It’s Sunday, and I’m thinking about how I would prepare for Tuesday, if I were one of our Online School teachers.
I have now experienced an online “first day of classes” three times in my own teaching. My classes were all with pre-service teachers, so they were students who were a little older than ours, but I think the general principles still apply.
- Create a student email list, and send a welcome message. Be sure to use BCC for privacy.
- Post a welcome announcement in your course.
- Have the students reply to your announcement, or within a discussion
- This semester I used my Spotify account to create a collaborative playlist. I could then “share” the code within my announcement so that they could add to the playlist and play the music from there. I asked them to reply to the announcement, to explain their choice of “first day” music. I modelled this by adding “Dynamite” by BTS, and explaining that I loved the beat and their dancing.
- Remind students that they cannot use their speakers, so they will need earbuds or earphones in order to avoid echo for everyone else.
- Connect with the other teachers of your course. In our Online School there may be more than 10 teachers for a single course in each of our Quadmesters. Dividing up the work, and then sharing, will be a lifesaver!
Build Your LMS Framework
- Prepare your online materials so that they make sense to you, and so that you can explain them to your students.
- Provide a summary page, or pages, so that students can easily find their upcoming assignments, or task lists.
- Create PDF versions of important information, so that students can access them offline.
- Hide most of your online content so that your students can only see the key information they will need. Don’t overwhelm! Most LMSs allow you to set dates so you don’t need to remember to publish every day.
- KISS – Keep it Simple…..
Practice with your Synchronous Tools
- Run a practice class with family and friends.
- Set up your computer facing a window, or with a good light from behind your screen. Otherwise you look like a dark blob, and students cannot see your facial expressions.
- Get comfortable earbuds or earphones, and possibly ones with a mic built in. (If you use your speakers they will feed into your microphone and create an echo that will distract your students.)
- If you are using a tool that permits breakout rooms, practice moving students into groups manually, as well as using random allocation.
- Consider the layout of the screen for your various purposes: seeing student faces, monitoring their chat, checking attendance, sharing your screen. If you can create multiple layouts it will make it easier as you move from direct instruction to collaborative work.
Plan to Build Community
- Plan to co-create class norms:
- Who has camera on?
- How do we speak without interrupting?
- What do we do if we need to step away?
- Plan to create opportunities for students to connect with you and with each other:
- Use the “reactions” to get quick responses from students, much as you would F2F: thumbs up, agree, etc.
- Create simple polls to gather information, or come to a class decision.
- Encourage use of the chat, both with everyone and person-to-person.
- Create multiple channels:
- Live in Google Meet, Teams, Zoom, Adobe Connect, etc.
- Discussions in your LMS
- Email distribution lists
- Backchannel: WhatsApp, maybe even text?
- You need a way for students to let you know if they get kicked out of your live sessions, or if their technology is not working.
- You also need to discuss class norms regarding their use of backchannels, particularly regarding side conversations that might be hurtful or destructive.
- Design activities that provide students with a “home” group, but let them interact with others as well. They need to get to know each other, and that takes time.
- When presenting or when sharing a video, put a chat window beside it so that they can discuss what they are seeing and hearing, can ask questions, and you can interact with them.
- Create a Google Drive, and have students work collaboratively within documents or slides.
- Create a slide deck with one slide per group. While they are in breakouts, working in the slide, you can easily see who is “there” and can monitor what they are writing. Then groups can present from the deck, and everyone can move from slide to slide themselves while listening. The deck then becomes notes for the students to refer to later.
- Create individual docs for each group, in the same fashion as described for the slide deck.
- NOTE: Do not assign too many individuals to a single doc or slide. The movements of the others in the group will be distracting, and may cause significant lag.
- Have students create an online portfolio, shared with you, in which they will present evidence of learning. This will assist you with materials management, and make determination of final marks easier than if you are depending on your own system to track all your students and their work.
- Use threaded discussions rather than individual emails for your students to ask, and for you to respond to student questions between classes. That way you are creating a FAQ as you go, and students can refer back to them as needed.
Mentor a Pre-Service Teacher
- What? More work for me? Actually, no. Our pre-service teachers were ready to head out to their practicum placements at the end of March Break, and that didn’t happen. So, they are being permitted to work directly with teachers, planning for and designing course materials. They don’t need the paperwork necessary to work directly with students; they’ll be doing that in their official placements this semester. However, many of them need additional hours, and they are available to work collaboratively with you as you plan and prepare.
- If you are an OCT, and would appreciate the assistance of a pre-service teacher who has extensive experience with online tools (they are in their second semester of online learning themselves), please contact me and I will play “matchmaker”. Our teacher-candidates will be qualified Intermediate/Senior teachers in English, History, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, General Science, and Health and Physical Education when they graduate in December, so they are well-prepared to assist you.
These are just a few of my ideas. Please suggest yours, or ask me questions in a reply to this blog. Together we are stronger!