Moving to deliver your course online: Practical tips
In light of recent global events due to COVID-19, you are likely to be moving to online delivery methods in the coming weeks and you may not know for how long.
In this blog series, we will share advice and guidance on a wide range of subjects related to delivering HE courses online, including more detailed guides to online communication, online teaching presence, delivering live sessions and collaborative working online.
You will no doubt have a lot more questions and answering all of them is beyond the scope of this blog or a single resource, but hopefully, the information presented can steer you in the right direction and make you aware of some of the key considerations for online delivery.
Fully online courses have been supporting remote teaching and learning for decades and there are lessons which can be shared to support those who are new to online delivery.
The first step is to connect with your on-campus learning technology team. They are likely to be very busy at the moment, but sitting down to discuss the available digital technologies, training materials and practical support will help you understand what you have and what you might need.
Consider how the course will be structured in your online approach; to what extent will you employ asynchronous (not live) and synchronous (live) methods, discussion forums or group work?
It may make sense to try and emulate the typical cadence of your classroom instruction, provide a sense of familiarity and stability amongst all this change. For example, if you usually have a lecture or seminar on a Tuesday at 2pm, consider offering live online sessions at the same time.
This will help students to anchor their learning around a familiar timetable. Recording the sessions will allow you to share the experience with those that were unable to attend.
Stick to timetable where possible
Use online discussion forums
List core texts
Follow up your live sessions with some asynchronous discussion forums and regular announcements to maintain momentum during the week. Online discussion forums, utilising your VLE, can be used to facilitate group discussion, group work and or peer review activities.
If you are unable to, or uncomfortable with providing live sessions, consider creating a recorded mini lecture/seminar or Q&A session, where you answer questions submitted to you from your students in advance.
Group work could be a great way to keep your students connected and help them to still feel a sense of connection to the course and the institution.
However, given the current situation, students will likely want or need to connect with each other online. Before planning any new or additional group work:
check that your students will have the required digital tools needed to collaborate
provide clear guidelines for group activities and their assessment (if summative)
keep the activities simple so as not to overburden students.
The key thing to avoid here is simply providing your classroom materials online for students to read through. You may already be doing this for students, but this approach is intended to supplement your on-campus teaching and not as the sole means of instruction.
When sharing learning materials online, think about how you can replace your campus presence and the context and explanation that you would share in the classroom which is missing from your teaching aids.
Offer expanded explanations on powerpoints or documents provided. Ask yourself if you believe that a student could understand the meaning of your content if presented alone. If not, add an explanation or additional resources to support their understanding. You could also consider providing the resources in multiple formats including both Word and PDF options to support accessibility.
Consider recording video/audio to supplement any text or PowerPoint materials you might share. Smartphones, tablets and laptops offer relatively sophisticated recording equipment which is easy to use and share. You may need to consider the digital storage implications of your VLE, which your learning technology team should be able to help you with. To ensure that your content is accessible to all, a transcript will need to be provided with any video or audio file.
University libraries may shortly be closing to students. You may be relying on these physical resources for students to complete their studies and to be successful in their assessments. Where possible make a list of the core texts/resources that students will need and explore online alternatives.
You could explore repositories of OER (Open Educational Resources) to find alternative freely available online resources as alternatives to those that are only available in physical formats.
How to manage assessment beyond face-to-face options is likely to be high on the list of your priority questions. Many institutions are familiar with Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA), which, for essays, portfolios and projects should be relatively simple to continue with during this period.
However, there is of course a wide range of assessments which will not so easily be supported by EMA, for example, performances, controlled exams, vivas etc.
There are online alternatives, though each alternative requires scrutiny, testing and some upskilling of instructors to effectively manage them and ensure that a robust form of assessment is still in place. Any change to an assessment approach should be planned carefully, with consideration for relevant assessment policies, impact on students, technology availability and staff resource/skills.
If a change to an assessment format must be made, try to keep the alternative as close to the original format as possible, consult your learning technology colleagues to plan training and support for the assessment period and be sure to communicate the changes and specific details to students as soon as possible.
Finally, consider the impact on students with learning needs and any impact a change of assessment may have.
Delivering online courses is a fantastic opportunity to increase access to education. However, much like on-campus, students face challenges to accessing content including those with sensory (e.g.sight), cognitive (e.g. dyslexia/dyspraxia) and physical (e.g.mouse/typing) access needs.
Designing online courses to be accessible to all is a fundamental principle of open and equitable education. Beyond this fundamental principle, the equality act and recent legislation compel institutions to ensure that all digital materials used on campus or online are fully accessible.
Sticking to this guidance does not guarantee that your content will be fully accessible, but it is a good start. Be sure to check with your learning technology colleagues for further advice.
If there is a positive note to share around the events of the last couple of weeks, it is how the HE community has rallied together to share resources and materials to help support the shift to online delivery easier.
Here are just a few of the resources shared recently:
Unprecedented events call for supportive, scalable action. Pearson is committed to providing support and continuity to learners and educators around the world, as the whole Higher Education community prepares to move online.
We’re giving free access to our core range of HE and English Language online courseware to support you at this time.