I have just completed the free FutureLearn course, ‘How to Teach Online : Providing Continuity for Students’, #FLTeachOnline. The course ran over 3 weeks with thousands of educators from across the globe in attendance. It focused not only on media and resources, but also on facilitation of discussions, collaboration between students, and the encouragement and support of students in self-guided learning.
There was a wealth of advice, tips and resources within the course and I have summarised the key themes below.
Educating in a new way
Students around the world have found themselves in a new learning and interaction environment, leaving many to feel overwhelmed or isolated. Every educator’s first consideration has to be the students, as people, identifying their needs and how to support them best. There will be variables out of the teachers control or influence and the teacher should not feel responsible for resolving them all. Indeed, teachers are guided to be kind to themselves as well, choosing something manageable and achievable to start, and to build up at a comfortable pace, learning on the way. Resources and advice are given to help teachers to relieve stress and maintain a healthy ‘mental diet’, and it is stressed that there is a marked difference between ‘emergency remote teaching’ and online learning. The latter requires ample time to plan, design and construct, so teachers must not feel pressured to achieve a standard that would normally take considerably longer.
Teachers are advised to provide students with a clear plan, including key dates and the expected amount of time required for both directed and self-directed learning activities each week, even if only a plan for one week ahead can be provided. One particularly important piece of advice is that pedagogy should come before technology! A regular learning structure and clear directions can help motivate and engage students, just as in the physical classroom. Developing the study plan further, setting learning objectives for the week, setting regular virtual office hours within a timetable, and telling students when they need to engage and when to take a break all help both student and teacher alike in quickly adapting. Teachers are advised to provide simple, clear, instructions and provide additional opportunity for clarification and guidance if required.
Students should have a central area online where they can access resources, links, guidance, and support, and guidance on collaboration. Learning Designer, a free to use platform is explored as a tool for developing courses.
Educator presence remains key to student engagement, as is reassurance that they will be supported, and that they are part of a community. It is recognised that many students may not have the ideal home environment and so a suggested balance of online and live with offline and asynchronous learning is offered, prioritising where online and synchronous adds the most value.
Learning design should allow students ‘do more with less’, much of which asynchronously, whilst also providing support, challenge, and choice. For example, it is recommended that teachers start by breaking down the course into stages, or chunks, where each chunk contributes to an overall learning outcome.
Giving students ownership of their learning i.e. as co-creators, for example through negotiating a scheme of work, or by choosing how they demonstrate their learning can be motivating. For example students choosing to showcase learning by creating a video or audio recording, gives them a sense of self-determination and increases engagement. Such project or task-based approaches within a structure ensures the right balance between creative freedom and support. It also allows teachers to spend less time ‘teaching’, and more time on support.
Assessment and Feedback
Teachers are advised to design an assessment and feedback loop allowing students to monitor their progress, and teachers to teach responsively. In so doing, they help students to evaluate learning and set goals. The course does not provide one ideal approach but provides guidance on how to put students and their learning at the centre of decisions. It is also stressed that effective peer, as well as student, feedback is also particularly important when giving students co-ownership of their success.
The course finishes by looking at how teachers can reflect on their practice in the online environment as part of a continuous cycle of improvement, and by inviting attendees to continue the discussion in the course alumni LinkedIn group.
Once again, not only does the #FLTeachOnline course provide a wealth of information, advice, tips, tools and other resources, it also provides the opportunity to share experiences with hundreds if not thousands of teachers nationally and internationally facing the same challenges, and learning from them also.
The next course starts on the 27th April for any educators who wish to join.