Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Ton of tools and 10 things to do if you're new to online learning...

Schools and Universities in several countries have closed down for weeks. But life goes on. Or does it? Do educators simply give up and wait until students come back or do what they should do and switch to safer online teaching and learning?

If you’re faced with this cliff-edge, there are several things you should consider when moving online:

1. Be positive and communicate

See this as an opportunity to expand your skills and don’t go all ‘anti-tech’. Keep yourself and your learners positive. See it as a project, more importantly, see it as a way of doing the best for your students.Communicate this to your learners as they'll be looking to you for reassurance. Grasp the opportunity.
Communicate with your students - ask where they are, what kit they've got, bandwidth... Oh and change your language... Homework – was there ever a worse word for learning? As we switch online let’s also drop ‘online class’… ‘lecture, lecturer’… use the language of the web… message, link, screen-share… 
This will be weird but you really do have to listen to your students. They will have ideas and solve problems...
Don't rush it with pages of links. Build slowly. step-by-step - it's a case of less is more.

 2. It’s been done before

Remember millions of people have learnt and are learning online. Entire degree courses, where the learners graduates without setting foot in a campus or having any face-to-face teaching are now common. I attend graduation ceremonies every year for thousands of such students... and they often outperform their campus-based peers. This means there’s a wealth of techniques and technology that have been tried and tested. If possible contact the professionals in this field run. your organisation. They've thought about this and most probably done it already.

3. Use the platform you have

Your organisation may already have a VLE or LMS, like Moodle or Canvas, that has a ton of functionality that is underused. The advantage of taking this route is that all teachers and students should be registered and delivery and tracking should be easy. You’ll also get some internal support and there’s a large community out there with the same problems. Your school may be using Google or Microsoft tools already… You’ll be surprised how good Google Docs and other tools can be in this situation.

4. Synchronous v asynchronous

Think first about what you want to do in realtime or not in realtime. What can be done asynchronously, like email, NOT in real time and what do you want to take place synchronously, like a webinar, in realtime? My advice would be to use synchronous techniques sparingly. Make asynchronous your default.

5. Synchronous

For synchronous teaching Skype, Zoom (my preference - free Zoom account OK for up to 40 mins and 100 students and doesn't bugger up your computer), Hangouts or other comms tech can be used to deliver lectures, webinars or teaching sessions. You can do this showing your face but also switch the video off to use audio as you screenshare your slides, documents etc. One of the advantages here is that you can also link out to other online resources. Remember that you can also take questions and encourage discussion, create groups discussions, breakout groups and so on, with such systems. Your sessions can also be recorded for revision access. It’s good to acquire these skills.
PS
Single biggest mistake in learning using Zoom, Skype etc- the idea that the image of a talking head is always useful.... which is why Khan and others got rid of it in their content... if I'm learning math, I want to see the maths... SCREENSHARE, SHOW, WORKED EXAMPLES... open, close and perhaps  for a little reflection or debate in middle...

6. Asynchronous

Of course, you needn’t use video or live face-to-face events at all. If you don’t want to do live lectures online, you can always record them in PowerPoint (yes folks it's easy in PPT and save as MP4) Zoom or Skype. Your institution may have your already recorded lectures from last year. Keep them short and simple (research has shown that 6 mins chunks is a good limit). If not, find a way. If need be... record on your laptop or mobile.
Use email, or other social media platforms to communicate with students. Consider the plethora of other tools available – chat, messaging and so on. Remember that’s where they hang out – all of the time! Reading materials – easy but also consider other online resources such as YouTube videos, podcasts and open source online learning content – there’s a ton of good stuff out there. Don’t get hung up on trying to create ALL content yourself. There’s Khan Academy for maths and tons of other free stuff. This should improve your curated content for future classes. For quick content you can use the likes if WildFire (AI creates the content).If you workmen a school try the excellent Khan Academy.

7. Homework and assignments

First things first. Your students will already have or expect homework and assignments. Keep this going and make them an integral part of your online plan. In a sense, you can sell online learning as on-going, supervised homework! But set deadlines for students to return work to you online and be clear, REALLY CLEAR about the expected output. Qualtify 'xxxx words' and give clear deadline 2pm the 3rd March. Specify media types and file type. You may want to experiment by asking students for audio or video outputs. Don't get too ambitious with group work. Some will not do it.

8. Feedback

This is a real opportunity to up your game on effective and regular feedback. Use well-established, high retention techniques like retrieval practice and spaced practice. Things that are easier to do online. Use this opportunity to be more innovative. For example, with spaced practice start every new session with a recap of the last session and end with a recap of what you’ve just done. Interleave content.

9. Assessment

Don't be too ambitious with this. Keep to a low-stakes assessment schedule. You may have trouble getting students to stick to your plans and schedule, so use a series of formative (not summative) assessments to keep them on track. This will allow you to spot those who are struggling and provide more help.

10. Continuity

Keep up momentum. Have a schedule. Stick to that schedule. They will respond if you respond. If something doesn’t work, try something else, something simpler. Don’t be too ambitious with the tech. Keep it simple. Above all keep up regular comms with students, without flooding them. Give them time to complete tasks, generate their own work. Ask for their help. They may just be more online savvy than you think. And thank them – regularly!

Conclusion

Don’t panic. See this as an opportunity. You may find that you get a closer relationship with your students. Things will go wrong – that’s tech –like uncooked spaghetti, it tends not to bend but break. Not a problem. There’s always an alternative. Good luck.

Resources:


Great in-depth advice from Stanford

Stanford’s Professor of Mathematics Keith Devlin explains why online may be good for you as a teacher

Zoom offers video tool to schools free. Once verified, Zoom will remove 40-min limit for Basic accounts. Currently available for schools in Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, South Korea and the United States....register here

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