I don’t usually have a reason to talk about my day job on my author platforms, but over the past few days I’ve been seeing friends and acquaintances talk about how they suddenly have to shift to online learning, whether they’re teachers or students, thanks to coronavirus. Though the reason for the change is unwanted, school can still be in session with the help of a few simple tools.
You see, I’m not a teacher. I’m not an administrator. I don’t work directly with students. I have been developing e-learning content for the past 7-8 years. I’m the person that develops the content that Pearson or Discovery Education or whoever publishes, which your school or district then approves. A lot of what I do is ed-tech adjacent–I’m developing content that will be delivered through an online platform, even though I personally only deal with Google Docs and Microsoft Office files.
Given this, I’m used to thinking about how digital tools work with education. However, I recognize that while the “ed industry” has been prepared for virtual learning for years, your local school may not have the infrastructure or interest in that shift. So to have something suddenly forcing this shift may feel overwhelming.
It’ll be an adjustment at first, but you can use digital tools to replicate your brick-and-mortar experience as best as possible. In my opinion, there are two key components in making a digital solution work: real-time collaboration and file transfer. Your ad-hoc ecosystem needs to solve for these issues first just so you can continue with minimal interruption.
Your sudden shift to the digital world doesn’t have to mean that you no longer have class times. Set up a Slack space or Discord server with your classes–something that enables you to have live voice and video chats. You can still hold your 11am class, just as a conference call. In Slack or Discord, you can set up individual channels for each class period to enable discussion. You could post a prompt in Slack and ask students to post their responses, or assign students small groups to watch a video and discuss.
Basically, you want a tool that will make quick communication organized and easy, with the options of video and voice conferencing.
Your students still need to submit assignments to you. One of the best solutions is to create a Google Drive folder (or several) for your classes. Provide students and families with clear instructions on how and where to upload homework files. A Drive folder will keep that work in a single place so it won’t get lost in email attachments or chats. Students can still complete writing assignments and assessments, and you’ll be able to leave comments on their work.
How this can work
I’ll ground this in an English/Language Arts example, since that’s the main area of content development I do in the day job. And I’m gonna add anime references because why not?
So, in My Lit Course Academia, we’re reading Jane Eyre, but my school is closing because of COVID-19! How will I offer my course online?
- I make a Slack workspace or Discord server for My Lit Course Academia.
- I create separate channels for each of my class periods (e.g., #period_1, #period_7).
- I invite all of my students to the workspace/server and they use their emails or usernames to log in.
- I invite my #period_1 students to a Google hangout or other video chat for regular class at 8:00am. I hold #period_2 at 9:00am, and so forth, basically keeping the same schedule I had in the building, just online instead!
- For group or independent work time, I post a video clip of a film adaptation in Slack/Discord and ask students to discuss several questions about it. I give everyone a chance to respond and may tag specific students if they haven’t responded. (e.g., @Bakugo, we haven’t heard from you yet! How does this clip enhance or detract from this same scene in the book?).
- For homework, I post a link to a Google folder and ask students to write a paragraph explaining how Jane Eyre changes over the course of the chapter, then assign the next chapter for reading. I post a link to Jane Eyre on Project Gutenberg for students who don’t have a physical copy of the book.
- If I need to give an exam, I can make copies for each student to type directly in the doc. I can also schedule one-on-one video chats for oral exams. For multiple choice and other types of assessment questions, I can use Google Forms.
With a structure like this, I can continue giving my lessons without too much disruption. It’s not the best permanent solution, but it works for the time being.
We don’t know how long the massive public concern over COVID-19 will last. But after you get up and running with an ad-hoc digital solution, it can’t hurt to plan for this situation being more permanent than we want it to be. You’ll eventually want to look into proper learning management systems (LMS) such as Canvas, Thought Industries, Moodle, or Articulate. These are platforms used to build and deliver entire courses online in a single environment. Most of these will include interactive page elements and auto-graded assessment capabilities. You or your district (most likely your district) may need to begin migrating your courses to an LMS. Some of these platforms will let you create an individual free account so you can try building your content sooner rather than later.
In an ideal world, companies like my day job company work with the content publisher to design and place all the stuff in the platform for you, but if you suddenly have to switch, you may have to do it yourself. While any new tool takes some getting used to, many popular LMS are pretty user-friendly. Canvas in particular has a lot of support documentation to explain how everything works.
COVID-19 may be forcing a faster shift into online learning, and there are still many barriers to overcome in making the switch. Some subject areas are much more challenging to teach virtually than others. But if you have to do it now, you can get started and make it work. You’ll hone your approach over time, but the switch doesn’t have to be as disruptive as you might fear.
This is an oddball post for me. I’m normally here to talk about writing and author things! If you like poetry, be sure to check out my books, Forgive Us Our Trespasses and Lest I Know Your Weakness. Both are available on Amazon. Forgive Us Our Trespasses weaves a tapestry of faith, doubt, hope, and bitterness. Lest I Know Your Weakness retells the vampiric love story of Carmilla in alternating poems.