As the COVID-19 virus has been deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization, more and more colleges and universities are considering their role in reducing the spread of this disease. Suspension of in person classes replaced by virtual learning seems to be the choice most are making. This is aided by the guidance issued by the Department of Education. The DOE is temporarily relaxing requirements for schools to gain prior approval before offering instruction online.
If your institution is considering this option – here are some things to think about before you get started:
1. Course supplements are not online courses. Online courses are designed very differently in structure and pedagogy compared to on-campus courses with technology-enabled supplements. Relying on these course supplements to replace on-campus courses would be similar to going to a presentation at a conference and instead of finding an engaging speaker with great audience Q&A, you are handed the outline of the presentation and left to fill in the blanks on your own.
2. On-campus courses are not self-paced and asynchronous, online courses aren’t either. There is a lingering perception that online courses are always self-paced and/or completely asynchronous. Today’s online courses are neither. Best practices suggest weekly engagement with and feedback from faculty, which is also a leading factor in achieving effective learning outcomes and higher satisfaction among online students.
At Elsmere Education, we have helped numerous institutions launch online programs. Right now, this shift to virtual classes is different, but can benefit from some of the best practices we have seen over the years. Here are some tips to help make the transition go smoothly:
1. Utilize synchronous videocall technologies. Your on-campus students started their semester expecting a learning community, with the option to ask questions, hear other’s perspectives, and build their interpersonal communication skills in real-time. You can still meet the expectations and needs of your on-campus students through synchronous calls by holding sessions during your regularly scheduled class times. Just make sure you have high-speed internet and a quiet, well-lit, dedicated space where you can hold these sessions. You can still have engaging small group discussions, have students present projects, hold debates, and have guest speakers using most synchronous video platforms. Not all of your students may have the right technology set up, particularly for your first session, so record the session for them and have an IT contact ready for students.
2. Create a clear communication plan. Being in a separate space and time, there will be more “transactional distance” – what online learning experts describe as the potential for miscommunication and/or anxiety about how to succeed in a new online environment (Moore, 1997). Make it clear when and how students can reach you by email, text, phone (including hours), and when and where they can find resources and detailed instructions for completing and submitting assignments. Creating a weekly announcement can help students locate items for the current week if your course is arranged by resource (i.e. discussions, quizzes, assignments) instead of weekly units.
3. Be prepared to flex. Almost certainly, some of your content or assignments will need to be tweaked. The great thing about an online course is that you can easily hide content while you update due dates, modify, replace or update assignments and then have students get instant updates when you are ready. This might take a little extra effort, but you can pace the work and update your content week by week.
4. Ask for help. Reach out to your teaching and learning centers, your instructional design groups, and your IT departments and ask them for best practices in online learning resources, guides or video tutorials for setting up an online course, and/or instructional design resources to aid you.
Finally, investment in the shift to online courses can open new strategic pathways for your institution. A successful approach to this short-term shift to online courses could be the lever to long-term strategic growth for your institution. Online options can provide an excellent option to help students complete their coursework with minimal disruption during weather, space, or health crises. Online courses can help students to continue learning during summer breaks and can build demand for additional online learning options as they finish their degree or seek graduate education after entering the workplace. Faculty may be surprised to find that online courses can be highly engaging and can also offer time-saving features and an easy way to shift to student-centered learning.
To move forward with this strategic approach in mind, select proven models to build, manage and support online faculty and students in online courses and programs. We realize this is a stressful time as institutions make this transition, if we can help in any way, even if its just a call for some advice, please don’t hesitate to call on us – www.elsmereeducation.com