teach online photo-of-woman-holding-mug

Congratulations! You are now on the road to adapting your classes in order to teach online. Whether or not you’re ready, you’ll be stuck with it for the near (and possibly distant) future. I don’t have to tell you that adjusting your curriculum mid-semester will require a tremendous amount of focus. Take it from a college teacher that has had to adapt courses for at least 5 different disasters, don’t waste your precious energy on stuff you don’t need.

Teaching During Quarantine

We’ve all been on the internet adapting and learning what it means to live under quarantine due to COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus). I’m barely teaching this semester but I read something today that I reshared on Facebook because it’s so valuable. A fellow teacher shared this fantastic article by Rebecca Barrett-Fox, a writer and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Arkansas State University, that goes into great detail on many of the factors educators don’t think about when transferring their curriculum to an online environment. Some of my favorites she mentioned:

  • Students will be accessing internet from their phones
  • They really don’t have the tech they need, internet speeds, data plans, etc.
  • So many will be parenting and doing their schoolwork with children in the room
  • Many will experience financial hardship, loss of jobs, and illness
  • They will be anxious and need reassurance (This one was the biggest for me to learn.)

person in blue hoodie eyes to face surrounded by boxesShe covers it so eloquently and completely that I highly recommend you read what she wrote. Even after as much as I’ve taught through, she clearly has much more experience than I so I know you’ll learn from her as well. After several of my friends shared my post with their teacher friends, I realized that I could add my own value to this conversation. Below are some tips I have for anyone transitioning to teach online.

Qualifier

Since 2011 I’ve taught thousands of people local to me and throughout the world. In 2013 I started lecturing in traditional school systems. I’ve taught K-12 students business and social media curriculum. I’ve taught undergrad students social media at community colleges and a CSU. I teach adult learners of all ages and skill levels.

My experience has been tumultuous for all the reasons that teaching can be hard. I truly love it BUT just recently realized that I’ve weathered more than a few special circumstances in the form of disaster. I live in Santa Rosa, CA just north of San Francisco which is important. Let me list recent experiences for you:

  • Last week of September 2017 – Hurricane Harvey devastates Texas. I lose at least one very promising student that must move across country to take advantage of the opportunity to provide for his family. He specialized in disaster relief.
  • black-smartphone-displaying-911-teach-onlineOctober 1, 2017 – Las Vegas shooting. The shooting happened Sunday night but when I started my Monday morning class, word had trickled through our school (and my classroom) that a student was at the concert and still unaccounted for. It was still an active shooting environment during class. It turned out she was okay, but we didn’t know that at the time. 58 people died, 413 were wounded. Our campus was visibly rattled.
  • October 9, 2017 – Tubbs Fire. My hometown was razed by wildfire. I was safe but ultimately 24 people died and 5600+ houses were lost. Evacuations, houses burned, whole neighborhoods gone, health compromised, businesses wiped out. My students, colleagues, and community were traumatized. We cancelled school for about 2 weeks and I had to toss out content and drastically condense my course. All due dates were changed. Approximately 30% of my students didn’t come back to class or trickled away shortly after.
  • November 8, 2018 – Camp Fire. My town was safe but the skies were blood red due to our proximity. My whole community was bleeding with PTSD and experienced the horror all over again. 85 people died. Several of my students were directly affected, losing property or family in the process.
  • March 2019 – Local Floods. Damages 578 businesses. Evacuations. All around havoc. Many of my students were affected and needed my understanding with due dates.
  • October 9 (anniversary of Tubbs Fire) through November 1, 2019 – Public Safety Power Shutoffs. PG&E turns off the power to 450,000+ individuals. Businesses lose entire inventory, disability and elderly communities are at risk, uncertainty, panic buying, general fear on top of it being fire season. Campuses closed. By this time, I was really comfortable chucking whole sections, condensing, and adjusting weeks of due dates.
  • Late 2019-current – COVID-19 or Coronavirus. Many countries are quarantined, status fluid. Campuses closed.

As a result of this string of episodes, I’ve become one with flexibility and have been forced by fire to learn how to teach online. How do we stay true to what they need to learn? What are the learning objectives? How can I toss the unnecessary? How do I make sure my students feel compassion and support from me?

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Tools I use

The following is about how I teach semester long classes. Most of my classes are in person but I’ve set up my system so that I can teach online just as effectively as I do in a classroom.

  • I use Google Drive. Works with PC & Mac and all mobile.
  • I keep lecture notes & reading lists in Google Docs.
  • I record my lectures on Zoom which offers recordings in the cloud and works with assistive software. My students LOVE being able to access recordings and they tell me about it all the time.
  • If there’s an accompanying slide deck, I use Google Slides (sometimes PowerPoint) to create, turn it into a .pdf and upload to Google Drive which I then link the deck to the lecture notes.
  • I port my school email boxes into my iPhone email client and can track comms from my students in real time, if necessary.
  • All assignments I require are to be done in Google Docs, Sheets, etc. The secondary lesson there is that I’m teaching my students how to use collaborative software (they don’t actually know how, they’ve been stumbling through). I leave comments on their assignments right inside the document.
  • If a student wants to talk to me, I can setup office hours via phone or Zoom. I love this tool because it allows us to not only have audio, video, via app, internet or phone, and record sessions but it allows us to share screens with each other to see what’s on our computers. As a teacher of technology, sometimes I NEED to look over their shoulder.
  • I don’t rely on the Learning Management Systems (LMS) provided to the schools because there is considerable lag time and I’ve found messages from students sometimes don’t get delivered at all. Older students struggle with these proprietary systems, they’re just trying to wrap their brains around being back in school. LMS are overwhelming. Additionally, I’ve taught at up to 3 campuses in a day so using different LMS at each is tough on my brain. I use one system, GDrive, and my tools look the same no matter where I’m teaching.
  • In case you’re interested, I have a MacBook Pro and iPhone 8. I do keep a gear bag with me that includes a mouse, adapters, power cords, headphones, thumb drives, credit card swiper, pens, batteries, small ring light, hand fan, and a presentation clicker. No matter where I am, I have all the tools I need.

There are a lot of other great systems out there. These are just what I use on a daily basis.

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