The current coronavirus pandemic constrained many academic institutions to bring to a close all in-person classes and find solutions to move everything online, a process not only complicated from a technological point of view but even more so from a pedagogical perspective. A simple copy-paste of learning materials to a virtual environment, apart from being the simplest of solutions, does little to ensure academic rigour.
We all have to quickly adapt to a much-disrupted environment and for a short time, the quickest, simplest solutions, when it comes to learning, will have to suffice. However, as the crisis evolves, or moves to a much-awaited conclusion, institutions will likely need to address a large array of concerns, such as having an adequate digital strategy or leveraging proctoring or tutoring services as well as discerning between many new tools and resources.
The challenges faced by both students and professors while navigating a new environment can seem almost an impossible feat to accomplish in a short amount of time. However, as daunting as it might look, there are always solutions that can help understand and bridge the gap between online and in-class spaces. There are, however, a few musts that anyone transitioning to an online learning environment should follow. Here are three key ones:
1. Use technology as a mean to reach your learning objectives
While extremely helpful, technology shouldn’t be the driving force of any decision related to online learning, but rather the support that moves the learners towards their goals. Technology offers the frame to create engagement, and it’s not engagement in itself.
That being said, options to choose the right technology are abundant, either if teachers decide to go for an asynchronous approach (where students and teachers are not present online at the same time) or a synchronous one (for example online chat or videoconferencing). A mix of both approaches is actually recommended.
2. Be present
Especially during the current context, communicating often with your learners is mandatory, as the interactions that teachers have with their students have a definite influence on motivation and commitment (see 5 Ways for Optimal Communication in Online Training). In the particular context of online learning, as everyone progresses in their own “space-time,” the risk of feeling isolated can increase and hinder commitment. But there are effective ways to counteract this risk and even make online learning more engaging than traditional face-to-face training (see 8 key elements of learner engagement).
Being present could translate into participating in discussion boards, give both summative and formative feedback, in a timely manner, encourage discussion between students, or provide clear instructions about assessments and deadlines.
3. Promote engagement and embrace interactivity
Teaching online doesn’t and shouldn’t follow the same pattern as its in-class counterpart. To engage students who are not physically present in front of the teacher long lectures will slowly lose their intended audience. Instead, active learning techniques (check a list of techniques that can also be used in online environments) and a mix of discussions, videos and hands-on exercises should be applied.
Throughout the online presence keep in mind the previous point (2), with an emphasis on the fact that communicating with your students does not translate into a mere exchange of personal opinions. Rather, it should take the form of meaningful interactions (see Does a sense of community matter in online training?), which involves stimulating learners’ intellectual curiosity and engaging them in instructive activities that are productive.
3.a. Leverage expertise
As the current health crisis continues to grow, we understand that this brings with it a lot of uncertainty. Creating a new norm of teaching can at times be scary and that’s why we want you to know that we’re here to support you in this journey.