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As teachers embrace their new roles as designers, instructors, and facilitators of online learning, many are grappling the details associated with teaching remotely. It can be daunting to think about how to present information online, when and where to post assignments, how much to assign, and when to expect that work to be completed. Below are five lessons I learned as an online professor that helped me to adapt to and navigate the challenge of teaching online.

#1 Think of Your LMS as Your Online Classroom

When learning moves online, teachers have to think about their Google Classroom or the Learning Management System as their virtual classroom. The LMS becomes the space where we engage students in learning. It is not merely a vehicle to disseminate resources or collect assignments. Just as the physical classroom is not simply used to give students information or collect their work. Instead, your LMS is where students will engage with the course content, with each other, and with you, their teacher.

Teachers must use this online learning environment in dynamic ways to recreate the experiences learners are used to having in our brick and mortar classrooms. If you regularly engage students in discussions about the reading, videos, or current events, leverage your LMS’s functionality to create that experience online. If you value having students work collaboratively on shared tasks, you can recreate that experience online using a collaborative suite, like Google or Microsoft, in conjunction with your LMS.

#2 Deliver Course Materials at the Start of Each Week & Set Clear Due Dates

I recommend that teachers get a week ahead of their students in terms of the design and delivery of course materials. I know that is a big ask when most teachers had little, to no, warning that their schools were closing. However, in the world of online learning, students typically have access to an entire week’s worth of content at the beginning of the week. Teachers post everything students need for the week on Sunday then students have control over the time, place, and pace of their learning.

Posting work for the entire week allows learners to benefit from the flexibility that online learning affords. This is critical in our current situation because families are negotiating shared spaces, devices, and bandwidth. We cannot assume that students will have a consistent schedule that guides their work at home. They may be helping to care for younger siblings while parents are working remotely during the day. They must have a clear sense of what they need to do each week then decide how and when to tackle those tasks.

#3 Organize Course Materials into Modules

As teachers move work online, it is helpful to think more modularly about learning. Instead of assigning a complete lesson that may have many parts, I suggest breaking up the parts of the lesson into discrete tasks. For example, a single lesson in a classroom may be composed of direct instruction, a class discussion, and individual practice. In an online course, each of those things becomes a separate learning activity.

Offline LessonOnline Lesson
Direct instructionStudents watch a flipped video
in Edpuzzle and answer questions
about the content of the video
Students engage in an asynchronous
text-based online discussion where they
answer discussion questions and reply to
their peers’ posts
Individual practice Students complete review activities on
digital documents, use an adaptive
software program to practice, or complete
an assigned review activity with an online program, like Quizizz or Kahoot!

If teachers consider the time required to complete these activities in a classroom versus the time needed to engage in these activities online, it’s clear that these activities will necessitate significantly more time to complete online. For example, in a real-time class discussion, students share what comes to mind at the moment and only a fraction of the class will likely participate. By contrast, when students engage in an asynchronous online discussion, they usually have to read or watch something prior to posting their response, they have to think critically about the questions posed, and they have to craft a cogent written response. Once they’ve done all of that, they are usually required to read and reply to a few of their peers’ responses. This is a heavy cognitive lift that takes time.

Teachers must be sensitive to the demands that online assignments place on learners. If teachers break up the learning into smaller modules and discrete activities, it is easier to consider how much time it will take for a student to complete specific tasks. That can help us to avoid overburdening students and keep our expectations realistic as students learn remotely.

#4 Prioritize Student Communication & Collaboration

Learning remotely can be an isolating experience for students who are used to seeing their classmates every day. I encourage teachers to prioritize student communication, collaboration, and interaction when they design their online lessons. Instead of simply disseminating resources and assignments and collecting student work, consider the following questions:

  • How can I use the online space to connect learners?
  • How can I leverage tools, like online discussions and video conferencing software, to allow learners to engage with each other?
  • How can I utilize the collaborative nature of the Google Suite or Microsoft OneNote to get groups of students working on shared tasks together?
  • How can I make time to meet with my students to work with them virtually?

The more opportunities students have to communicate and collaborate with their peers online, the more likely they are to stay engaged in the learning happening online.

#5 Establish Clear “Office Hours”

Finally, students must know when and where they can go to get help while learning remotely. I suggest teachers use Google Meet or Zoom to host “drop-in office hours” a couple of times each week. F0r daily questions, students can email questions, post them to the Google Classroom stream, or send a direct message via their LMS.

I always encouraged my students to send their questions using Remind, the text message app. That way, I did not have to respond to a bunch of emails or log in to our LMS every couple of hours to check my inbox. Whichever strategy you use, it is essential to communicate with your students so they how to get support as they work remotely.

If you are an educator with experience teaching online classes, please take a moment to post a comment sharing any tips you think will help teachers who are new to teaching online.

27 Responses

  1. As far as I know, our district is not allowed to use remind. I have held Google Meet with my students and each time the same 10/27 kids get on. They are the ones who are doing any work posted for them. Trying to give them material is fun but also good instruction is the biggest challenge. We have posted a lot of enrichment activities that are fun but not too many are going for it because they know it is not required.

    • Hi Karen,

      Yes, that sounds similar to our situation in California. The lack of preparation/training for teachers, students, and parents combined with concerns about equity means that teachers cannot require anything. They are being told to do the best they can and put work online for kids who are checking in and want to continue learning.


  2. Thank you for sharing this. We will be using blended learning in our country – Philippines. What i have read right now could really help me in my work as we try to have an asynchronous sessions in my class this coming August 2020. I need to read more and apply what i have read in order for me to be ready for the opening of the school year. Again, thank you so much!

  3. We all are together on this. To start we need to work hard, but if we really care for the student we will be prepare and we will be able to prepare them too.

  4. Catlin,
    This Spring I started putting my weekly scaffolds (course materials) out on Wednesdays. The students liked it bc then they werent overwhelmed on Monday. I believe we shouldnt have 7 online classes, but since that might not go away any time soon, do you see and advantage to staggering the dissemination of materials? Math on monday, science on tuesday etc? Thanks for all that you do!!

    • Hi Stacy,

      That’s a great suggestion. If you can coordinate with other teachers to stagger the dissemination of resources, I can imagine that would be helpful for students.

      Take care!

  5. I think the most important aspect of online teaching is for the students to SEE you!! Almost every lesson I posted I made sure to make a screencastify or recorded video of me explaining what they would be doing. DON’T just post activities. Take the time to teach them!

    • Katherine,
      I agree with you. Each week I made sure the students would see me and hear me in some form. We worked as an 8th-grade social studies team to create lessons. This was so helpful to develop different types of activities each week. I could have never done as well on my own. I am so thankful I had a collaborative team to create success for our students.

    • During the time that most districts were totally online, my districts was doing an hybrid model. We had students to come two days a week and the rest of the week online. That was for the most part a good thing because we could visually see students and teach accordingly the primary focus of the lesson during the time they were in building and times they were online we were able to design lessons to re-inforce what was talked about in person.

  6. Thinking back to my distance learning experience last year, I am shocked at how unprepared I was. Most of my colleagues worked really hard, put in more hours than while IN school, and we ended the school year frustrated and tired. I am sad to admit that most of my time was spent creating lessons and disseminating information. Even though I consciously searched for activities, articles, videos, etc. that I thought would be both interesting and instructive, I did not prioritize student collaboration and communication.

    • You are not alone, Barb. I have been working with teachers nonstop for the last four months on online/blended learning. The experience you describe is what a lot of teachers experienced this spring. There was such little warning and most teachers were in survival mode. I hope this summer provides a little time and space to think about engaging students online in the event that school return on a hybrid schedule or are forced back online for a stretch of time.

      Take care,

  7. I am so thankful I had a PLC team this spring to create our online curriculum together. We were able to divide and conquer, and I know, if I would have had to do it alone, it would have been much more stressful for me. We did a great job using several of the tips provided in this article. Because of our successes, I feel much more confident facing the possibility of more online teaching in the future.

  8. I think breaking what we need/want to get done at work in smaller chunks, creates more time for the things we may prioritize for our personal life. One day at a time or week at a time while knowing where you want to end up in your class as a teacher

  9. I like tip 2# ( Deliver Course Materials at the Start of Each Week & Set Clear Due Dates) As mentioned in the notes for tip 2#, being a week or two ahead will give both students and teacher some breathing room when talking about the design of the assignments and delivery of course materials for the assignment. In our district we had to use google classroom as the LMS and it was really easy to navigate through the program to assign lessons. Students are able to work independently or collaboratively when needed and it was easy for them to navigate LMS as well.

  10. Tip4 is important. I liked how it focused on student communication. Online learning is a huge transition for elementary students, especially the social butterflies. Students need connections to other students. They need interactions with other students and teachers.

  11. I taught 100% online during COVID for the first time with not prior PD or support. I was fortunate to have engaged parents and students. I agree its important that teachers post assignments early for parents and teachers to plan for completing assignments. I continue this practice of continued communication with my parents now that we have returned to in school instruction.

  12. Teaching remotely was a most frustrating experience for me, although my immediate supervisor said that it didn’t show. I was convinced that I was a miserable failure and couldn’t pull off “this Zoom thing”. Thankfully, I made it through the school year.

    The trick was to appear composed and admit to my student that I was not very good with technology. They were extremely supportive in guiding me through simple tasks like screen sharing. The feeling of vulnerability helped me to be even more understanding when students struggled with any part of the course. My big tip is to keep calm and ask for help when needed. It will all work out.

    • LOL! I hear you Coral. Yes, although I was out during the virtual teaching, I heard so many Horry stories from my co-teachers about the virtual teaching. Glad you made it through the Zoom process. Some did not due to the frustration getting the best of them. Me personally, I would probably have panicked just as I do each time I take technology or digital learning trainings/courses. My big problem is that I wait until it’s too late to ask for the help. Thanks for sharing!

    • I know when then the pandemic first started, I was not teaching and was on medical leave, I watched my fellow co-workers struggle, complain and get upset with the learning process of teaching virtual. I am so glad that I wasn’t a part of that transition. I am not a huge technology person for doing work if I don’t have to, but these days, it seems everything needs to be done online either for work, school, appointments, business, etc. I did have to use the technology piece during that time though because I had to make contact with my son school. During this time, I ended up having to learn how to use Remind because that’s what his teacher was using for communication, but some other teachers where using something like Google Meet or Class Tag. This upcoming school year, my district has been training and introducing a new means of communication called “Parent Square”. I have already uploaded it and they started sending a few messages before school got out for the summer to see if it was working correctly or to help teachers start getting familiar with the different sections. I’m not sure if I like any of it, but I do know with how things are going these days, they must be preparing to be ready in case another shut down happens.

      I have had more knowledge and experiences with these two online teaching techniques:

      #1 Think of Your LMS as Your Online Classroom
      #5 Establish Clear “Office Hours”

      I am familiar with these other techniques and I understand how important they are. These are important teaching tips and I will be using them this year as I prepare for the upcoming students.

      #2 Deliver Course Materials at the Start of Each Week & Set Clear Due Dates (prepping over summer break)
      #3 Organize Course Materials into Modules (first 2-3 weeks of school) to be done weekly though
      #4 Prioritize Student Communication & Collaboration (prepping over summer break)

  13. I use a playlist of videos, Edpuzzles, Pear Decks and NearPods developed during Covid years. They have not changed my in the last three years. My studetns who are absent are require to access lessons online and turn in their work to Google Classroom. The major problem is that many of my lower economic students do not have access to a network even though they have their school Chromebooks.

    • Hi Ellen,

      You make a great point about access to the internet and the equity issues that creates. It is definitely something educators must consider, especially when assigning online work beyond the classroom.

      Take care.

    • Thanks for sharing Ellen. You are so right about some students not having access to a network to do their online work. I’m not sure where you are located, but I do know that my son previous school during the pandemic provided chrome books and mobile hotspot devices for all students that had no access to the internet and they made it work so there wasn’t an excuse as to why students didn’t connect. It seem, the reason after that some students didn’t connect was because their parents didn’t know how to use the devices for online purposes or had no knowledge of some assignments their kiddos were receiving. Once that was noticed, then the district had families to sign a list if they wanted a social worker or someone to come to their house and help them get connected for the future courses. This seemed to help or reduce the number of absences once everyone was able to connect. I personally am not a fan of teaching many small kiddos online if we have to go back to that, but many of the digital courses or trainings I’ve been doing seems to be preparing me for this method. Society will eventually be all digital one day, but until it is , I am accepting any new information on other online methods or sites to practice. I would definitely like to hear how Edpuzzles, Pear Decks, and Near pods are helpful or what they are used for. I’ve never heard of either of them. Thanks

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