If you’re an educator, you may be breathing a sigh of relief right now that the disastrous spring semester is over.
With COVID-19 throwing the world into chaos, many of us were forced to shift to online learning systems. And while we managed to make it through the last semester, many of us are looking forward to the fall with trepidation, wondering how we’re going to manage an entire semester online.
The key to successful online teaching is being creative and flexible in your approaches. Read on to discover some tips for how to manage teaching remotely next semester.
1. Avoid Synchronous Teaching Methods
When classes moved online, many professors simply translated their lectures into a video format. But not only is this a less effective teaching approach, it may compromise some students’ access to learning.
If you have a large number of students in your class, they may have difficulty streaming your lectures. Some students may not have access to reliable enough internet to get connected at the right time.
Instead, try to use materials your students can download and review on their own schedule.
Narrated PowerPoint presentations, short screen capture videos stepping through your process for doing something, and homework exercises can all help your students to learn more effectively. Find creative new ways to present your material without relying on a teaching format that isn’t optimized for the current situation.
2. Check in with Your Students
It can be easy, once you’ve uploaded your teaching material, to have a “set it and forget it” mindset about your class. Your teaching materials are up, and you’ll grade assignments as they come in. But you need to make sure you’re continuing to check in with your students throughout the semester.
Reach out to your students on a regular basis – once a week at least – and ask how they’re doing.
Check if they’re confused about any assignments, and set up virtual office hours where they can reach out to you with any questions they have. Make sure they’re able to access all of the assignments with no trouble, and be sensitive to any personal struggles they may be dealing with right now.
3. Work with Your Students
When you’re checking in with your students, you should also ask them for feedback about how your teaching systems are working for them. A teaching method you might have thought was a great idea might not translate well with your students’ needs. Since the goal is to foster learning in your students, you need to work with them to figure out which approaches are viable.
Send out surveys throughout the semester asking students to rate different teaching approaches for effectiveness. Ask students for suggestions about how they’d like to see certain materials taught. You might even get better ideas from those suggestions than any you could have come up with on your own.
4. Look for Struggling Students
The other thing to watch out for when you’re doing those weekly check-ins is students who are struggling.
Everyone is dealing with unprecedented circumstances right now, and this may have placed some students in unusual places of hardship. They may be fighting poor internet connections, trying to work from home with distractions from their families, or struggling with the emotional impact of living under quarantine.
Make sure your students know you’re willing to help them out if they need it. This includes making sure students with pre-existing conditions, including physical and learning disabilities, get the support they need. Your teaching methods need to be accessible, and it’s important that you stay flexible and make accommodations for students as they need.
5. Inject Your Personality
One of the best parts of teaching is forming relationships with your students and watching them grow and learn. You can see the “aha” moments in the classroom and let your students in on the excitement of learning about your subject. But when everyone is separated and learning virtually, it can be hard to see those moments happen.
Try to foster that connection across virtual learning methods by injecting your personality into your teaching materials. Don’t be afraid to be casual in your emails to students or to make a joke in a PowerPoint presentation. Be human with them and you’ll find that those connections can still happen even when everyone is confined to their homes.
6. Organize Course Content Intuitively
Part of making your course easy for students to access comes in how you organize your course content. Students should be able to go back and review whatever materials they need to at any point throughout the semester. And if they have to email you about where a certain resource is every time they need to look at, they’ll simply go without it.
When you’re setting up your course content, try to make it as clear as possible where everything is located. Activate the student preview mode and click through the content yourself, or ask a loved one to go through it with you. Make a note of anywhere where it seemed to be confusing or difficult to find a piece of information and take steps to make that content more accessible.
7. Make It Pretty
When you’re creating your course content, you want to make it as appealing for students as possible. You’re going to need to work harder to engage your students and that’s going to mean creating course content that they want to look at. You may be surprised how much making your content visually appealing can improve student engagement.
Add fun fonts, colors, and images to your PowerPoint slides. Include pictures of your pets as a reward at the end of long lectures, and add fun details to the backgrounds of your videos. The more visually engaging your content is, the more students will feel motivated to look at it.
8. Communicate Expectations Clearly
Up until this spring, expectations in school have been pretty clear. Show up for class, turn assignments in on time, study for your tests, and you’ll do fine. But now, living in an era when you can’t show up for class and turning assignments in on time means sending an email, expectations may get confused.
Be clear with your students about what your expectations for their performance in the class are. Whether that’s participating in a certain number of online discussions, using certain formatting in their assignments, or including various elements in their work, tell them that up front. It may be a good idea to add a section to your syllabus detailing expectations as relates to online coursework.
9. Scaffold Learning Activities
When you’re teaching in person, there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes to convey your message that you may not even realize are going on.
When you write an equation on the board and solve it in front of the class, there are physical cues that show them your thought process as you approach the equation. A lot of that communication can get lost in translation to online learning.
In order to make up for that lost communication, make efforts to scaffold your learning activities online.
If one of your major assignments uses a specific type of technology, build in assignments to give students practice with that technology when the stakes are lower. Ask them to send you messages through the system you’ll be using during the course of the semester so you know they learn how to handle it.
10. Provide Examples
Providing examples during teaching is a natural part of the classroom experience. You explain a concept and then give an example that demonstrates the concept you’re discussing. When you move online, it can be easier to overlook providing examples.
Make sure you focus on providing plenty of examples for your students in your online course content.
These should appear in every teaching method you use, and it might not be a bad idea to include a separate document with a few examples of the concept you’re covering in each lecture. Also be sure you include some material working through a few of these examples so your students can see the approach you take to tackling the problem.
11. Cut Students Some Slack
One of the most important things for you to do during online teaching is to remain flexible. Everyone is trying to find a new way to manage life right now, and some of your students are likely dealing with personal struggles outside of class. They may be adapting to a new work situation or out of work entirely, or they may be trying to manage schoolwork alongside family demands.
Remember to cut your students some slack as you find your way in this new learning approach together. If a student occasionally has to submit an assignment late, don’t deduct points, and be gentle with taking points off for not following formatting guidelines. Give your students trust and a little leeway and you’ll be amazed by how hard they’ll work to get their work done.
Discover More Tips for Teaching Remotely
For many of us, teaching remotely is a whole new world that we’re trying to find our way in. Remember to make extra efforts to make your content engaging, and work with students to find the most effective learning strategies. You’ll be amazed how far a little compassion and creativity in your teaching approaches will go.
If you’d like help making your content accessible for all your students, check out the rest of our site at Alternative Communication Services. We can provide you with live captions, post captions, and ASL interpreting for your classes. Contact us today to experience the alternative.