Coronavirus Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

COVID-19 has hit the U.S. and we are all feeling its effects. The lives of many have been uprooted due to this virus and people are trying to adapt however they can. One population that has been especially disrupted is the education sector. Teachers and students have been forced to finish up the school year at a distance.

Teaching online is a whole different ball game than teaching in person. How you organize your course, your teaching style, and the materials you need are all different. In this time of uncertainty many teachers and professors have found themselves unprepared to transition their in-person classes to the internet. Here is a round-up of tips for teachers who have had to move their courses online: 

1. Be Understanding

Each of your students is now in a different situation with a different set of resources and has different family needs. They are concerned about their health, finances, and future plans. Uprooting one’s life is jarring in any situation — unfortunately students also have to deal with the disappointment of lost jobs, cancelled internships, and graduations put on hold or not happening altogether. Teachers also have been scrambling to get their courses online and help students finish strong all while balancing their own family needs. It has been rough for everyone. 

What’s most important at a time like this is to be understanding and flexible. Show your emotional support to students in the communications you send them. Virtual classes are isolating on their own, your kindness will go a long way. Most of your planned lessons, projects, and labs will need to be adapted — and some students may struggle more than others. If someone cannot complete an assignment due to lack of resources, create an individual plan just for them. COVID-19 is no one’s fault and we need all the help we can get. 

2. Decide how you are going to teach

There are two ways to conduct online courses: synchronously and asynchronously. Synchronous classes occur at the same time for everyone — usually over video call where the teacher and students can come together and carry out a discussion. Asynchronous classes allow everyone to go through course material at their own pace. These occur with pre-recorded lessons or prepared content. 

Due to the uncertainty right now and changing situations for your students, you may start with one teaching style and realize you need to pivot. There’s no shame in this! Each course is different and it will take some trial and error to have an effective transition from in-person to online.

3. Define your goals for the remainder of the course

Projects and final tests have probably changed shape. An article from The Chronicle of Higher Education helps conceptualize what traditional teaching tools (homework, tests, presentations) are made to do and how to translate that to an online format. 

First, you need to look at the goal of previously scheduled lectures, quizzes, discussions. Why are you doing them. In the case of lectures, quizzes, and discussions, it’s probably presentation of content, checking for understanding, and collaborative learning, respectively. Next, analyze what you had planned for your course and reframe for an online setting. For example: Instead of a discussion that needs to be synchronous, could you use something like a discussion board to support students who are now learning asynchronously?

Some assignments or projects may need to be cut out entirely. If a lesson doesn’t really contribute to your courses goals, cut it from your calendar.

4. Communicate a LOT

This transition to online learning mid-semester can be particularly confusing. It’s important that students feel supported and understand what’s going on. Overcommunication is better than not going into enough detail. To start, make sure all documents, textbooks, other resources, and a calendar of your course can be found online

Online Teaching Advice suggests teachers record themselves explaining assignments as if they were in class. This allows students to hear exactly what is expected of them and adds a human element to the course. If you can, showcase past student examples to demonstrate what an “A” looks like. 

Furthermore, tell students how to reach you. It’s a good idea to connect to students on free platforms like Slack, Whatsapp, or provide a secondary email address in addition to your regular channels. This way, students can get in contact with you if one platform fails. 

While some questions can be easily answered with an email or message, students may need more in-depth assistance. Though you probably can’t meet in person, you can still hold virtual office hours. Below are a number of different video calling softwares that could assist. A graphic from edublogs lists the different functionality of some of the major ones. 

Video calling platforms
From Resources for Teaching Online During School Closures

5. Avoid Surprises or Ambiguity

It’s likely that assignments will take students twice as long as before due to stress and other environmental factors. Pop-quizzes or time-bound “surprise assignments” will set students up for failure. Be as detailed as you can when re-explaining existing assignments or assigning new ones. Students should understand exactly what they need to do and how to achieve the grade they want.

A director of online education at Georgia Tech, David Joyner provides his method of creating an intuitive course cadence that students can rely on:

  • Set a memorable deadline policy. Make assignments or quizzes due on regular dates — like every Friday at 11:59 ET.
  • Post announcements at regular intervals. This could be an announcement at the start of each week reminding students of upcoming assignments, exams, or notable happenings.

6. Ask for Feedback

Students likely see issues that you don’t. You want to help them succeed, so it’s important to understand when coursework is confusing or they are not able to complete assignments due to resource constraints. Set up a designated feedback loop. This could be done by sending out a survey on your Learning Management System, asking for responses via email, or setting up an anonymous Google Form. 

Making Google Forms Anonymous

Students may feel uncomfortable providing feedback or won’t do so until things get really bad. Make feedback a regular, anticipated action. Here is a resource written by George Washington University on what questions you can ask to students — while these were meant for in-person courses, they easily translate for online teaching.

7. Support Each Other

Moving your courses online at the drop of a hat is difficult! Your ultimate goal is to help your students, but don’t forget your fellow teachers. Keep in touch with instructors; see what’s working for them and what’s not. If you have time, help review a colleague’s online course portal. You may be able to poke holes in their course design or material that they may not have seen. 

Many people have put together resources to support those transitioning to online teaching. Teaching Tolerance, for example, has created an extensive list of resources to help instructors, students, and families. You can find articles on emotional support, free education, how to help families in need, and best practices for distance learning. There are also many Facebook groups designed to foster community for teachers while coronavirus is happening — Teaching During COVID-19 being one of them. Don’t be afraid to join or to ask for help.

8. Be Kind to Yourself

Teaching is a noble job, and it can be hard enough without a pandemic. The disruptions to your daily life, challenges with staying inside all day, family needs, and health and economic concerns are real. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or a bit down. Do what you can to make students feel supported — interact on the discussion board often, send out occasional emails, be present to answer questions — but take some time for yourself to process what’s going on. Good mental health will translate into effective teaching.