Coping With Corona: The Challenge of Moving Instruction Online

We enter a unique time in higher education. In an instant, many faculty around the country have to stop holding face-to-face (F2F) classes BUT CONTINUE teaching remotely. No choice. This represents a seismic shift. It is acceptable to feel miffed, anxious, or uncertain. It is alright to have there be a slight delay in the delivery of instruction. Our challenge is to rally back and serve our students to the best of our abilities.

It is important to explicitly note that what faculty are being asked to do at short notice is an anomaly. Teaching remotely is a safety feature to reduce exposure. Teaching remotely is the easiest ways to continue to educate without shutting down higher education. Teaching remotely is not the same as teaching an online class. The latter involves the same planning, energy, and investment that goes into teaching F2F and both should use evidence-based teaching.  Remote teaching is a first response to an emergent health crisis. While we can certainly borrow and learn from the many best practices for online teaching to guide our remote teaching, be prepared for a lot of trial and error. GIVE yourself some leeway, cut yourself some slack.

I absolutely adore teaching face to face (F2F). I appreciate the ability to see visible signs of interest, and the clear indicators of distraction or lack of understanding. Especially in large classes (my Gen Psych course is 350 students), the energy arising from the learning process is palpable. Teaching online can have a lot of that. The empirical evidence shows that students do as well and sometimes better in well-designed online classes as compared to F2F. I loved it. Students learned.  It was still a hard transition. And it is not the same as Remote Teaching.

For many faculty, teaching online is an option, a choice they have and a negotiation with their Chairs. With instruction at many universities going online due to health safety issues, teaching online may not be a choice for some faculty but the only alternative. The show must go on.

The pragmatics of how to put a course online already exist. Academic technology departments provide step by step instructions on how to teach online or how to use blended learning, incorporating technology into face to face classes. For example Oregon State University’s CTL has one of the most comprehensive help sites for blended learning with templates for courses and helpful checklists to help faculty. Similarly, Oregon State’s eCampus unit, one of the top in the nation for delivering online education has a veritable smorgasbord of utilitarian resources and a large staff standing by to walk a faculty member from physical classroom to virtual worlds or wonder.  Even with all of this, if a faculty member has never taught online, nor leveraged technology in face to face classes, having to suddenly prepare to teach online may be a daunting task.  Here are some key points that may help.

To carve nature at its joints, a class can be divided into the content and skills we want students to learn, and pedagogical techniques we employ to do this.  A well-designed class in any format has student learning outcomes (what we want students to know by course end), techniques to help students learn what we intend (lecture, active learning), and assessments so we know what they have learned (assignments, exams). In F2F classes we rely on us seeing our students 2-3 times a week as a means to share information to supplement the textbook or readings. We use our physical presence and the bodies in the room to catalyze interaction and deep processing of the material. Whether F2F instructors realize this or not, we begin to rely on that physical presence as a driver to learning. It need not be so.

If we have to move online, there are many incremental steps we can take. First, the no brainer. If you do not use a LMS, run do not walk and set one up. LMSs such as Canvas and Blackboard allow you to frame your entire class, make your goals and structure visible, and provide students with a sense of where they stand (grades are updated with every assignment). After seeing all the benefits of using an LMS, I now use one all the time even in all my F2F classes. Students will appreciate it and you will significantly cut down on student questions about course content.

Here is our key challenge. Reflect on what you do you do in a F2F session and break it down into its key functions. In my F2F I use class time to provide a framework for learning new information, clarify information, provide applications of information, help students connect new material with what they know, and get students to interact with the material and each other to foster deeper processing. How does this go online? You have a few different options.

Level 1, for each class time that you would normally meet, use what you already have prepared and have all students log on synchronously. Using a platform such as Zoom present your material. Students can ask questions. You can record it so students can also re-watch it.

Level 2, use screen capture (e.g., Kaltura) and record your presentation. Students can now watch it when they want. It is asynchronous so instead of live questions, students can still post questions to the LMS discussion board.

Level 3. Newly freed from the constraints of meeting for 2-3 times a week, break up the delivery of content into smaller modules and record using either Zoom or Kaltura.  But what about student interaction and deep processing?  Use the discussion board and chat functions to get students talking and take any F2F group work into LMS groups.

While this transition to an online world may seem like a difficult prospect it actually provides us faculty with a key opportunity to truly examine what we use F2F time for. You may realize that a whole world of technological solutions exist for the pedagogical problems you work so hard on. While going online, especially out of necessity and with a little lead time, will be more difficult for some than others (e.g. getting a biology or chemistry lab online is a different challenge), there is help. More importantly, making lemonade and borrowing from research on the psychological science of coping, seeing a move online as a challenge instead of just a hardship can open you up to avenues never considered before.

Who knows, you may find it hard to go back to purely F2F teaching sans technology. But first, let’s get through this crisis safely. We are here to help.

KEY Resources:

Finals from F2F to online:
Keep Teaching: Resources for Higher Ed.



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