How to teach online [Week 1/3]

Learning reflections from a practical course on online teaching.

How to teach online [Week 1/3]

This is the course title I enrolled in on a social learning platform called FutureLearn (#notasponsor).  I have a good friend who enrolled in this along with me, so we can learn and reflect on it together. It is supposed to be a 3-week online course.

The structure of the course was clearly defined to manage our expectations as learners, and the course was also designed to have the first 3 exercises encourage rapport building among the learners.  That already began to construct the feeling of a sense of belonging to the course community, and a sense of routine, knowing that they are many others in similar shoes as ours, albeit coming from a variety of backgrounds.

How To Teach Online - Online Teaching Course - FutureLearn
Explore online teaching with this practical course for educators designed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For week 1, we went through a couple of starter topics.

Preparing your students for success: Who & How?  

The course got us thinking about what or who we have, and also reflecting on what our who's have.  Basically, the first task was to think about our students and their background, access, skills, wellbeing, our students' personas...  Once we know what we have to work with, the next part encouraged us to think about 3 components to support and engage our learners: Share a plan, create a central place, and craft a community.  

Share a plan, create a central place, and craft a community.  

What was useful was that the course itself has been modelling this for us.  Firstly, presenting the 3-week syllabus for this online course enables us as students to envision the learning commitment needed, understanding the routine that may be required to complete this course is helpful in managing expectations.  Secondly, this course is accessed only on this platform, thus ensuring that we will only need to be here for all the learning resources, instructions, and support we need.  Thirdly, intentionally designing 3 simple starting exercises for us learners helped ease us into the course, enabled the facilitators to have a simple gauge on who they are supporting, and also allowed us to create a community through simple introductions in the commenting section.  Wow, that just linked back to the satisfaction triangle! They are designing this course by ensuring that us learners felt safe (syllabus and timeline to create routine), felt the sense of belonging (learning community), have our self identity (everyone is different), yet significant (everyone can contribute).

Establish the feeling of safety, before introducing changes to your routine, as emotion is a powerful force in human to accept or deny change.

Building an online learning activity.  

The course emphasised and reminded us to be our usual teacher self. Practise what we usually do: Plan - Design - Build - Run - Review. To plan, look at the present on what we have, what we need to do right away.  This could mean different things to different educators, including resetting our classroom management and routines, rediagnose our learners, just reaching out to make sure our kids are okay and ready to change their way of learning too, or even more importantly, reset ourselves to a new frame of mind and connect with other educators for support.

Breathe. Observe. Plan. Then be...

Then look into our constraints (time, curriculum coverage, accessibility, resources available to you now) and reflect on what we truly need to achieve with our learners. Sometimes, a trendy solution may not be what our learners really need.  Live video conferencing, for example, was a bandwagon a lot of people jumped on during lockdown.  However, I have learned from a lecturer of mine (Mr. Tim Neumann, UCL) that synchronous online learning (i.e. video conferencing) may not need to be the first choice when it comes to learning delivery.  If what we really need is just a daily one-liner instruction or question to our students on a group chat for the first week, or a powerpoint slide with our voice recorded over it to guide our students over the slides, so be it!  Simply said, be present!

Show your educator's presences to your learners. Just be their teacher, be you!

Change is inevitable, and it can be scary. But it is also a good catalyst to spark our curiosity as educators and as learners. Should our teaching practices be different now? What can we try? What is out there? What have everyone tried and tested? Can we still do the same things but differently or can we do different things?

Doing different things or doing things differently?

Week 1 focused on reassuring us it is ok to take a bit of time to reset ourselves and begin trying something that may be new or unfamiliar.  We were also reminded to just reflect on what we feel and learn as we "dip our feet in the water of online learning".  Reflection is always good for learning, or in our case, planning as well. ;P

Next week will be about getting in the zone and engaging our learners. So, stay tuned!