Friday, February 7, 2020

Ten Tips for Quickly Converting Courses for Online Delivery

Yesterday I was asked for some tips on how to provide courses for online delivery, for students who are unable to get to class due to the Novel Coronavirus. Here are ten tips, added to those previously provided.
  1. Don't panic: Courses have been delivered online by universities around the world for decades. This includes the Green Computing Course from Computer Science at ANU since 2009 (also offered by Athabasca University in Canada). ANU has a series of short Coffee Courses on how to do this.
  2. Focus on student communication, not content: I spent three years as a postgraduate international online student, learning how to provide online education from Australia to China and India. While there were frustrations with ebooks and videos, the major problem was the crushing loneliness. Being an online student amplifies all the worries students have at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. We need to give students the sense there is someone out there worrying about them. Also , we need to encourage them to communicate with other students. You can build such teacher-to-student and student-to-student communication in as part of a course.
  3. Learning To Reflect VideoIt is Not About Video:  The easiest, but least important thing you can do, is to convert face-to-face lectures to recorded video. Students like having recorded video lectures available. However, don't waste time making high-quality videos: it makes no difference to learning. Provided students see a still image of you occasionally, you do not have to appear in the video lectures: powerpoint slides with audio are fine. Unedited recordings of live lectures are also okay. For the "Learning to Reflect" module of ANU TechLauncher last year, I used video automatically created from the course notes, with a synthetic voice.
  4. eBook for Green Computing Course
    Text-Based Notes Are Key: Provide students with notes detailing what they have to do, and when they have to do it. Ideally, provide this all at the beginning of the course. You will be sending them reminders and updates, but students feel more secure if they have everything at the start. My preference is an e-book, but the format doesn't matter as much as the student being able to download everything, easily.
  5.  Target Smartphones: Students are increasingly using smartphones for study, so make sure your material is suitable. Learning Management Systems, such as Moodle, now supports smartphones, but make sure the formatting you use does not stop this working.
  6. Prompt students to study: Students will be distracted and so you need to tell them what to do, and when to do it. Don't assume the student can find the relevant material, or resource: give them a link directly to what you want them to look at. You can start with subtle nudges, such as "Thank you to the 49 students who have already completed the quiz", them more direct: "You have until 1 pm Canberra time, to complete the quiz, for 1% of your grade". Peer pressure, and marks, are very effective ways to motivate students.
  7. Rationalize assessment: Consider what assessment you can reliably deliver online, and in what size chunks. Are you providing the assessment for formative purposes, to help with study, for summative purposes (the final grade), or both? Consider simple short assessment items and make them easier to mark. Make use of the automated assessment delivery and marking options built into the Learning Management System. I particularly like short regular quizzes (with questions drawn from a bank at random, to make it harder to cheat).
  8. Provide Asynchronous Communication, Supplemented by Synchronous:  I was an online graduate student of education for seven years. Of thousands of hours of study, only a couple of hours were real-time (synchronous) communication with a teacher or other students. Most communication for online courses is asynchronous: you post a message and someone reads it later. This is partly due to the difficulties of getting people together at the same time. It is also due to inevitable problems with online communication. So focus on the asynchronous posts to forums. These can be supplemented with short video recordings. If you have the resources, then add some live webinars, but record these sessions, for those who can't attend.
  9. Use the tools your colleagues use:  Educational institutions provide learning management systems, video recording, webinar, and other tools for online teaching. There may also be other tools in use by your colleagues. These may not be the best tools, but you can get help with them, so it should be your first choice.
  10.  Look after yourself and colleagues: Burnout of online teachers is very common. Online students expect instant replies from staff 24 hours a day, and can be scathing in their criticism. Give students reasonable expectations of how quickly they will receive a reply and ensure there are sufficient staff to do this. Try to answer common questions via a forum, rather that to each student individually. Do not reply to intemperate language from a student in haste, or anger.

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