Search This Blog

Mar 10, 2020

Transitioning your course online

Let’s assume some weird virus hits, and you were asked to transition your courses online really fast, like right now. What do you do? First, on most campuses, a course shell (that is a little private website for you and your students) is automatically created. You just need to find it. At Sac State, we use Canvas, but all the Blackboards and Moodles of the world are not that different from each other.

Once you get in, get rid of most of the stuff there. The LMS (learning management systems) are designed to make an impression of something complex and sophisticated. After all, they all want to sell their products. However, they all are very simple platforms. Remember, just because the stuff is there does not mean you should use it. The opposite is true: on your first try, keep it basic, keep it simple, keep it repetitive. You, the instructor, with your knowledge and experience make or break a course, not the medium through which you teach. Even your very first, simplistic online course can be great. In any case, it beats cancelling classes, and robbing students of a chance to graduate on time.

Ignore modules; they are for the next time. Ignore course calendar; it is not essential. A simple list of deadlines in your syllabus will do the same. Ignore analytics, chats, announcements; ignore EVERYTHING, other than the syllabus, where you can post stuff, and the discussion. Literally go to Settings, and make all the items you do not need or do not understand invisible to students. If you could get down to 2-3 buttons, great. And do not ever feel bad – all those whistles and blows add very little value to your course. If you need a special feature, ask, and LMS gurus will find it for you.

At the very rudimentary level, an online course is three things: (1) content, which is your lectures, or readings, or videos; (2) student work with content, like reflections, answering questions, quizzes, tests, short essays; and (3) assignments/assessments where you make sure they have learned whatever skills and knowledge you want them to have. So, as long as you know how to post content, engage students in working with it, and collect assignments, you’re good to go. When exploring your LMS shells, focus on three things: how to post stuff, how to engage students (most likely, through threaded discussion), and how to collect their work and give feedback.

The course routine should be simple and repetitive. DO NOT overload students with complicated assignments. Pick something simple: every week, read a chapter (watch a video lecture), respond to a prompt on threaded discussion, and turn something in. The routine reduces anxiety, makes students look in familiar places. I would discourage any kind of group work in your first try. It is a lot to manage and not that important. The same for any kind of synchronous chats: OK to hold online office hours, very hard to hold a good chatroom. However, if you can simply broadcast yourself lecturing via Zoom or something like that, it is a great and simple option.

The most difficult for many online rookies is to figure out what students can DO in an online course. Here is a list of tips:
  1. Focused, prompted comment on reading. Don’t just say “Comment.” Say something like “Can you give another example, illustrating X?” Or, “Find an example of X in the news or in journals.”
  2. Ask students to find online resource or story or evidence, describe it, and share a link
  3. Upload their own videos of projects and performances (like teaching). Students critique each other.
  4. Create short PPT of Prezi, digital storytelling.
  5. Practice individually something (like walk-through, observation, etc.), then produce a report on it.
  6. Reflecting on own learning, self-assessment of skills.
It is very important to not overburden yourself with feedback and grading. If you end up reading 45 reflections every week for one class, it is going to kill you. Instead, tell students you will read selectively, and respond in general to all. One of the most common assessment tasks is to see if they understood a concept. Ask to write 2-3 sentences blurbs, where they apply the concept to a new context, not the one you gave them. Reading them takes no time, and you will see immediately how many still struggle.

Online teaching focuses on what is important to learn. It forces instructors to be much more explicit about which specific skills and knowledge that you want students to learn, and how would you know if they did or did not. Focus, keep it simple, but rigorous, and you can do it!

No comments:

Post a Comment