Many people think that classrooms can be moved online seamlessly. Simply take your classroom of 17-30 students, move them to a video conferencing program, and it’ll be business as usual. Unfortunately, this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Online classes and e-learning is nothing like learning in person. A lot of planning must be done to implement e-learning well. But in a pandemic, with no time to prepare, teachers everywhere are building the plane as they fly it. In this article, we’ll look at some e-learning tips given to us by an e-learning teacher.
Flip the Classroom
Most people in education have heard of flipping the classroom. This means that instead of students coming to school for lectures, they watch a video or read an assignment outside of class first. When they arrive at school, the teacher will do an activity or have a discussion that requires the students to have prior knowledge of the topic.
Usually, flipping the classroom is used in special circumstances at certain schools, but it’s not a mainstream way of teaching. However, a flipped classroom works well for an online classroom. The older the students are, the less supervision they will need from parents. To make life easier for parents, teachers can assign instructional content that has interactive components for the students. These include videos that have small quizzes, entry tickets, exit questions, and note-taking sections built-in. There are a number of companies out there that have pre-made lessons ready for teachers. Or if you have the time, you can make your own videos!
Pre-Make Your Lessons
Using screen capture, a camera and tripod, or iMovie, anyone can pre-record a lesson. It seems like a lot of work, but remember, more work now means way less work later. One instructional video of you teaching your lesson can be used multiple times and cuts down on one-on-one office hours, allowing you to meet with more students. When you do video conferences, you can address each students’ individual problems and questions.
A Bad Carpenter Blames His Tools
Many people think that technology would or should fix all their e-learning and online teaching problems. In reality, technology can help with communication, but the content and delivery is still on you, the teacher. For example, if you’re used to giving tests with rote-memorization questions, you’re going to have issues with cheating on an online platform. Of course, there are programs out there that block website or lock kids into a screen, but this solution comes with many complications.
If you’re at a bring-your-own-device school, it’s impossible to collect all personal devices and install a school program. For schools that are not as well-funded, installing the program before the kids leave and then troubleshooting these programs when the students are at home is a bigger problem than cheating. The best solution to cheating is for teachers to create different questions. Once again, because online learning is not the same as classroom learning, teachers will need to put in more work at first (just like the first year of teaching).
Example of an Un-Google-able Question
Instead of asking students to memorize the steps of protein synthesis, change the question to a hypothetical (and fictional) error in protein synthesis. For example, “Disease Z converts tRNA with the anti-codon UAC to AAC. What would happen to the proteins that are being made by the cell? What would happen to the cell?”
This question can’t be googled or researched and requires students to know that the codon to the UAC anti-codon is AUG, the start codon. In order to answer this question, students would have to 1) pay attention during the videotaped lecture or read the assigned text carefully and 2) fully understand the importance and role of a start codon in protein synthesis.
Have a Plan B, C, and D
Connection issues will always be a problem with e-learning classes. Like ocean waves, we have no control over the internet or how an individual’s wifi will behave at any given moment. If you suddenly lose contact with your class for 10 minutes, have a backup plan on how to make up the time. If you lose contact with your class for the day, have a way that they can still communicate with you and each other. Things like online forums, group emails, or even group text messages make good, quick, and efficient backup plans when video conferencing fails.
The concept of a backup plan should also apply to class content/lectures and homework assignments. If a student isn’t able to watch a video, he/she should still be able to read about the topic. If a student isn’t able to submit his/her homework via the usual channels, he/she should be able to submit it another way. Something as simple as “take a picture of your work and email it to me” can be a lifesaver.
Be Comfortable Troubleshooting
If you’re not comfortable with technology, it’s difficult to use it and roll with any glitches that may come along. Find the time to familiarize yourself with a program before you start teaching with it. Click all the buttons and explore all the options so you know everything that the program has to offer. Remember, with any software, there are always a few ways to do one thing. Familiarize yourself with those alternatives so that if you need it, you have one.
One good example of this is copying text. You can copy text by right-clicking your mouse, using keyboard commands, or going up to the edit button and clicking on ‘copy’. You probably use one of these methods most often, but if the ‘c’ button stops working on your keyboard, you know that you can still right-click on your mouse to copy text.
Roll with It, Learn from It
Sometimes, just like in real life, you’ll have a wholly unproductive class or day. It’s okay! Don’t let it get to you, figure out what went wrong, and try again the next time. The more you’re familiar with the tools at your disposal, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other teachers to pick their brains about different teaching methods and the technology tools they use. Don’t feel obligated to try every new thing that comes out either, stick to what you know and maximize that tool.