Lessons Learned Delivering Virtual Learning Experiences

By Melinda Kong, director of instructional design and learning management system, Nyack College

Melinda Kong

As we emerge from the last few months of the sudden online teaching shift for courses intended for classroom settings, there are a few glaring lessons learned that will help propel educators forward into the future. While much is still unknown for what the next several months will hold, it is certain that online classwork will be a predominant feature in education.

The methods of online teaching will look different within each education context from K12 to higher education, but one thing is certain; online learning is here to stay and we must adapt to the needs of current and incoming students.

We will likely see a mix of three offerings when thinking about the new normal of distanced learning; the continued implementation of hybrid courses, full fall terms taught online-only, and even HyFlex courses, in which students will be able to be in either face-to-face classes or join virtually when needed.

As educators, it’s important to look at what happened as courses were quickly moved online and learn from what was able to be accomplished. Understanding what worked well and what didn’t will help all educators grow and adopt better pedagogy for online instruction.

Foundationally all courses, despite their delivery makeup, involve diligent planning. All teachers, whether in a face-to-face classroom, online course, or a mix of the two, plan extensively for their courses.

However, with online courses even more planning needs to take place. Activities such as lectures and student presentations need to be recorded and content spaces need to be created. Teachers also need to continue posting opportunities for students and exploring new innovations or tools to enhance their students’ learning experiences.

As teachers transitioned their physical classrooms into remote classrooms overnight, time pressures made it hard to plan out and research what would work best. Each day new tools were coming online and companies were giving deep discounts to use their services. This overwhelming onslaught of information had teachers and administrators rushing to set up courses for students.

Now that the spring term has ended, or is nearing an end, teachers have the opportunity to evaluate those tools. What worked for their students and what didn’t? Now is the time to plan for courses to be fully online and look into what other tools are out there that can be used effectively in the online classroom.

Teachers will have the opportunity now before a class has started to set up etiquette rules for their students, many of whom may be brand new to the experience of flourishing in an online learning environment.

As assignments and online learning activities are being planned, it is important to remember the students. When communicating with them, you will want to be clear and never assume what may seem obvious to you. Give full, clear instructions for students to follow.

Have assignment due dates and project timelines clearly posted. Let them know grading guidelines ahead of time and how much time is expected to accomplish a task.

This helps students plan out their time, especially when faced with multiple online courses. Knowing what is expected and how long an assignment could potentially take will help the student stay in sync with the course work and not fall behind.

Using the first week of a course to orient students to an online format and expected behaviors, enables you to set the tone for the semester in this new normal. The basis of a healthy online learning relationship is clear expectations for all persons involved.

Applications, such as Zoom, have become household names, and the world of video conferencing has been leveraged heavily for educators to connect with their classes and deliver content to students. This has brought on its own set of challenges for teaching as everyone learns how to operate within this video conferencing world.

Discrepancies in internet connection speeds and quiet spaces to study have left some students anxious about what their courses will be like. It’s important to connect with students and create a welcoming online environment, and yes, video conferencing is a great tool for doing this.

Do not underestimate the power of eye-contact. Seeing others physically often helps someone with listening to them; both their verbals and non-verbals. Make sure that you speak clearly.If you talk fast, slow down because lag times can result in missed words and create more questions.

Have clear rules for students to follow when joining the live classroom and check-in with those students individually who are struggling to attend meetings. Keep live sessions short and have a set agenda of expectations of what is to be accomplished.

Determine ahead of time how questions are going to be addressed by students. Will they be able to ask during the session or would you prefer they wait until the end? Will students be broken into smaller groups for a small group session?

Give students hand signals that they can use when they have a question or have something to add to the class discussion. If you have a presentation for students that is intended to be shared during the live session, consider letting students preview the presentation first or review it afterward so that if they have connection issues, they won’t feel left behind or miss what is being taught.

As educators continue to adapt to the ever-changing educational landscape and leverage online learning tools it’s important to remember to keep our mindset and words positive, be willing to adapt and have patience both with students and technology.

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