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12 Pieces of Advice for Faculty Who Have Never Taught Online

Written by Molly Forman on Mar 19, 2020

Related content: Technology, Edtech

With so many faculty displaced and racing to get online in the wake of COVID-19, there has been very little time for the technological and pedagogical training needed to effectively prepare for virtual instruction. Yet, professors are still told to do their job and to do it online. With a lack of resources to become proficient in teaching with technology fast, faculty are looking for digital tools and insights from those experienced in online instruction to help them fulfill their role as an educator and ensure students have access to the learning they need to finish the term successfully.

Thankfully, in a time of such great need, many instructors from around the world have come together to share best practices—whether it be via Facebook groups, Slack channels, Zoom calls, or Twitter threads. One such individual is Corinne Hyde.

As an associate professor of clinical education for the USC Rossier School of Education Master of Arts in Teaching online degree program, Corinne has spent more than a decade teaching online. Initially skeptical, but now a true online teaching convert, Corinne understands the trepidation of faculty being tasked to teach online for the first time out of necessity rather than choice. So, to help ease concerns, Corinne shared with us 12 pieces of advice for faculty teaching remotely for the first time. Here’s what she had to say.

1) Keep in mind that you are not designing a robust, comprehensive online learning experience. You are temporarily making an on-ground course remote.

There are a lot of professors now being asked to do online instruction, but they don’t have the training and support and experience they need to become—at a moment’s notice—effective online instructional designers and deliverers of content. There’s a whole skill set that goes along with designing and delivering high-quality online learning. Make some concessions and find tools to let you do the best you can to ensure students have access to the learning they need to finish the term successfully. It’s not going to be the best instruction you’ve ever done—nor does it need to be. You are in a triage situation.

2) Don't change your entire teaching practice right now. There are a ton of technology tools out there, but this isn't the time to overwhelm yourself and your students with learning it all.

Changing teaching practice requires a lot of cognitive effort, a lot of time, and a lot of support. Those are not luxuries you have right now. Rather than reinvent the wheel, try choosing one or two tools that you think will help you do what you need to do. Work on understanding those tools and helping your students learn to use them to enable you to provide the content you need to deliver. Save the fancy stuff for later on.

3) To that end, choose tools that replicate what you were doing on the ground. If you're going to be asynchronous, consider either recording your lecture with your webcam using built-in software on your computer or using something like Edpuzzle for an interactive lecture.

There are digital tools that exist that can come very close to replicating whatever you were already doing in the classroom. You just need to know what your goal is for your class, and then pick a tool that gets as close as possible to what you’re hoping to accomplish. Edpuzzle is one of the tools that replicates most closely what a lot of faculty do on the ground: lecture. You record and upload a video of yourself lecturing and then intersperse questions for students to respond to throughout your talk. This tool allows you to get extremely close to what you would normally be doing in the classroom. So, go for simple, and let tools like Edpuzzle help you fulfill your needs and free up your time.

4) On that same point, if you can find a video online that explains the topic of your lecture, there’s no need to record a new one. It's not about you—it's about the learning. Share the pre-existing video, add your own supplemental information, answer questions as needed, and you're good to go.

As a professor, you’re normally expected to design your own instruction, give your own lectures, and create your own tools and content for students to interact with during class. In a situation like the one we’re in now, everyone is overwhelmed, overworked, and stressed. Lean into content that already exists to help you teach your lessons. Students don’t need to hear a lecture out of your mouth for it to be effective instruction. Take on the role of a curator and find the content students need to learn, provide them with that content, and then add any commentary from yourself if needed. By using the pre-existing content, you can free yourself up to answer questions from students via email or offer office hours to connect with your students. You can flip your learning by having students interact with what you’ve selected, and then you can facilitate.

5) If you've been doing small group activities on the ground, as long as it doesn't require a ton of materials, you can do it via Zoom or similar platforms. Small groups can help students stay engaged during online learning.

When you do online instruction that’s live, you have to keep in mind that students are looking at the screen and are supposed to be engaged in what you’re doing in the virtual classroom. However, there are a significant number of distractions that are accessible through that screen as well. So you need to think of ways to keep students engaged. You can do that by keeping students active. I find small group instruction to be particularly effective. When students go into small groups, they have responsibility for co-constructing knowledge, producing artifacts of their learning, and interacting with one another. They don’t have the option to not be engaged.

There’s one caveat I’ll add here, which is that while this Coronavirus pandemic progresses, we are likely to see a fair number of students not able to attend a live session. If that happens and you’re doing a lot of small group instruction, you will likely not be able to record small group activities. You’ll need to figure out a way to still meet the needs of students unable to attend the live session.

6) Use online simulations for anything you were doing on the ground that required materials and hands-on experience. There are tons of resources here.

There’s a lot of teaching that goes on in university settings that requires lab work or in-class, hands-on instruction. That’s going to be a challenge for you as you facilitate learning remotely. You can use pre-created resources to try to meet those needs. There are many simulations available where students can virtually interact. Students can go through simulations and learn the same thing as they could if they were learning on-ground in a lab. While the simulations may not be as impactful, they are good substitutes in a situation like this.

7) This is when social media can really shine. Reach out to peers teaching the same topics as you at other institutions and share the workload of creating tools and resources. There is no need for each professor to reinvent the wheel.

I encourage everyone to create a personal learning network. Look for the people either around you in your day-to-day networks or through social media who might have the resources you can draw upon or who you might be able to work with to create class materials. Having a personal learning network is incredibly valuable because you can reach out and ask for materials to share and divide the labor of creating the content you need students to interact with virtually. You don’t need to work independently and create everything from scratch. You can rely on other professors and create mutually beneficial products. I’m already witnessing unprecedented levels of collaboration with faculty across institutions. Just because we are physically isolated doesn’t mean we have to be socially isolated.

8) Consider upping your office hours or scheduling them by appointment. Right now, things are going to be chaotic, and your students will need more support and may have more questions. I use Calendly for easy scheduling.

It is critical to take intentional time to build relationships with students outside of the classroom. And now that you’re remote, you need to be more purposeful about that. You can’t just walk to the campus coffee shop after class and connect. You also have to be willing to make yourself more available in different ways. One way I do this is by offering office hours by appointment instead of a set time every week. Students may be in different time zones or on different home schedules. You need to be cognizant of the situation they are in. I’m also offering a weekly virtual coffee via Zoom to check-in and provide emotional and moral support to my students as a fellow human—not as a professor.

9) Don't panic about academic integrity. If students cheat online, they were probably already cheating on-ground. Transitioning a class online doesn't suddenly make students cheat. That said, open-ended responses for online quizzes reduce the possibility of cheating.

Stop worrying about academic integrity. Cheating and academic integrity violations have happened since the beginning of formalized education. This isn’t an online education problem. There’s only so much you can do to stop it—just like on-ground—but I’ve found that when you require students to have unique responses to tasks, it can help to prevent the temptation to copy what someone else has done. With an open-ended response, cheating becomes obvious, whereas if you use multiple-choice questions, it’s pretty easy for a student to ask their peers for the answers. This is not the issue we need to be worrying about right now.

10) Establish clear norms for students for in-class behavior online. A virtual space is not the same as an on-ground space, and they don't automatically know how to conduct themselves. Tell students clearly what you expect.

You can’t assume that because students have grown up with technology all around them that they then must be technology literate. That’s just not the case. Being able to interact with Tik Tok is not the same as being able to effectively conduct yourself in an online course. As an instructor, you need to clearly and explicitly state for students what the expectation is—what’s OK and what’s not OK. That doesn’t mean you need to be ultra restrictive. You can allow students to eat and mothers to nurse during class.

11) Your students may or may not all have home access to high-speed internet, reliable hardware, and a quiet space conducive to learning. Be considerate of that.

This is a huge equity issue. In an ideal world, all students would have all of the necessary resources—physical and time—to be able to engage in whatever type of learning they need. That’s not the reality. A lot of students left for spring break and can’t come back to school to get their laptops and textbooks. Many students don’t have high-speed internet at home and relied on their university to provide it for them. There are also students isolated at home with multiple family members who all need access to technology for work and school. You’re likely dealing with students who live in all different time zones, with students who have children at home who are asked to be caregivers of their children full-time when they were normally going to class, and with students who are sick or taking care of loved ones who are sick. As an instructor, you have to recognize that you can’t just tell students to get online and do their work. You have to be willing to make accommodations. This really needs to inform what you plan to do and what you expect your students to be able to do.

12) Finally, keep in mind that we are all humans going through a global pandemic. You might need to give your students some grace, and you might need to ask them for some grace as well. Be kind and allow for flexibility.

This is an opportunity for all of us to recognize our shared humanity. You’re not professors and students—you’re all humans trying to get through a global emergency. The primary goal in all of this shouldn’t be learning. The primary goal should be compassion and kindness while doing what learning we can. So, do the best you can.

Interested in getting in touch with Corinne or learning more about how to teach with technology? You can connect with Corinne on Twitter (@DrCorinneHyde) or on her website (edspiration.net).

If you’re looking for additional tips and tricks on teaching and learning online, continue to visit ‘The Latest.’ We’ll have more resources for you in the coming weeks. 2U university partners now also have free access to No Back Row® PRO, a new service-oriented product that features the same high-quality training that faculty in 2U-powered programs receive. Learn more here.

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