Developing online teaching methods for yourself and your students
In the wake of lockdowns, school and university closures, and international students returning to their countries to be with their families, more and more institutions are moving to online teaching to deliver content in a range of different settings. This requires unprecedented flexibility and presents a solution to the educational vacuum that many young
people are experiencing due to the spread of coronavirus. However, moving online to lead courses in sciences, humanities, languages, STEAM subjects (and the host of other disciplines which need to be taught) is not as simple as it sounds.
You may have a state-of-the-art LMS or online platform, and a library of effective resources, but is that all you need to shift things online for your students? And what about the teachers leading these classes? Are they prepared? This article aims to pinpoint some important development points for teachers and students when shifting the study mode to online learning.
1) Teachers need to be prepared to learn!
Traditionally, teachers make the worst students (I should know; I’ve been a terrible student for over 20 years now…), so asking large numbers of educators to shift what they do to an entirely new study mode, with all the challenges that this change entails, will by definition result in some culture shock.
Taking the time to get familiar with some effective online resources, methodologies and pedagogy (andragogy if you are working with adults) will make your job a lot easier, and result in more effective delivery which will impact your learners even from a distance.
Questions to ask:
How many functions do I really know how to use on this LMS?
How often do I have technical issues, and what are they?
What different modes of online study am I familiar with?
2) Environment matters
Your learning environment may be prepared for you in the form of an LMS, but what about your physical environment? If you are working from home, you are still teaching, and your environment sets up a lot of your approach to delivery.
Preparing a learner-focused live online environment, with tools and resources ready to draw on when necessary, is an effective way to prepare for student questions and impromptu presentations. A small whiteboard, a map or poster pinned to the wall behind you, an a sectioned-off area which is visible to students, can create a professional and well-resourced area which won’t overflow into your home.
Questions to ask:
Am I guaranteed to have a quiet, professional space to teach from?
Can I realistically teach in my dressing gown?
How much of my home do I want my students to see?
3) Balancing synchronous and asynchronous content
You’ve planned and delivered to the curriculum for several years, and you know how it goes in the classroom, so It’s tempting to try to recreate that online, in live group tutorial sessions or online ‘lectures’, where students attend just as they would in the classroom, take notes and ask questions in real time.
However, online environments rarely work like that - with everyone sitting in different rooms, time-lag due to pressure on bandwidth and the passivity that develops in some learners in front of a screen, you will need to find some other ways of delivering content to the members of your classes for best effect. Think about ways that you can generate smaller packages of work more regularly from your learners, building to the bigger tasks that you want them to do, and use face-to-face time to consolidate what the learners have done already, bringing it all together for a more tangible result.
Questions to ask:
Do I really need to present this content in person?
Has someone else presented this content well online (in a video, online lecture, podcast, screencast…)
How can I make the most of the time I spend face-to-face with my students?
4) Flipping saves time
One way of making sure that students have something to bring to the table in face-to-face sessions, and to allow them to work in their own time, is to include a lot of flipped content in your classes. Set the expectation early that students will have to do periods of independent work, either individually or in online groups, before they ‘come to class’. This is a skill which will serve them well as they progress through their academic lives, and preparation is expected at university-level study.
Preparation work can come in the form of webquests, research tasks, jigsaw tasks followed by skype or whatsapp meetings… there are many ways of setting pre-class work which takes the pressure off you and makes things more engaging for your learners.
Questions to ask:
What do students really need to know before coming to class (and do they really know it?)
How are students most likely to engage with this material independently?
How can I encourage them to work together outside of class time?
5) Maintaining engagement levels
Whether you are online with your learners, or they are working independently, engagement is the most important factor in online learning. It’s your job to get learners away from the passive, distracted habits that they most likely have when interacting with social media and other online activity, and into using the internet as a proactive tool for learning.
This means providing them with the opportunity to interact online in different ways. Make it a teaching goal to mix up the media that you use as much as possible to keep your students looking for more. Use quizzes, videos, challenges, races, audio files, blogs, infographics, and support your delivery with supplementary resource-sharing tools like padlet or slack, giving your learners more autonomy over how they gather content for their study.
By mixing up the ways students access information, you make it less likely that they will revert to their habits of ‘lurking’ or ‘shirking’ when online, and get more involved as they work.
Questions to ask:
How can I give my learners ownership over what they are studying?
How can I raise activity levels, both asynchronously and real-time?
What do my learners do online in their lives? What will grab them and make them want to go further with what I teach?
By considering how your learners use the internet, and how you can flex what you do to encourage their learning independently, you can become a more effective online practitioner. Be aware, however, that it will take a process of unlearning, and then relearning some basics of online behaviour and ways of engaging with your learners, so be prepared to change what you do!
Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.