Everything you need to know about online teaching

So you are teaching from home.

You have everything you need: a desk in a quiet place, a good computer or a tablet, a reliable internet connection. Every student got one. You have a Learning Management System (LMS). Students know how to use it and so forth. So everything’s fine.

All you need is to know how to deliver online classes in the most effective possible way, how to set up your virtual class in a new learning environment. But that’s not the easy part. As one can read in 5 Traps That Will Kill Online Learning (and Strategies to Avoid Them):

Another big pitfall is thinking that if you know how to teach in the physical world, all you need to do is just log onto an online tool, and you will be effective at teaching in the virtual world. That is just absolutely not true.

Indeed, it’s not about how to replicate your lessons in another medium. In fact, you have to find a new way of teaching. You have to ask yourself how students learn online and when and even what.

In this document, to begin with, we’ll talk about the equipment you need to embrace online teaching. We’ll then show you how to design an online lesson. You’ll then learn how to engage students and how to communicate despite the distance. Finally, we’ll explain how to assess online so we avoid any cheating issues.

Prepare your desk

A laptop and a tablet

So one device to speak and see (Zoom), one device to write (whiteboard app).

If you need help to use Zoom, please read this four parts tutorial. If you need to understand how to create, use, share a whiteboard, please refer to this document.

Not to mention a silent and well-lit place, a proper desk for all these devices (and probably books and paper. So a lot of space) and, of course, headphones.

That’s it?

Well, there’s more… But this can’t be mandatory because it has a cost.

It occurred to me that if I had to spend so much time online, I had to invest a little bit (and all this gear could be used for making podcasts and videos as well). Let me explain: one must confess that the camera on most computers is not very good. To be honest, the one on my MacBook is terrible. However, the one on my iPhone is good. So I bought this multi-angle arm on Amazon. Not only it allows me to show myself so that students don’t only see me from the bottom offering a good overview of my chin, it also can be used as a document viewer, provided you download this free app, Overview.

In addition, I bought a USB microphone. After reading some articles (this one, this one and that one), I picked the Rode NT-USB. Coupled with an arm, it will avoid any pain neck.

So now we’re good to go. Fire up Zoom!

Guidance for remote teaching

[…] think carefully about the physical space from which they will be streaming and how this is going to look on screen from the students’ point of view (no inappropriate visuals, no personal information, no sensitive information).

[…] be fully dressed for work if teaching from home.

We also added these important things:

  • You do not know who could be listening
  • All contacts to be made exclusively through school-issued email accounts
  • No use of personal phone numbers, no WhatsApp, no personal email.

I want to stress the importance of the first advice in this list: you don’t know who is listening. This could be a brother or a sister (children may share a room). This could be a parent (monitoring his/her child, being curious…). Your lesson could be recorded (without your knowledge) and shared with others…

So there is a lot of issues to bear in mind. You have to be careful.

Plan your online classes

Give clear instructions & guidelines

I try to prioritise things clearly, make organisation and navigation easy, in Google Classroom for instance. But Trello is a great tool for managing and collaborating with team members (your colleagues in your department or your students) on work projects and tasks.

Moreover, during online teaching, you can’t improvise. In a brick-and-mortar school, you can easily do that: a student raises a question and you go for it. You start answering and you give up what you had planned, because it seems now more relevant, more important…

Online, you need to follow a procedure because it’s much harder to improvise. (it’s feasible but it’s harder). You got to give your students a clear direction of what is expected. Otherwise, they are going to be confused, to wait for clear instructions, seated in a bedroom with only a Zoom meeting. And they probably won’t listen the all-day…

According to me, this advice (from this article I mentioned above) is the best one can give:

the learning content is one small fraction of an effective learning experience.

In my view, during online teaching, you need to move a little bit away from content and lean toward skills, task-based assessment or questions that students don’t just have to Google. Moreover, you need to reflect on that: the content on one hand and the way you are going to deliver it online on the other hand.

We’ll see that in the next section, but keep in mind that, to engage students, you need to give them a task to accomplish, to do something other than listening. If they only have to listen, they can get easily bored, they drift off, they can simply turn off the camera and the mic, and nothing is happening. To avoid that, you can give them work that has to be done before the end of the class. You can then check if this is done or not, provide feedback and so on. Assessing a good listener on Zoom is much harder!

Synchronous and asynchronous learning

I do think there is a need to alternate synchronous and asynchronous moments. In fact, in my view, your class should be a combination of the two.

A synchronous lesson’s purpose is to gather everyone (both teacher and students or a group of students), to maybe feeling a sense of being part of a community, to exchange ideas in real-time and get immediate feedback… But, according to me, you don’t need in-person communication which requires no interaction. Instead use videos to deliver instructions (it’s a little bit like a flipped classroom). When online teaching occurs, there is absolutely no need to be in front of your computer, to listen to someone and do nothing else.

However, do schedule synchronous times to give students the opportunity to work on a specific task (like writing an essay or a paragraph) so you can check on every student, provide personalised feedback, give one-on-one instruction, have an interactive discussion, answer student’s questions…

For asynchronous learning to happen, you can post a short video with clear instructions. Students will listen at their own pace, complete this based on their understanding rather than on when class time ends. Next step, provide exercises or an essay to write, so students can show their understanding of the lesson and so on. You will assess their work later when they finished it.

Or if you want to make your students work on oral communication, there is no need to plan a meeting (as everyone knows, you can be really fatigued by Zoom). There is a way to do that asynchronously by using Flipgrid. Students can record short videos you can review later.

In other words, all you have to do is to design your lesson plan to give the opportunity to your students to work synchronously and asynchronously. You need to set up a protocol which facilitates the student’s work. Having a structure and communicating this structure and the expectations of your course is not only clearer but it is also reassuring.

Design your lesson

Distance/Hybrid Learning by Katherine Goyette

But to sum things up, let’s say that: I like this idea to plan a lesson, to divide it into these four sections:

  1. Set the stage (welcome your students)
  2. Content (deliver content: text, video, books to explore)
  3. Collaboration (provide students opportunities to engage with content in a collaborative environment)
  4. Synthesize Learning (provide students opportunities to demonstrate learning using a method of their choice)

This is a flexible approach. Feel free to adapt it according to your need, but it offers a nice framework to explore. To find help, download these two templates (↓). You will also find some more explanations.

The Learning Designer

This is an online lesson planning tool. In the video (An Introduction to the Learning Designer), Eileen Kennedy shows you how to create a learning design. You can find the Learning Designer at ucl.ac.uk. Create an account and create a new design using the Designer.

To learn more about this, please read the Learning Designer User Guide. Or you can just have a look, on the Learning Designer website to understand what this is:

This design tool will help with the now urgent process of moving your teaching online.

The Learning Designer is an online tool to help teachers and lecturers design teaching and learning activities and share their learning designs with each other. It was developed by a team led by Diana Laurillard at the UCL Knowledge Lab, with ESRC funding, and is free for anyone to use.

The tool is based on the six learning types from Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework — a model of the conditions necessary for learning to take place. The six learning types are: Read/Write/Listen (or Acquisition), Inquiry, Practice, Production, Discussion and Collaboration. In principle, a good learning design will contain a mix of all of these types of learning.

[…]

The tool provides feedback on your design by showing you (a) the amount of learning time you have designed, and (b) a pie chart of the proportion of each of the six learning types in your design. You decide what adjustments to make. In principle, a good learning design will contain a mix of all of these types of learning. The Analysis tab also shows the proportions of time learners spend online, with the teacher present, and as a class, group or individual.

This is a great way to design your lesson plans. Unfortunately, if the Learning design tool can easily be shared, keep in mind this is not a collaborative tool. Actually, a teacher can design his or her lesson plan, can share it with a colleague, but you will have no option but to make a copy of the shared document, work on it. It will then be yours and the colleague won’t see any change you made.

Hopefully, François Jourde and Erwan Gallenne built an awesome spreadsheet facilitating collaboration. If you need help to use it, please drop me a line.

One more thing

  1. Quiz
  2. Hello
  3. Lesson
  4. Exercices made autonomously
  5. (Break)
  6. Exercices made autonomously
  7. Correction
  8. Goodbye

By clicking on the above link (it’s a Twitter thread), you will find tips and explanations. The only apps used are a videoconferencing software like Zoom, Google Classroom & Jamboard. Of course, there is a possibility to differentiate, to allow every student to work at his/her own pace. The teacher provides feedback and advice while they work autonomously. To learn more about differentiation, please read this document.

Engage the passive students

It is also very important to make sure that every student is paying attention, is getting focused. That’s why I strongly recommend task-based work. If students only have to listen during all day, teaching may happen but learning? That’s why we do have to design our lessons by following, for instance, Diana Laurillard’s framework.

But you can also make your lesson a little bit more interactive by offering quizzes. A lot of teachers start their lesson with a simple and quick quiz to engage students. It can be a set of simple questions scheduled in Google Classroom about the previous lesson or a Kahoot, just to check if everyone is understanding what has previously been done. Kahoot offers some kind of gamification which is always fun. Anyway, the point is to keep students active, to interact with them.

To do that, you have plenty of options. We mentioned Classroom, Kahoot, but there is Pear Deck, Nearpod, Quizlet… You name it!

It is also important to regularly interact with them individually, to just call them by their name, etc.

To finish this part, I want to stress the importance of communication. Please refer to my presentation made at the beginning of the Year (Communication first). In fact, online learning raises a series of questions. I quote myself (😃):

How, despite the distance, we keep building a strong relationship with our students? How can we make sure our students have a strong connection together so they can help each other? How can we foster collaboration?

Indeed, a lot of things we used to do when we were all gathered in a room seem now impossible to do online. Well, this is not entirely true.

Tell your students: “You are not alone” or “I can help you in many ways”. So I would like to show two very simple examples of how to create interactions. We will also see that we can foster peer collaboration during online teaching.

Google Classroom

I don’t know for you, but my Google Classroom is only populated by my own posts. I’d like students to express themselves more than they do.

Google Groups

Google Groups allows you to create and participate in online forums and email-based groups with a rich experience for community conversations.

So, basically, you create an email address (for instance group@schooladdress.com) and every member of this group receives the message that has been written by any member. Why do that? Well, during the past few years, I was sorry to see that the answer I gave to a student only benefited the student who asked the question. I was thinking: Wouldn't it be great if everyone could receive the answer?

Google Groups is a great way to ask a question to the class (but of course you can use Classroom if you prefer): did you understand that? When do you want to do this? It’s also a great way to foster collaboration and to make your students interact together a little bit like in a forum. This year, I’m more than pleased to see very young students helping each other. And most of the time, I even don’t need to answer questions. Students do and they do this in the most cordial way. I’m really impressed.

And I would also like Loom, but I chose to speak about that in the next section of this document.

Give and get feedback

Provide feedback

Some students don’t dare to raise their hand but some other fear that you may make fun of their spelling if they are too shy to speak out loud and choose to write to you. You have to reassure them and say: “We are here to help you, not to assess you based on your spelling skills”. And, as we are all online, written communication becomes more frequent.

But sometimes, we have too much to say to write it on an email. Right? So why not make a video? This is where you may want to use Loom. You simply make a video: you can talk to the camera or sharing what you do on the screen. Or both. When you are done, the video is automatically uploaded. You get a link, you send it. You are notified when the student watches it. It’s very convenient. In a way, this is the equivalent of an informal conversation. With Loom, you are not going to edit the video like you would in Final Cut Pro. Make it simple and quick. Like you would if a student would come and ask you a question.

On top of that, you have an iPad app, but there is also a Google add-on which means it is fully integrated into Gmail for instance. This is so handy: you click on the little icon, share your screen and you still appear in a circle so students see you.

If you want to learn more about feedback, please read this document. But I want to reaffirm the importance of it in the context of remote learning. And Google Docs is great for that too. Make them write as much as possible.

Receive feedback

Assessment

But first, let me say this to you.

I recently read this article from the Washington Post about cheating detection softwares, and the least I can tell is that it is simply appalling. I just can’t believe one is ready to do in order to prevent academic dishonesty. Please read this article. You will see how stressful it is for students. I hope this excerpt will give you a glimpse of the problem:

One system, Proctorio, uses gaze-detection, face-detection and computer-monitoring software to flag students for any “abnormal” head movement, mouse movement, eye wandering, computer window resizing, tab opening, scrolling, clicking, typing, and copies and pastes. A student can be flagged for finishing the test too quickly, or too slowly, clicking too much, or not enough.

If the camera sees someone else in the background, a student can be flagged for having “multiple faces detected.” If someone else takes the test on the same network — say, in a dorm building — it’s potential “exam collusion.” Room too noisy, Internet too spotty, camera on the fritz? Flag, flag, flag.

Students are so afraid to be branded as cheaters that they do not dare leaving their desk:

Some students also said they’ve wept with stress or urinated at their desks because they were forbidden from leaving their screens.

In my opinion, the inevitable conclusion I came up with is:

Is stopping a few cheaters worth the price of treating every student like a fraud?

That being said, we want to avoid cheating as much as possible and we want to do that in a respectful and human approach. The second part of my conclusion is: the answer to our problem is not technical. It is pedagogical. We have to rethink the way we assess. Don’t ask a question that can be easily googled. As your students to think, not to repeat what they learned (or copied).

Anyway, from an IT standpoint only, I can recommend the use of Google Docs and Exam.net. You can provide these guidelines to your students.

Using Google Docs

  1. No copy and paste in this doc (if you suddenly see 30 lines appear, it may be suspicious).
  2. Warn students you’ll check history.
  3. Use some antiplagiarism tools (more on that down below).
  4. Students have to keep cameras on all times (using Zoom or Google Meet). So you can check from to time to time.
  5. Sometimes parents are willing to help to monitor their child.

Using Exam.net

Here are some of the key features:

  1. Student is prevented from copy/pasting anything during the exam.
  2. The student’s device is locked to the exam environment or the teacher is notified when a student leaves the app.
  3. Like in Google Docs, the teacher can monitor the progress during the exam and see the history of how the student’s text has evolved.
  4. The teacher can control the time of the exam (when it ends for instance, you can limit the time, force the submission).
  5. There is a built-in antiplagiarism tool (Urkund).
  6. You can anonymise the exam (student’s identities are replaced by a code, and you may reveal the identities after grading the exam.
  7. Exam.net can be used together with several videoconferencing solutions (Meet, Teams…). It can monitor what the student does on the device while the video solution monitors what happens at the student’s location. To be honest, I haven’t tried this (but I will).

Checking academic honesty

I was pleased with Quetext or Dupli Checker. They work pretty well.

Conclusion

Speaking of which, I love this quote from the New York Times:

The mantra of online learning is, ‘Your own time, your own pace, your own path.’

Indeed, teaching online breaks the three rules of classical theatre (unity of action, of time and of place). And instead of seeing that as a problem, we can take advantage of it and imagine new ways of teaching and learning.

But don’t expect to do the same thing as usually. There is no point of giving a question that is answered in Google. And everything online takes more time. Therefore, you should be indulgent with yourself and with students. And you probably want to avoid the now-famous “Zoom fatigue”. By the way, please remember that Zoom is only a small fraction of online teaching!

And don’t forget to enjoy this experience. This is unique!

I’d like to hear from you. Please, share your thought! Tell me what you think on the comments down below!

I made this article available in HackMD. It means that:

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Teacher and Director of Academic Research & Innovation @ Lycée International de Londres Winston Churchill

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