Don’t Panic: Tips for Teaching Online

In light of the spread of COVID-19, elementary schools all the way up to colleges and universities are making the difficult but necessary decision to find alternate ways to continue the education of their students outside of a traditional classroom setting. We are hearing the use of terms such as flexible learning, e-learning, virtual learning as well as other terminology. This largely involves transitioning to virtual and online course delivery.

I have been teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate level online for over a decade.  During that time, I have learned quite a bit about how to effectively teach courses online. However, for many teachers and faculty members, this requirement is going to be an awakening both in terms of technological prowess, but also operational management as teaching online has both its benefits and challenges.

Since teaching online is a requirement due to our current situation, I wanted to share some tips to support educators as we manage our virtual class(es) during this chaotic time:

Tip #1: Find MANY ways to communicate

Communication is key when it comes to unexpected events and rapid changes.  In an online course, it is important to find many ways to communicate and engage with students both synchronously and asynchronously.  Consider the use of video, discussion boards, announcements, and written and audio assignment feedback.

Tip #2: Make friends with Zoom (or any online video meeting platform)

My campus uses the Blackboard learning management platform and it has a very good synchronous meeting tool called Collaborate, which I use often. I also love to use Zoom. Zoom allows for many people to meet online at once via laptop, phone line only, and by mobile video. Other platforms include BlueJeans, Webex, GotoMeeting/Goto Webinar, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and more. Most of these platforms have a cost, however, due to the emergency situation, many of them are offering expanded (and in some cases free) access to support the growing need.

Tip #3: Record your lectures.

One of the benefits of online teaching is the option of self-paced learning. I have recorded many of my lectures. Students are able to watch and re-watch the lectures at their own pace. You can use most of the platforms mention in tip #2 to record your lectures.

Tip #4: Don’t worry about being a TED talk worthy speaker in your videos.

I can be a bit of a perfectionist and I would love for my lectures to look like a highly produced TED talk! However, that is not necessary. Most of my online lectures are of me using Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom or WebEx to record my narration over my powerpoint slides at a minimum. Make sure to convey your own passion and interest in the topics when you record your lectures!

Tip #5: Break your recorded lectures into “bite-size” pieces.

You may be used to having 60 or 90 minutes to lecture in class.  This will not translate well online.  …Actually, if you are lecturing in class for a full 60 or 90 minutes, you may want to rethink that strategy when you are back in the classroom as well!   For recorded lectures, aim to break them into 5-10 minutes and try not to go over 20 minutes.  This allows you to keep the student’s attention and focus.

Tip #6: Embrace the “flipped classroom”.

Using tip #3 to record your lectures, use tip #2 to hold a live session where you invite students to share questions, ideas and thoughts about the recorded lecture material after they have watched the video.  This can create some great opportunity for virtual connection and interaction.

Tip #7: Record your “live” online sessions, and make them available for students to watch if they aren’t available to join you live.

With the rapidly changing situation and the personal challenges faced by all of us as we figure out how to keep up with work and family priorities during the COVID-19 outbreak, it is important to make sure everyone has access to “live” online sessions by recording them.  That way, students can watch them even if they are not able to attend and participate live.

Tip #8: Make sure your internet connection and speed is stable.

Find a place where the video and connection and strength is strong and consistent. The last thing you want is having YOU drop off multiple times in your own online class and having students become frustrated. One of the biggest tips from my own personal experience is to consider using live video, but if the platform you are using allows for it, dial in via your phone line for audio to minimize the load on your internet bandwidth.

Tip #9: Enjoy learning yourself!

This is an opportunity for us to personally model resiliency, flexibility, and adaptability for our students and colleagues.  We can embrace this as an opportunity to learn and grow in our ability and confidence in teaching online.

Tip #10: Collaborate: Find a mentor and/or be a mentor.

The current situation we are facing is causing stress for all of us.  Consider reaching out to your peers and colleagues both to ask for support and to give support.  Remember, we are in this together and leaning on each other is a great way to navigate these challenges. 

What other tips do you have for teaching your courses online?

About Dr. Sheila Boysen

Sheila M. Boysen, Ph.D., PHR, BCC, MCC is Master of Organizational Leadership Program Director and ICF ACTP Director at Lewis University

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