Best practices in online teaching needed in face of coronavirus

March 31, 2020 — by Andy Chen
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With the coronavirus shutting down in-person education in wide swaths of the U.S., thousands of schools have switched to an online model. This reality presents both enormous challenges but also some opportunities.

Many students’ initial impression of online schooling is of a normal classroom session in which teachers lecture over video call while students (may or may not) listen. 

This system may seem sound, but in reality, having online classrooms (a system called synchronous learning) is mostly inconvenient and unreliable for both teachers and students. In an online setting, teachers seem to have a difficult time effectively teaching while managing 30 or more students, so students can easily ignore entire lectures by opening new tabs or using their phones on the side.

When establishing ways to teach online, teachers should primarily be concerned with keeping students honest about their learning; what they implement must not only work well in theory, but also guarantee that students take it seriously.

With this in mind, teachers should release daily or weekly sets of video lessons so students can learn at their own pace. Many students might have a harder time learning in an online setting compared to in-person, so being able to rewind to certain sections of a lecture is valuable to many students. 

To make sure that students are actually watching these lectures, homework should (obviously) be assigned and graded on a regular basis. Teachers can also embed questions within their video lectures using the Studio feature in Canvas, which would ensure student accountability. 

The downside of video lectures is that students wouldn’t have a way to ask questions during these lectures. To accommodate this, teachers could implement either an online discussion forum — classes like world history and AP Lang already have similar forums on Canvas to great success — or a daily tutorial-esque video call period in which students could ask teachers for help.

Additionally, in order for students and teachers to see how effective the curriculum is, teachers should introduce more formative assessments — by making these assessments formative rather than summative, students will be less incentivized to cheat, and students can see if they truly understand the material. If students consistently score poorly on these formative assessments, either because they don’t understand the curriculum or aren’t making an effort, teachers can divert extra attention to help them.

In the unlikely event that the pandemic resolves before the end of the school year, students should be given a graded assessment on everything they’ve learned through online schooling. Otherwise, teachers should continue to give substitute formative assessments so students can see how much they truly understand material.

The math department’s assessment procedure is a good example of how to effectively allow students to recognize their understanding of the material. According to the procedure, assessments are now split into two parts: a “rough draft” and a “final draft,” which are to be taken on seperate days. 

Students are encouraged to take the rough draft assessment without the use of outside resources, just like a normal test, and this rough draft will be graded on completion in the homework category rather than by accuracy in the test category. However, the final draft, which is identical to the rough draft, is graded by accuracy for an assessment grade, but students are permitted to use outside resources, such as calculators and the internet. Through this process, students will be able to understand how much of the curriculum they actually know through the rough draft and reapply what they’ve learned to secure a higher score on the final draft.

No matter what strategies individual teachers end up using, teachers within the same department should collaborate to decide on a unified approach to online education. This way, students with different teachers can rest assured of fairness, and teachers within the same department will easily be able to collaborate and help each other with curriculum while the coronavirus shelter-in-place lasts. 

The situation regarding the coronavirus is challenging and unexpected, but if teachers and students manage to cooperate and establish well-planned online schooling strategies, everyone will easily transition back after the pandemic settles, and teachers will have many more tools in their tool bucket to make their in-person classes even better.