Planning for online instruction isn’t really different from planning for in-person instruction – you need to know who you’re teaching, what you’re teaching, and how you’re teaching your students. However, there are a few significant differences that can impact the successful delivery of your online lesson. In order to avoid the pitfalls of teaching online, you must plan out what you want to achieve with your students and how you’re going to make this happen. At the same time you need to plan for what could happen and how to respond to expected and unexpected issues. If something can go wrong with your technology or your students’ tech, it usually will.
Let’s explore some important considerations of online instruction. Imagine you have a student who needs help with understanding measurement.
1. It’s always important to start by creating an objective for your lesson. What is it you want your students to learn?
2. Identify the means and the medium that you will use to teach your students. Will you be teaching using a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction (blended learning); live, online-only session (synchronous); posting lessons online for students to work through (asynchronous); or some combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction? Will you be sharing a website or any links that students will need access to?
3. Review the limitations and affordances of the medium that you have selected. If you choose to use a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, you can create a library of videos for students to watch before, during, and/or after their live sessions with you. During live, synchronous lessons you can have students measure objects around the room with a ruler, you can have them use measuring cups to examine liquid measures, or use a scale to measure weight. You may find that there is an advantage to having students use the tools and objects in their own homes because it can create the relevancy that in-person instruction cannot.
4. Explore how you plan on interacting with your students, as well as if and how you would like them to interact with each other. Are you simply lecturing to your students, are you discussing topics as a class, or are you assigning students to groups?
5. Identify and share a plan for how you plan on communicating with students and their parents (phone calls, emails, texts, school portal, etc.), as well as the different channels you will use to distribute and collect their assignments. Will students be using a shared Google folder or will they be responsible for emailing or uploading their assignments?
6. Make plans to go over all of your expectations with your students and include different opportunities for you to model these behaviors for them.
7. Have a backup plan! Murphy’s Law says what can go wrong will go wrong, and this couldn’t be more true than with technology. Include hardcopies of your syllabus and assignments for students, so that they have more than one way to access essential information. Also, include and review instructions regarding what students should do when they are having tech issues, and/or they cannot access your online class. Don’t make students or their parents have to guess what they’re supposed to do – follow up with students right away when they miss class or assignments.
8. Put yourself in your students’ shoes. When you teach in-person you have a captive audience, students are stuck with you whether the lessons work for them or not, but when they are learning online and students are not engaged, they can very easily find something else to do… camera’s suddenly turn off and/or computers “suddenly” disconnect. Construct your lessons so that students have buy-in and are engaged in their learning.
9. Think outside the box. Students don’t need to sit in front of the computer the entire lesson, even when the camera is rolling – it’s okay for them to work quietly. You can also take students on an adventure … take them on an adventure as you measure things around your room. Teaching online gives you the opportunity to build a bridge between the people and things students interact with every day, and the lessons you are teaching them.
Planning for online learning is not more of a challenge than planning for in-person instruction, it is a different type of challenge. As an instructor, you just need to identify all of the parts of the lessons and how they will fit together. In addition, you need to consider some of the barriers that you’ll encounter, and be prepared to address them. Not every student will be thrilled about learning online, but most will adapt, and many will come around to seeing the perks if you are able to engage them in your online lessons.