I’ve been teaching online since 2010 as an academic at Charles Darwin University in Australia. I was thrown into the deep end when I first started, having never before even undertaken an online course as a student. Over the past ten years I have refined my resources, but by no means have I reached perfection! It’s also been rather tough along the way, particularly in the beginning.
When I first started, many people thought that simply uploading a PDF of a reading or lecture notes was sufficient to be called ‘online learning’.
Let me say that I don’t think this is sufficient. Under ‘normal’ conditions. But I’m not considering ‘normal’ or what is actually best practice in this blog.
Those more ‘advanced’ thought that it was ok to just video record a lecture (e.g. camera at the back of the room) and make that recording available. No camera or microphone hardware was available, so I used my own in the first instance.
These recordings are not fabulous, and I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have professional videographers cutting multiple angles etc.
However, in light of the current situation, if this is the best that you can do, THAT’S OK!!!
Again, this is not a blog about best practice. It’s about doing the best that you can.
I am really concerned about setting expectations too high and putting unnecessary stress on teaching staff. It has taken me years to develop my resources (http://kejoyce.com/education), so please don’t think that you have to achieve this within a week! Cut yourself some slack, and work out what you need to do to meet your learning outcomes within your current capacity.
I designed the following questions considering tertiary education, but you can easily use it as a school teacher as well. Note that many of my comments here are specific to this unexpected need for getting online learning up and running quickly (thanks for that COVID19!). Creating content for courses designed for long term ‘flashy’ online learning is a different story.
PART 1: Understanding your current class/es
Answering these questions will help remind you of the current scope for your classes – ultimately it’s about making sure you don’t attempt to do something that will require more hours in the day than what you can reasonably allocate.
- How many classes do you teach?
- How many students in each class?
- What is the current mode of teaching (e.g. 1 x 2hr lecture, 1 x 2hr prac…)? What sort of practical activity (if any) required?
- What are the current assessment items? Can you reduce them – this will reduce your grading time, which you can then use in other preparation areas.
- Is there any group work? Is that critical? Btw, videos are great assessment items - groups can do this too. Many job applications now require videos as well as written CVs, so this is a great skill to learn.
- Do you have any students with disabilities? What extra support might they need?
- Do you know if all your students have a computer with internet? That's not shared with their three kids now at home thx to school closures? Will it matter if it's a Mac or PC (e.g. specific software requirements).
- How many hours per week do you currently spend on each class, and what’s the breakdown? This should guide how much time you spend on the online class as well – obviously you will have other commitments that can’t be shirked.
- Actual teaching
- Office hours
- Will you also have a care-giving role at home? Factor this in to the amount of time you have to create resources. It’s hard enough as it is creating online materials, but dealing with children at the same time is particularly trying. They need and deserve your attention too!
PART 2: Understanding your capability / capacity
Answering these questions will help remind you of your own skills (and limitations) and what you are able to achieve. Start with what you know and don’t try to learn ten new software packages at once!
- What experience do you have with online teaching or creating resources? If nothing, start simple!
- Do you have a YouTube or Vimeo Channel? These are good options for hosting recorded materials and stream faster than getting students to download videos. YouTube is free, but is a lot more open in terms of who can see your videos and suggesting other (distracting?) videos to your students.
- Do you know how to use Zoom or a similar online conferencing tool? Zoom is awesome and stable. If you use something else, then stick with what you know. If you know nothing, try Zoom :)
- Do you have decent internet at home? If you need to stream lectures or even upload to online learning repositories, will you be able to do this?
PART 3: Understanding what you’d like to do
- Synchronous (real time) or asynchronous? If you plan to do asynchronous teaching, create short videos (10-15 mins max). Don’t beat yourself up over editing and perfection here at this point in time. If you are recording synchronous, or have access to previous years’ recordings, just leave them as the full recording for the moment – chopping them up is not a priority when you have so many other things to do.
- Curriculum based or problem based learning? Curriculum based will require you to create more resources ‘up front’, while PBL or student led learning will allow you to do less spoon feeding and be around more in a support role.
- Open and shared resources or private and locked? Do you have any privacy concerns around the content you create? Ten years ago I kept my videos locked up for my class, then I changed to YouTube around the time when #OpenData started becoming a thing. Now I give away everything that I can. I can write a whole separate blog on the benefits of this. But either way, your choice will affect the platform you choose for your learning materials, particularly video. I found it so painful to host content within the BlackBoard learning management system that I just use it for the shell now (and for assessments), but definitely not for my videos or learning resources
- Do you need to provide tuition around practical skills? This is where my YouTube videos have been a huge help for me. It’s awesome to be able to demonstrate an activity using screen capture software. I previously used Adobe Captivate for this but unfortunately my University no longer has this license, so I now use MediaSite. It’s not great, but it does the job. Screencastomatic is awesome too.
- Set up a discussion board and refuse to answer any non-confidential questions via email – sounds rude, but will save your sanity as your inbox will otherwise overflow. This will also encourage students to help each other out (encourage this!) and will avoid you having to answer the same question multiple times. You can moderate answers that the students give each other, but resist the urge to answer every question yourself otherwise they won’t step up to the task themselves.
- Offer office hours (Zoom) by appointment – you can set up a google spreadsheet where students sign in for select blocks – perhaps 15 minute blocks? Screensharing in Zoom is awesome so students can show you what they are having trouble with if its software related.
- Have a site where you can store your recordings – e.g. Vimeo or YouTube. This might depend on if you want to keep things private or not
- If you create videos yourself, don’t watch them back. This is painful! Unless you know you’ve made a mistake that needs to be edited out, deal with the fact that you won’t be perfect, and there’s always room for improvement – next year!
- If you are recording videos, practice your ‘phone voice’ J You know, that super polite one you use when you answer the phone? The more you can keep this up during your video, the better J
- Cut yourself some slack! Did I say that already? Don’t compare what you create to any of the online training that you may have previously done where the budget was huge and they had a team of people doing the work. Your job is to make sure your students are able to meet the learning objectives – even if you’ve had to modify them.
My final thought – with bars, clubs, sporting venues, pretty much everything closed, will we actually see an increase in student participation, resulting in better learning outcomes??