The current emergency situation has caused many educational institutions to consider transitioning to online education to provide coverage to their students as long as the instructions for closing schools and universities and home confinement last. The members of the Edul@b research group, of the Open University of Catalonia, want to share in solidarity with the group of teachers at different educational levels our experience designing and carrying out online education. Many of you are aware that online teaching is not just about posting PDF materials or sending a video sequence recorded by the teacher. It’s much more than that. And doing it right is what will allow online education to be considered a high-quality educational modality.
Now, however, we need a quick solution to best address the situation we find ourselves in. We present you a series of recommendations in the form of a Decalogue for unexpected online teaching:
1. Select the most suitable system and work tools. As long as the institution has not previously determined them. These have to be simple and appropriate tools, than can work solidly, since we will have to apply a very short and fast learning curve. Lean towards those that students can easily use and are aimed at the ages of your students and, above all, take into account the devices that students already use regularly: mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Select the most appropriate tools for each objective and provide tutorials so that everyone, including families, will find it easy to apply.
2. Organise and prepare the students. Your students know how to use digital devices, but they do not necessarily know how to use them for learning. Learning is more than watching videos and downloading applications. Help them self-organise. Give them advice on how to organise the work space at home (comfort, light, silence, etc.). Within the flexibility they will have, it is necessary that they have a routine that helps them. Establish mechanisms that identify the beginning and end of each of the activities (e.g. start and end with a video, etc.). Consider the time it will take to do an online activity, which is different from what it takes to do it in person. Use reminders of tasks and activities, and share with them the process of learning about the use of technology: experience, mistakes, support, and do it with a little humour.
3. Spend time designing (re-designing) the course. In online education, planning is essential, as is good course design. Now surely you are not in a position to redesign an entire course, but to redesign some specific activities, so that the students do not lose the rhythm of the course. It is necessary for students to perceive that the presence and accompaniment of teachers exceed physical absence. Teaching presence can be expressed, for example, with a start video, a video conference at the end, and a couple of messages during the week. Generate clear work sequences that have a specific duration (e.g. one week). Structure permanent communication spaces (channel to Telegram, forum in the digital space, Gmail group), in order to maintain contact and send and receive suggestions, reinforcements to positive comments and curiosities to stimulate the work they do. Inform about these communication spaces and about how they will work and the frequency with which they can receive your feedback, to properly manage the expectations of the students. This will keep them motivated and active in the environment. Make sure to always answer each student, and do it by their name.
4. Create a set of activities, and accompany them with a set of teaching resources that help students solve them. It is necessary that your teaching is more focused on the activity than on the content. Consider authentic activities that place students in the application of concepts and that allow them to develop the competences they must achieve. Make a clear proposal for timing the activities, with intermediate deliveries. Prevent boredom. Staying in front of a screen, and not exactly to play, can be difficult and boring for students. Try to divide the activities into short sub-activities (10-15 min.). Whenever possible, use images, diagrams, maps, etc. to capture the attention of students and surprise them. Make them participate in the activity, so that they cannot carry it out with only a passive attitude, but must be involved. Interpel them.
5. Associate a set of resources with the activities. It will be the way in which students access content. Resources can be prepared on their own initiative, although we now have the opportunity to search for quality resources online. Open resources that are available in the different repositories that the Administrations and other organizations make available to teachers and other users. In resources especially, we must consider the inclusion pathways of people with different capacities, in order to ensure that the resources we are creating and selecting “on the progress” are accessible to all, without exception. It is necessary that the images and sounds can be interpreted by a text reader, for those who do not see or do not hear.
6. Create active interaction dynamics in the virtual environment to keep students connected and motivated, fostering an academic and social learning community that shares doubts, solutions, concerns… Develop collaborative activities that promote asynchronous interaction between students. You can offer them tools that facilitate collaborative work, such as Google Apps (although you can find others). You can design some synchronous situations, the essential ones, and that they are short and with very clear objectives.
7. Explain the evaluation model that will be carried out from the beginning and make the evaluation criteria explicit to the students, as well as the feedback that will be provided. It is necessary that you enhance continuous assessment as a tool that facilitates the monitoring of students and that gives you a lot of valuable information. Create diversified homework delivery spaces, such as a podcast for the students that are blind, or a written assignment for the hearing and speech impaired.
8. Generate social presence. When they are not used to it yet, non-classroom students run the risk of feeling lonely. Do not allow it. Make them feel that they are part of a community where everyone has the same goal: to learn while socialising. You can create message exchange spaces between the students themselves (a space free for debate, a forum space or a WhatsApp list can do the function). Depending on the age of your students, do the same for families: encourage them to connect with each other. Promote a positive and relaxed work environment.
9. Develop students’ critical spirit regarding technology. It is a great opportunity to make them, with your support, realise the benefits and also the risks of using technologies. Analyse “fake news”, contrast different information that can be found on the net, make them appreciate why there may be times when technology does not provide any added value and others in which absolutely.
10. Take the opportunity to work collaboratively with the closest classmates. They can help you define activities, solve doubts … But above all, they can make you feel accompanied, just like the students. Exchange your teaching practices online, your resources, or create a shared space that everyone has access to.
In order to carry out quality online teaching, training is required for all the teachers and an institutional strategy that covers the different actions carried out. These guidelines are only a resource for an exceptional situation such as the one we are currently experiencing. In the Edul@b research group, we trust that, until that arrives, these guidelines are most useful to you.
Below we share some open resources and recommendations that extend, in part, the Decalogue that we have presented to you.
- Smartpapers Edul@b # 1: Key elements in the design of collaborative activities in the network
- Smartpapers Edul@b # 2: Digital attitude: five key elements for participation in the digital society
- Smartpapers Edul@b # 3: The methodology for projects in the network