 

Start small. Prioritize what matters.

Transitioning your course to fully online means some-to-much of your curriculum will need to be rethought, adapted, and maybe tossed. You have a limited amount of time and resources to get this done, so you will need to prioritize what matters and what you can accomplish. This is the time to triage your content. Spend some time thinking through your course (or what is left of it) and identify the most important pieces for you to teach, and students to learn within the remaining weeks. Think of this exercise as a recipe: What are your students going to make? This is the deliverable. What ingredients do students need to make it? This is how you plan your instruction. Next, focus your time and attention on building your priority list (ingredients).

Solicit all voices, leverage asynchronous activities and wisdom of the class. 

Consider asynchronous learning (where students access and engage in the same course materials at different times) to be the gold standard. If you know your community has the ability to hold synchronous (in real time) sessions, then do these too! There are no guarantees students will be in the same time zone with access to reliable internet, thus, setting up your course in a way that allows students to complet tasks on their individual schedule will yield larger participation. 

An asynchronous approach also can deliver several positive outcomes: students can manage their time to complete coursework while juggling their new responsibilities (homeschool teacher, caregiver, online teaching expert, etc.). They can check their knowledge when working through problems to solidify or expose content gaps that they can discuss with peers in a larger forum.  When designed purposefully, this approach is a great equalizer for introverts who now have time to gather their thoughts and participate confidently with their peers. This peer-to-peer learning and problem solving is leveraged more online than in the classroom, which allows faculty the opportunity to take a step back, like a coach, and assess students’ understandings as discussions unfold. 

Another bright spot with teaching online is the amount of new data you will have at your fingertips. If you are someone who likes to encourage your students to participate in activities such as “think-pair-share”, then you will love the transition to online learning because now you can see what students are thinking and sharing with each other. Leveraging your Learning Management System, you can provide your learners opportunities to engage in peer-peer learning and higher order thinking by crafting thought-provoking discussion questions. If you build this environment purposefully, you won’t hear crickets, you’ll hear the percussive clicks of students typing away.

Be okay with Good-enough.

When I was a film student, I was taught projects can be Good, Fast, Cheap, but you can only have two. With this short timeline (fast) and little to no resources (cheap), lets focus on how to make a good-enough version 1. 

After you have dissected your previous curriculum plans and sutured your new priority pieces into a makeshift syllabus, you are ready to start. Whether you choose backwards design (remember the recipe planning example where you start with the outcomes that students will be submitting for review), or a “let’s get some recorded lectures, articles, and discussion board conversation starters posted and we will do the best we can for this round because I just need to get this done before the internet cuts off again…”, you just need to aim for good-enough. Are your instructions clear? Are your assignments meaningful and not busy-work? Are you providing students an opportunity to practice and receive feedback? Let good-enough be enough for right now.

Recording 101… Is this thing on?

Recording a video lecture on your own may seem a bit daunting at first. Be kind to yourself. Chances are you already have most of the skills and technology needed to achieve this feat. Start where you are and don’t try to learn a handful of new technologies. Creating an Oscar winning video lecture is not the goal. Think of the technology you use for creating lectures or attending video conferences (something you are now, or soon will be, well-versed in), and with a few deliberate clicks, you can turn your Zoom call into an “off-label” recording application. Make sure you always do a test- you don’t want to give the lecture of your life and find out you were muted. If you can’t record your lecture slides with audio, provide slides and detailed notes for your students to follow. The goal is to give your students the right information so they can start applying the content.  Also, less is more. Think of your lecture as a Ted-Talk, short, thoughtful, and be yourself!

Communication is more important in an Online environment.
We are all juggling multiple jobs and can use some semblance of predictable schedules and clear instructions. While we are all a lot of great things, sadly, we are not mind readers. Taking the time to write what can seem like painfully clear instructions will serve you and your students well in the end. You want students to spend their time wrestling with the meat of your assignments, not spending their time deciphering what they think you want them to do. Save yourself from having to answer panicked emails at all hours of the night- if you want a discussion post to be no more than 500 words with citations, then put that in writing. Even better, provide a rubric.

The last piece about communication is related to communicating your communication expectations. Are we having fun yet? Let students know when you will be available to answer emails, hold office hours, respond to discussion posts, grading, etc. Let them know how you prefer they get a hold of you, and how you will be communicating with them (email, announcements, carrier pigeon). 

There is so much uncertainty with transitioning to virtual instruction, you can ease much of this anxiety by explicitly over-communicating your expectations about participation, assignment instructions, deadlines, etc. That is, unless you are teaching a mind reading class, then disregard everything you just read.

It’s called a learning process for a reason.

Remember that learning new things can be mentally exhausting, so be kind to yourself and to others. With practice, you will be able to convert these new cognitively draining tasks into more automated habits. Think of your 1st video call and how overloaded you were trying to figure out how to share your screen and unmute yourself. How many calls did it take before you became the expert in teaching others how to unmute their phones?! It’s all a process.

After you have made it through to the other side and have come up for air, you can ask for feedback and begin making changes and improvements for Version 2. Version 2 is going to be even better. 

I hope my “Version 1 tips” gave you some ideas for how you can start your own Version 1. Remember to find the humor, be good to each other, and embrace the awkward!

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