I am reading the posts on Schoology every day and in my email and there is so much to digest and so many possibilities and options for online teaching. I hope that some of what I’m sharing will be helpful some of the time, to some of you.
I do have experience teaching online courses for the Graduate School of Education at UB. We used Blackboard for course management so it’s different than Schoology, but I’ll share some of how I tried to keep the personal connection going with my students. As well, I’ll share some ways I worked with Blackboard for assignments and discussions. These are things that students commented about positively when they wrote their evaluations at the end of the semester.
Making Personal Connections– Using Video & Audio
Since the courses I taught were solely online, I never met my students in person. I am not a big fan of videotaping myself, but I did do an introduction video so they’d hear my voice and see me. I felt it was important for them to get a sense of who I was in order to feel more connected to the material.
Another thing I did for every new topic, was create an audio mini-podcast to introduce the topic and share my own experience with teaching (I taught pedagogy for school librarians) since I always remembered enjoying my classes more, when teachers shared their own experiences. You can simply record your audio using your phone then email it to yourself to upload to your course. I did learn that I needed to write out a script (usually just a page or two at the most) for the audio, otherwise I’d say UHM constantly. Writing out a script stopped me from doing that and also doubled as an aid to those who might be hearing impaired or would learn better from reading and listening.
You could post a video of your pet if you want to connect with students and don’t want to videotape yourself. Kids always seem to enjoy pets. As I type that, my kitten is curiously watching me type.
Making a Weekly Agenda and/or Module
One thing I did was create a weekly agenda that included objectives, topics, assignments, discussion and due dates. I posted this first before anything else. I also created a folder for each topic and put my podcasts, handouts, links, and other info. in each folder for the week. Since it was grad school, it was way more work than you would assign your students, but once I settled on a format, I kept it the same every week so it wouldn’t get too confusing.
Giving Students Choice
One thing that my students commented on regularly was the fact that they liked having choices when completing a discussion prompt or an assignment. Not all assignments can include choice but when I could do it, I tried to. This was particularly helpful in my situation because I had veteran teachers getting the certification, students who were already in a librarian job, and some students who had no experience in education at all. It was hard to meet their needs without offering choice whenever possible.
I’ll post some examples of discussion prompts I gave that included choice at the end of this blog post.
Reaching Out to Invisible Students
I had a few students who would post last or very lightly in the discussion section, would wait until the last minute (or not submit at all) to submit work, and basically would do the bare minimum. I know some professors would just let them slide but I felt an obligation to make sure I connected with these people too. I emailed them repeatedly and wouldn’t let them off the hook.
I also offered phone office hours but no one really took me up on that. I did get some students regularly asking for help via email though which was great. I guess my point here is just that I persisted in the connection, which I know you all would do too. So even if they couldn’t muster up the energy to do the work on time or to the best of their ability I still was there for them. I know you will be too.
Just another note, in addition to possibly making your own videos, you can of course make/use your slideshows and other images. I think making things as visual as possible, and breaking up text with images, as well as chunking information as much as possible, can also help students feel less overwhelmed by content. Variety in resources also is good for differentiation. World Book Online and GALE databases have resources of varying types, to help with this.
So in conclusion, I guess I’m saying that the personal connection and relationships you have with students, offering choices, creating a format and sticking to it along with clear agenda, and persisting even with those who don’t connect as much, are what I stuck to when teaching online.
I hope some of these tips or ideas will be helpful for you. Email, text, or call me. Or even send me a message here in the comments if you like.
BONUS: Edutopia article specific to dealing with handling this pandemic switch over to online learning. Take it easy on yourselves.