In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are now working remotely and having to find new ways of adjusting. Many of us are teachers, who with less than a few days of planning, had to move classes online. While it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn new skills, it has been stressful for many of my colleagues who are new this. But let’s take a step back and gain some perspective on how to manage this successfully, keeping our well-being in mind.
Be patient and kind
Everyone has had to adjust within a period of days to online instruction and that is no easy task. It means both you and your students are learning new tools and adjusting to a very unexpected situation. Everyone is stressed out right now. Let’s face it – if you were teaching a face-to-face class, now you’re having to teach online overnight. Students who may have limited access to technology and those who are not comfortable with it, are now trying to cope. Be patient, understanding, and kind to your students and to yourself. Use email, make modifications, and just try to make it work.
Set boundaries for communication
Let students know how they can contact you and have set hours of availability. This might be through a platform or via email. Most of us realized very quickly, if we don’t do this, we can end up online the entire day and evening. This allows everyone to organize their day. Many students have lost jobs due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic or now have limited work hours. Others may be taking on new jobs with the increased demand in certain areas such as delivery jobs. Consider asynchronous communication and then a specific time to respond.
Outline the learning objectives and competencies for each lesson and assignment
This provides clear expectations for students and allows everyone to focus on learning outcomes. Provide rubrics where you can and be as clear and concise as you possibly can so students know what they have to do. I often couple this with zoom sessions so those students who need further clarity can ask me questions, which of course all other students benefit from.
Provide a time-on-task estimate for each lesson and assessment
This gives students the ability to set aside the time needed to succeed in the course. Informing them how long an assignment or task will take helps to keep them on track and keeps the anxiety levels low. Outline a schedule with tasks so they can also get a head start on assignments. This leads to less stress and greater reinforcement because they may be reviewing materials multiple times. This also deepens their level of understanding. It reduces your stress because you know when assignments are coming in and you can better plan your own time.
Make assignments lower or no stakes if you’re using a new platform
Get students used to just using the platform. Then you can do something higher stakes. Do not ask students to do a high stakes exam or assignment on a new platform as it will only increase stress and lead to attrition. In my writing course I had to modify a research assignment. For example, I was asking them to locate articles from library databases as part of their research project but technology access has not been so easy for some students. Providing a simple link to online resources allowing them to integrate sources became acceptable. The outcome was to be able to integrate and document sources. The modified assignment still accomplished that goal. Doing it this way took away my worry about the students and we could focus on learning and enjoying the process of writing.
Utilize supplemental material to improve learning outcomes and competencies
Multimedia content that is engaging will provide a bit of the tutoring that you would do in-class. Upload handouts, videos, PowerPoints, website links, podcasts, and utilize OER materials. Contact your institution for a list of these. Many publishers are now also providing free access to materials. Take advantage of that to supplement what you are doing and reduce the pressure to do it all yourself in a short amount of time.
If you’re making videos, keep them short
Viewers tune out at about 3-4 minutes. Consider posting them on YouTube for easy access. This also provides transcription making it easier for students to follow. It makes it easier for you also to have materials for the next time you do this. Have fun with this, learn something new, and bring out your creative side.
Assign assessments with instant detailed feedback
Let your students know what was missed immediately after submission. This is linked to high levels of understanding and retention. Numerous tools allow for quiz creation and instant feedback. We are all working from home. See this as a welcome opportunity to learn something new for yourself and for your students to benefit from. Even if some are submitting by email, make sure feedback is provided. Once quizzes are created, post them on a platform but also email them directly to students. This will give you more time for other tasks and for yourself.
Do not get consumed with best practice
As someone at my college reminded us, that’s not the situation we’re in. When planned, online learning can be outstanding. For now, do what you can and what you have to do. Focus on the most important assignments such as those that will cover the course material, but also prepare students for the follow-up course. We are all in this together and will do the best we can.
And finally, remember, you will not recreate your classroom; you will reinvent your classroom
Moving a class to a distance learning model in a day’s time excludes the possibility of excellence. Give yourself a break and just be accessible for your students. Respond, answer questions, provide resources, and keep them on track. One of favorite quotes so relevant now is “Relationships before rigor, grace before grades, patience before programs, and love before lessons” – Brad Johnson.
We’ll get through this!