10 ways to lead students...
While you’ll surely need to focus on how to adapt your lectures, materials, and assignments to better suit the online classroom, it’s also critical to think about how your students may struggle to adjust—as individuals and as a group. As you begin your transition to teaching online, consider these 10 ways to become a better leader and resource for your students during this unprecedented time.
1. Ensure Your Students Are Equipped Technically
2. Give Voice to the Trauma of What Is Happening
The COVID-19 virus—and the mandated social distancing it has necessitated—has created ongoing and escalating consequences and worries for your students. As an educator, you must initially meet them where they are psychologically. Give them space and time to voice the thoughts and emotions they are experiencing before delving into your lessons. Ask students how they are doing. Otherwise, you’ll be ignoring the whole reason you’re making the transition online—the elephant in the virtual room, as it were—and missing an important moment to connect with your students.
As we know from Greenberg, Clair, and Maclean, professors play an important role in the wake of traumatic events—and many believe that role includes acknowledging that students are going through emotional and psychological stress. In addressing the ongoing trauma of this pandemic, acknowledge the position you and your students are in and the emotions that come with it. You need to do that before you can ask them to carve out time to continue learning.
No matter how you decide to address the more personal impact of COVID-19 on your students, remind them of the support services available to them through your institution and acknowledge that you are all going through this difficult time together.
3. Set Ground Rules Early On
From the beginning, establish—and sometimes reset—ground rules. You should still ask students not to multitask or check their phones during class, for example. To enforce this, ask students to use video and keep their cameras on throughout class; it really makes a difference. Then get into whatever material you have planned for the day.
Do a “class launch” that sets expectations for this new way of learning—you want to clarify, in detail, how the class will work together online. How should the class communicate and how often? How big should breakout groups be? Ask your students what they think, and take that into consideration as you establish new norms.
4. Find New Ways to Check in with Students
Ensure that students have ongoing opportunities to speak as a group about the new state of affairs—this isn’t a once-and-done conversation. Early on, say something like, It’s a new world; we’re not sure how long this is going to last, but for the rest of the semester, I want to make sure that everyone feels they have the setup and support they need.
Remember, too, that with online teaching, there’s not just one meeting time, one form of communication, or one medium of conveying messages. Make sure you communicate redundantly to avoid confusion and ensure that everyone has heard and understood you. Follow up with an email or announcement, and have multiple touchpoints (through various media) to keep the conversation going after class.
5. Create an Effective Culture for Your Virtual Class
Building a great online class culture is very important, and very difficult, to do—it requires you to actively work on it. Here are three effective steps to facilitate a supportive culture for your online classroom:
· Make sure students always feel like they know what’s going on. At home, they are away from their campus hub and can feel like they’ve lost touch with what’s happening at their school, with their classmates and teachers. Communication is extremely important: send more emails or announcements, implement one-on-one conversations, and encourage more discussions.
· Take care to ensure that students don’t feel like they have less access to you than their peers do. Because everyone is at home, their methods of communicating with you may be different. Make sure you are accessible and available to everyone equally. Engage your students more than ever and do it fairly. They need to feel like there’s parity among them.
· When you run synchronous class time with the entire group, make sure you’re balancing for inclusion and airtime. If you have students who tend to dominate the conversation during in-person discussions, they’re going to dominate virtually as well. Make space for all students to participate. Call on students who are less inclined to speak up when other students are dominating class time.
6. Diversify Modes to Enhance Engagement
During your class sessions, diversify the modes. Every 20 minutes, change how you are engaging your students. Consider using varied modes such as slides, videos, polls, lecture, reflection activities, and simulations. This practice enhances student engagement and breaks up your class time in a productive and vibrant way. You must create this new rhythm for yourself and your students to set expectations for their engagement throughout the class.
7. Recognize the Psychological Impact of Screen-Only Learning
Without the benefit of face-to-face contact, educators and students in online-only environments may feel isolated and lonely. If you and your students were accustomed to having unplanned and informal “hallway” conversations before or after class, you now realize the importance of those interactions to your overall learning experience. Those conversations can have a direct impact on participation and on students’ sense of connection with you and each other, and they can easily go away with remote environments.
How do you recreate those informal social moments? Here are a few ideas:
· Set up online office hours through whichever medium is best for you and your class, be it email, instant chat, or voice and video calling. Make yourself available for student support on a regular and consistent basis just as you would in person.
8. Proactively Assist Struggling Students
First, recognize the signs of a struggling student: they’re withdrawn, they’re communicating less. When you see them on video during class time, they are more inhibited. They aren’t participating in class discussions. Then, talk to them; have a conversation—this student may need more engagement and contact from others. Make sure they have what they need. During this time, we need to make sure that, within our classes and broader university communities, there are services available to help students when they need it. Know where to direct students to take advantage of any assistive and support services that your institution may provide.
Students might be feeling that their sense of purpose and community is undermined; when campus life is suspended, students—and educators—can feel like they’re no longer a part of something bigger than just themselves. As leaders, we need to help our students with this, and part of that is being much more visible as a resource. Through video lectures, discussions, and other communication, be confident and calm. And above all, be available as a resource.
9. Trust Your Students
As you make the move to the virtual classroom and begin to teach your students online, keep this in mind: You have to trust your students. This is an era when we should heed Ernest Hemingway’s quote, “The way to make people trustworthy is to trust them.” You can’t always see what your students are doing, but give them assignments, equip them to do their work, check in on them like you have in the past, and know that you’re giving them important resources and support during a challenging time.
10. Stay Positive
Despite the trying circumstances that are prompting this move to digital learning, remember this important positive aspect: Students are developing virtual skills that will be helpful to them throughout their careers in the digital age. As long as you face this change head on and take advantage of the strengths of online learning, it can absolutely be a successful experience for you and your students.
As universities rush to get all their courses online quickly, there’s a high probability of error but also a lot you can do to succeed. Problems may occur due to overtaxed technological infrastructure, your students’ disorientation and fear, and your own learning curve. On the positive side, you learn for a living, so you are good at it! Being open to the current crisis-driven educational opportunity is a call to action. The reputation and integrity of your institution—and you!—depends upon your offering engaging online classes. (No pressure.) Below are a few tips to get you started.
And 8 more ideas...
1. Be a Learner: You’re used to being an expert. But now you may be facing a situation where you aren’t an expert. For most of your students, taking all their classes fully online will be a new experience. If it’s new to you as well, don’t be afraid to let your students know that you are learning with them. Keep a beginner’s mindset. You don’t have to have all the answers. Just know how to point your students in the right direction. There are many free resources online to help out. And as you would tell your students, there are no stupid questions. Ask away. Do a Google search, check in with IT, phone a friend, or ask your students. They will be happy to help if you make it clear that having a great online course is a group project.
2. Use Technology as a Means to an End: Don’t confuse technology with teaching. The goal is to use technology to facilitate engaging and effective teaching and learning. Know that technology’s tools of engagement (like discussion boards, wikis, journals, blogs, etc.) are just that—tools, not the engagement itself. What is the secret sauce? You are! Along with the community of learners that includes your students, your fellow faculty members, and every teacher on the internet! An LMS or Zoom can’t stand in for a trusted advisor, mentor, or experienced subject-matter expert like you. If you are new to online teaching, take it slow initially, but don’t leave out engagement.
3. Don’t be “the Man (or Woman) Behind the Curtain.” High “instructor presence”—the feeling that an instructor is still present in an online educational experience—is more critical now than it has ever been. Log into your course every day. Yes, every day. You don’t have to promise a 24-hour turnaround for responses. In fact, that will quickly exhaust you. A 48-hour turnaround response time is typical. But do respond to your students’ posts if you have a discussion board. Set expectations of when you will and won’t be available. Don’t make Sunday night off-limits if you have an assignment due on Monday. That’s not fair. Make use of group communications, like the announcement function in your LMS, to touch base with your students every few days. Instructor presence is established when your students feel that you are there for them. It doesn’t have to be 24/7, but your students will miss you! So, stay in touch.
4. Know the Gotcha’s: Partner with IT to determine the top five to six technical issues that students are likely to encounter when accessing a course online. This may be a forgotten password, a pop-up blocker, or a browser issue. Educate yourself around what the issues could be because students will turn to you for technical support. To avoid spending more time troubleshooting technical problems than teaching your content, develop FAQs or links to websites or videos that provide solutions to the most common problems. You don’t have to become a programmer to intervene effectively on technical matter. You just need to tell people where they can find good information. Encourage all students to help one another, as well. If you begin to feel bogged down or frustrated with tech support questions, remember that you want to help. It’s part of the reason you chose this profession!
5. Promote Engagement: In a pinch, there may be an impulse to use the LMS as a content repository: upload all the relevant docs, schedule a lecture in Zoom, and voila you have an online course! But such a course will not promote lasting change—as you would expect your classroom course to do. As you construct your class—even if it’s on the fly—ask yourself if your expected learning outcomes will be achieved. Avoid the trap of choosing “coverage” over engagement. Let students take turns week to week leading online discussions, either via Zoom or on the discussion board. Add peer-to-peer support, try virtual group work, and provide frequent opportunities for feedback. You don’t have to be technologically inclined to let your students know that you care about what they have to say.
6. Upskill, Upskill, Upskill. Just as you shouldn’t overemphasize the role of technology in this educational moment, you don’t want to underplay it either. Everyone (faculty, administrators, and students) will need to upskill themselves in educational technology quickly. There are many free resources out there to get you started. Check out LinkedIn (which merged with Lynda.com) to find short videos on how to work in an LMS. If your university’s IT department is overloaded, take matters into your own hands by using OERs (Open Educational Resources). OERs provide a wealth of information and resources (such as videos, articles, examples, case studies, rubrics) and other things useful for you and your students. Creative Commons is a good place to start, and YouTube has some very helpful videos, as well.
7. Survey Often and Early. Survey your students about how it is going early into your tenure as an online instructor. Fear not. You can handle the truth! Quick surveys are a way to take the temperature of the room, a sense of the meeting. They provide an early warning system. The point is not to give yourself a grade but to find out which students are struggling and what they are struggling with. A simple 3-question questionnaire will do. Use a tool like Survey Monkey if you don’t know how to set up a survey in your LMS. Ask simple open-ended questions like: “What is the best thing about this experience so far? What would you do differently? How can I help?” An instructor may be unaware that half of the class can’t access one of the assignments because of a pop-up blocker or some other easy-to-fix issue. Believe it or not, communicating with your students online may give you the opportunity to be more connected to them as individuals.
8. Keep it Simple. Think of your first online course as Version 1.0. Remember that the first time out of the gate won’t be perfect. Long past the national health crisis, there’s likely to be a version 2.0 and 3.0. Keep track of what you “wish you had known” as you go through the rest of the semester, and plan to use these nuggets of knowledge in future online courses. If you don’t have time to make videos, post your PPTs. If you don’t have PPTs, post your notes. If you don’t have notes, dictate your expertise into an audio recording application (such as VoiceThread) or just use your phone to create an audio (MP3) or video (MP4) file.
All of this being said, don’t be too hard on yourself. You are, after all, making the plane while flying it! Allow yourself to make mistakes. Experiment. Have fun. You know this teaching-with-technology thing has been on your to-do list for a long time. So, let this be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. You are not alone. The whole world—your students, their parents, your colleagues, and your family and friends—are pulling for you right now. Our higher education system depends not upon your technical expertise, but your pedagogical passion. Keep your love of teaching front and center while you learn this important 21st century skill!