As we all face down the likelihood of moving courses online this semester for the covid-19 outbreak, it’s easy to get caught up in the overwhelm of hundreds of pedagogical options and the glitter of new tech tools. Our passion for teaching drives us to constantly innovate, to make our classes better and more engaging. After all, Pedagogy Playground is born of this impulse.
But truly innovative, engaging online classes take weeks or even months to develop, and we don’t have the luxury of that right now. On top of the time crunch (and for many of us still, the uncertainty of whether we are moving online and when and for how long), we’re facing a lot of stress and anxiety about what’s coming our way. Our students might be overwhelmed picking up more shifts to prepare for possible unemployment, caring for sick friends or relatives, or just trying to figure out where to live. Compassion and empathy and considering students as human come before their engagement in my class. In my last post, I reflect on ways to make online learning equitable for all.
Increasingly, though, despite the glitter of innovation and sparkly new tools, I think it’s important to keep things simple. Use what you know. Don’t embark upon integrating 10 new tech tools — pick one or two, if you need to, and keep it simple. Minimize things that use up students bandwidth — both literal bandwidth and emotional bandwidth. Learning new tech is tricky, and it takes time. If we can streamline things for students to make their lives simpler and more humane in this challenging time, let’s do that.
This post by Rebecca Barrett-Fox makes this clear — we’re not striving for perfection here, but to be good enough to help our students learn humanely.
Pragmatism and kindness are more important right now than brilliant innovation.
Here are a few basic tricks and tools that can help you keep things simple.
- Screencastify is a chrome plugin that you can use to record your screen while you walk students through something. I like using it for short tutorials of how to use tools we’re using in class. See the example below. (Limits: 5 min per video in free version – bonus: keeps you concise if you’re using for lectures). It uploads all videos onto google drive, or you can add them to youtube for easy sharing. Rumor has it they’ll upgrade you for free if your school has closed for covid-19 but can’t find the details online.
- Google Docs – Many of our students have used Google Docs at some point in their lives and the learning curve is likely to be lower here (though I’d highly recommend still providing support in how to use the tool). You could have students respond to discussion prompts here more collaboratively than they would on a discussion board by using the comments feature. You can have them annotate PDFs collectively. You can have them plan for group projects here. You can do a group chat with small groups – each person start a line with your name and then write a response; when they’re done they can read and then start a new line with a new response.Some LMS’s have similar collaborative features.
- Handwrite and send a photo – most students have access to a smartphone with a camera (though remember that some may not, and you’ll have to ensure to provide an alternative for them). They can create concept maps, handwrite answers to questions, draw a diagram, or do other things with pen and paper before snapping a photo and submitting it to you by email or into the LMS.
- Essential elements of your course – consider what are the essential learning goals of your course. Do you have assignments that aren’t crucial to complete? Do you have learning goals you’ve already achieved that you can remove items that achieve similar goals? As we streamline and simplify, we might have to cull topics and assignments we love. Don’t hesitate to cut extra items to focus on the most important things.
- Remember that we’re all learning in this together – be patient and kind to each other and don’t be afraid to laugh and start something anew. We can do this!
Finally, here’s a great infographic with ways to keep your course engaging and simple and streamlined. Good luck!