From valued commenter Immanentize –
You’re saying I must now teach On-Line?
It seems that there are a number in this community who are having the immediate surprise of having to convert their teaching to all-online. It has been crazy! And there is so much information that seems contradictory out there. And how do I decide what to teach? How to do it? How do I keep my students engaged? And, how do I test/assess online?
All worthy questions and the speed with which teachers are being asked to switch what, in many cases, has been a career of successful teaching methodology has just been tossed out the window. I think (almost) every teacher understands the need for this switch at this moment in our national Thunderdome, but it sure feels like punishment.
Well, many of us are hoping to help you through some of this transition. There are so many commenters who are experienced and eager.
My creds – I am a law professor who, for three and a half years during massive institutional upheaval, acted as the Vice Provost for Faculty and Curriculum at my “Mid-Size Comprehensive University” (about 6000 undergrads and another 3000 grad students including law). I was inter alia, responsible for our Center for Teaching Excellence and was also put in charge of our school’s creation and expansion of online offerings, Hybrid classes, and MOOC productions. We also prepared a proposal for creating an in-house online production unit with the goal of starting a non-degree university extension program (certificates and specialty areas). Well, the Higher Ed. Crash of 2013-ish put most of those projects on ice, but I still learned a lot!
And I am hoping to share some of what I learned with you. In this first post, the plan is to start off with some basic definitions, then offer some ideas about where to start your new design. I also will briefly mention online assessments. We really will need another full thread focused on tech – but even now get to know your institution’s Learning Management System (LMS)!
First, so we can all be on the same page in this discussion, let’s discuss some terms. I know many institutions use variations on these, but I will use the following terms:
F2F – Face to face, in person, teaching. What we all currently think of as how education happens. There are all sorts of different methods that can be employed in such a class – lecture, Socratic method, image-based learning (remember the old art-history course slide decks?), Team-Based Learning (not to be confused with group projects), discussion leaders, etc. There are a LOT of F2F pedagogies, and every teacher has their favorite or blend of favorites in the classes.
Hybrid – This is also often referred to as a “flipped” classroom. In a hybrid course, the idea is to take a great deal of the knowledge learning out of the classroom (minimal lecturing) forcing students to do their learning work before any F2F meeting. In the Hybrid model, the idea is to have fewer F2F meetings, but maintain the same learning level among students. There was a large double-blind Carnegie study regarding statistics that demonstrated that Hybrid methods improved learning outcomes. Institutions liked it because it meant you might be able to double faculty class sizes without them having to increase teaching loads.
Online Synchronous – This is what most people think of when they first think of online teaching. And it may be the way, in some cases, to go. A professor teaches a course, often to a live audience, while a further audience is ‘attending’ the course via the internet at the same time. This is the Harvard Extension School model of online education. Now, however, the same thing might be done without any live audience – just people webbing in to watch a lecture or demonstration.
Online Asynchronous – This is the Kahn Academy model of online teaching – lectures about topics, or even whole courses, that can be viewed or heard at any time by the learner either on the intertubes or after download. There are obvious convenience advantages for the learners, but the relationship between the teacher and the student may be limited, or non-existent. Imagine if you could still take a course from Dr. Carl Sagan! Well, you can, but he doesn’t have office hours….
MOOC – “Massive Open Online Course.” The MOOC was pitched as a democratic solution to some education ideas. And it can work, BUT – really good MOOCs are expensive to produce and really only suited to evergreen topics (more on this later). Luckily, MIT and Harvard started a joint project around the promise of MOOCs called EdX. Their business model wasn’t great – but their course research and data are phenomenal, and their baseline conclusions can be very useful for you as you get ready to go online.
Assessments – OK, tests. But not all tests need be graded, at least not by the teacher. There are formative assessments – that solidify learning; and there are summative assessments that are intended to rate the learning. I am putting up a PowerPoint I once did about assessment on the vertical (how are students doing in the course) and on the horizontal (how does my course fit into the overall learning objectives of the program in which I am teaching). In both axis both formative and summative assessments can be designed to help your students and help you make a better course.[Now, if this was an actual online course, I would make you do a formative assessment right now to make the above ‘sticky’ in your head. But I’m not gonna.]
So, with some of the lingo out of the way, let’s talk about your class. Most everyone (some lab instruction excluded) are now moving to fully online – not even the version where there is a live and online synchronous audience. At least at my University, Professors have been told not to let students sit in the classroom while they are recording their class, even if it is a synchronous course being taught at the regular class time, in the regular classroom while being simulcast on the web. Students just are not welcome on the campus right now if that can be avoided. Some schools are pushing their faculty to do this and offer your online whatever only during your regularly scheduled class time. I get the impulse. Students are already into a regular schedule and keeping them on the same schedule is probably a good idea – but, not necessarily the best way to convey your lessons. If you are required to produce synchronous pre-scheduled material, your challenges are different than if you can present the course in a completely asynchronous fashion of a blend of the two.
Designing an online course may feel daunting because of the technology, but let’s push that off for a moment. The tech can follow your design. When I was a kid, there was a Saturday morning show of international children programs. One of the foreign segments was about a boy in the Australian Outback with many wonderful animals. But he still had to go to school! Which was via the shortwave radio in the family room of their home. It was question/answer and lecture. Please don’t teach online like you are using a shortwave. Sadly, many of my colleagues teach exactly like that. F2F. It will be boring for you and twice that for your students.
Backwards Design Your Course
First, go backwards. Most teachers know this concept now – in fact, I think the younger the students you teach, the more you have been trained to course design in this fashion.
FIRST – What is/are the overarching GOAL of the course
SECOND – What are the OBJECTIVES related to each goal
THIRD – What TASKS of learning will be assigned or recommended to achieve each objective?
FOURTH – what assessments will you deploy to monitor student achievement of the tasks, objectives and goals.
You are now done designing your course! 😊 We can talk a lot more about specific online course designs later, but let’s get something ready for the next week?
Now how does this go online? Your first step is to get a clear idea of the capacities in your Learning Management System (LMS). We use Blackboard, I like Canvas, and many public schools in my area are using Schoology. They all offer roughly the same suite of apps, with each product emphasizing this or that functionality. In many cases, an online course could be designed entirely around the functions available in your LMS. The most critical ones for a quick online setup will be the boards, or comment sections. You all blog, so this should be a natural! Every LMS has the capability of tracking responses and student engagement. They also all have some capacity for assessments, usually including timed “check out” testing where students can take a test out but only have a limited time to complete. Colleges use such systems for language proficiency exams now. You could spin up a completely acceptable online course completely within your LMS – especially if it allows links to external content. Considering the rush, I urge those who have flexibility to use the least complicated technologies as you start and save more complex tech (like Zoom) which require more tech support, set up time, etc. to take full advantage of. So, you first step is to take your re-designed course and figure out how to get the learning to the students.
Back to the Evergreen! – In the future, which is now being catapulted by this crisis, the best courses will have all their evergreen material online. All of it. Evergreen material is that which does not change from class to class – like “There are nine members of the US Supreme Court.” That may change some day, but it has been true for a very long time and will not switch anytime soon. It is safe to consider this “knowledge” that can be put online as an evergreen fact. It is a waste of everyone’s time to lecture about material in a roomful of students when they could learn that material outside the classroom. This is, in theory, the first step of the Socratic method – students should learn everything they can from the assigned material and then classroom time is spent testing, challenging, and confounding that “knowledge” by the Professor. Of course, that is not how it works, but how it should. And it doesn’t work that way because most teachers teach like they were taught which included a very heavy amount of knowledge transfer from teacher to student in the classroom, often in lecture format. So, first identify all the lecture material you generally deliver and put it online. Students do not need to look at your shayna punim while you deliver this information! In fact, it is probably better if you do NOT record yourself YouTube-style sitting in front of your computer lecturing.
My suggestion for the easiest rollout? – make a podcast of your lecture materials. These can be heard anywhere – train, gym, bathtub – without the need for anything more than a phone. Then, in your LMS, put up an outline or PowerPoint of that podcast lecture. Your students will learn more and thank you for doing it. But, as mentioned by other commenters on Thursday – do not make your evergreen podcasts or viddys last longer than 15 minutes or so! This is a very important learning reality. The research (by EdX) suggests that the most optimal timer period for a learning module is 10-12 minutes followed by an assessment. This creates the student learning that sticks in their brains. 15 minutes is a good target because there should be a quick preview and an overview bracketing the substance of your knowledge material. Most teachers do this instinctively in class, mixing up knowledge transfer with other materials, anecdotes to make the material stick, other student interactions, etc. Boredom and loss off interest is the mind killer….
Next up – we will post a more detailed something about the techniques of staying in touch (and being nice!) to your students (see the last link below).
A quick word on tech – What does your institution support? Which technologies is your LMS most compatible with? (For example, many of my colleagues use and love Panopto (but it is more compatible with Canvas than it is with Blackboard). So many people are discussing Zoom, but there are many other options for group meeting management. Even Google GotoMeeting is good. Skype also has such capacity for smaller groups. Please do not get involved in a new technology in the middle of the semester if you or your school cannot support it
Generally, here are some nice online class primers with Zoom focus: