As campuses across the country closed and sent students home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, faculty members moved their classes online at an unprecedented pace. Online courses and distance education were once thought of as the opposite of what a college experience should be, with “sub-par learning experiences” or for-profit companies acting as educational institutions. But now, online learning has quickly become a necessity to keep classes going and colleges and universities alive.
One of the most significant challenges faced by faculty is the myriad of complexities involved in moving a face-to-face course into the online realm. Evolutionary psychology offers a possible explanation: our brain has evolved to communicate face-to-face, and the more we go away from that specific channel, the less efficient we are. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The countless number of technological tools we have at our disposal allows us to personalize the online teaching experience and create engaging, discussion-centered courses in an online format.
On the administrative level, utilizing online tools during this crisis that were already in place keeps it simple. Deploying a whole bunch of fancy new tools quickly is not practical. Additionally, NYU, where I currently teach, has triaged courses by shifting online classes with the largest enrollments first, and determining which courses could not work in that medium. Lab-based science courses and field-trip-heavy classes were canceled. What are the most important aspects to keeping an online course human and connected? Here is what I have found:
Show up 15 minutes early. Now that campuses are closed and interactions limited, creating an online environment where you can chat with students fosters a sense of community and collaboration, something that naturally occurs in classroom settings.
Insist that students be on both audio and video cameras. Paying attention to facial expressions and tone of voice from students can help give feedback as to whether or not a concept is understood. The absence of these things online makes it much harder to gauge whether students comprehend the material.
Encourage discussion, not chat box questions. Encouraging students to openly ask questions and discuss things utilizes face-to-face time in a productive way. If conversations get heated, then you can move to chat. Until then, utilize the face-to-face time.
Stay animated! The absence of in-person hand gestures and body language leaves students with only facial expressions to rely on. Use them to affirm, engage and make the class more interesting.
Be prepared for technological glitches. With any technology platform, know that things may not always go as smoothly as you think they will. Be prepared for Wi-Fi, camera and audio problems. Combat this by taking a five-minute break, allowing you enough time to reset any of your online platforms or connections. Arm yourself with phone numbers and contacts at your institution’s helpdesk or IT services division that can help you while you are teaching.
Feedback, feedback, feedback! Social psychologists have found that grading in red pen as opposed to blue pen can be perceived as more aggressively critical. Without the opportunity to explain yourself in person, comments can be viewed as less approachable. How can this be avoided? Simple. Try voice recording or even videotaping your feedback instead of writing comments on material – this can go a long way with students. SoundCloud™, Vocaroo™ and Screencastify™ can be used for directly recording your voice.
In the spirit of moving to online teaching quickly, there are vast amounts of resources available to colleges and universities for creating engaging courses. Here’s my list of a few of the more detailed options for use when online teaching:
Explore best practices from University of Central Florida’s Center for Distributed Learning (CDL)’s Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository (TOPR), a public resource for faculty and instructional designers interested in online and blended teaching strategies.
MERLOT: Part of the California State University system, the acronym stands for Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. It offers thousands of online-learning materials for educators around the world.
I am lucky to be able to not only teach, but work as the National Government and Education Manager and self-anointed subject matter expert at Konica Minolta Business Solutions, U.S.A., Inc. (Konica Minolta), supporting educators and educational institutions across the country. Konica Minolta is proud to be a Google Cloud Premier Partner and through this partnership we can assist all of our customers in their journey to digital learning.
Stephanie Keer is responsible for Konica Minolta’s Education and Government vertical markets, focusing on solutions that improve efficiencies in education. She is a Professor at NYU and the Lead Researcher of Living Values Education Organization. She is an avid scuba diver and meditator.