With many schools returning to in-person classes for the fall term, it is important to be prepared for the possibility of a potential COVID outbreak on campus, resulting in classrooms becoming virtual once again. Despite even the strongest of precautions, some institutions have already experienced difficulties with containing the virus across campus; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame have already had to suspend in-person lectures following a surge of coronavirus cases during their first week of classes. These suspensions will not only result in a loss of learning for students, but will also present challenges for educators as they must work quickly to modify their curriculum for online learning.
So while it is best to be prepared, this transition to online lectures should be much more seamless. The pandemic may have thrust our institutions into unfamiliar territory back in March, but we have learned and adapted since. We know what works (and what doesn’t) with regards to online learning, but just in case anyone forgot, here are some strategies to help with the re-transition to virtual classrooms:
- Be Dynamic
One of the most important things to keep in mind in preparation for transitioning back to online lectures is to keep your course dynamic. Given the uncertain circumstances, it would be beneficial to deliver your lectures in a manner that is easily scalable for both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Deciding which approach to use will ultimately depend on the content of your course, but don’t hesitate to get input from your students either! Some students may prefer a synchronous approach where they can still follow a similar routine of live lectures and scheduled assignments to maintain a sense of normalcy, while others might prefer more flexibility and may want to work at their own pace due to the sporadic nature of the school term. The two approaches could also be blended in order to accommodate a wider range of learning styles. For instance, you could have live Zoom lectures as scheduled for those that prefer synchronous learning, but also record and upload these lectures so that they can be viewed at the discretion of students who prefer asynchronous learning.
Most importantly, try not to simply replicate your in-person lecture for online use; students require far more mental stimulation to stay engaged while learning online. In a survey conducted among Kritik users in June, we found that 60% of students feel less engaged with online classes and that the most challenging aspect of transitioning to online learning was the absence of face-to-face interaction with their instructors.
- Take Advantage of Technology
Whether you’re planning on using Zoom, Kritik, or an alternative platform, the goal of implementing technology into the classroom should be to facilitate effective learning and to promote student engagement. Take advantage of the features that your technology offers, whether that be a peer-assessment tool, a discussion board, or a customer support live chat. Understanding and using the resources you have effectively will optimize the utility you get from these technologies and will ensure that your students are fully reaping the benefits. Here’s a short article with some tips and tricks for Zoom that you might find helpful.
To help ease the transition, use technologies that work well for both in-person and online learning. For instance, Kritik’s discussion feature allows students to continue their conversations outside the classroom and is an important tool for keeping students engaged with course content even when they are away from campus. However, it is important to keep in mind that technology is not a replacement for a TA, advisor, or instructor, but rather an extension that will help bridge the gap between them and students.
- Be available to students
As mentioned, one of the aspects of education that student’s value most is face-to-face interaction with their professors. While working-from-home certainly makes the “face-to-face” aspect a little more challenging, that does not have to mean you can’t be present for your students. Provide multiple communication channels for your students to reach you. This could be through emails, a discussion board, or Zoom office hours. We have even had students share stories of how their courses used Slack to communicate with both their instructors and their peers. However, it is important to set realistic expectations for your availability so that your students are aware of when they should contact you.
Moreover, a transition to online courses will surely result in more time spent addressing student questions and concerns, on top of the preparation time for the course. Implementing peer assessment into your course will help save time with grading, and will also allow for more peer-to-peer interactions among your students. After interaction with professors, interactions with their peers was the second biggest challenge for students following the transition to remote learning. Kritik’s platform not only allows for interactions among students through the discussion board, but also grants students the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback to their peers and to gain a better grasp of course content through learning by teaching.
- Keep it simple
Lastly, one of the most important strategies to keep in mind should you have to transition back to online learning is to keep things simple and have fun with it! During these trying times, it’s important to stay light-hearted and positive, not only for yourself but also your students. Try to remind your students that there’s a lot more going on in the world besides COVID and school, as tough as it may be to see it. If you plan on doing live lectures, try opening each lecture with some positive news in the world, a fun question (what book series would you like to live in and why?), or even a funny meme (may have to do your research on what constitutes as funny for your students’ age group).
Reevaluate your syllabus and the learning objectives of your course in order to make things as simple for all parties involved. Keep in mind, simple doesn’t mean easy; continue challenging your students but be cognizant of the obstacles they may be facing in their own remote learning environments.
The upcoming fall term is certainly going to be interesting to say the least. Hopefully all goes well and your schools are able to effectively implement the necessary precautions to keep students and faculty safe. However, whether in-person or online, it is important to remain empathetic through these times and to keep your students best interest in mind. These strategies will help ease the transition to online learning should it come to that, but they aren’t the only solution.