I’m writing this post in light of the recent school closings due to the corona virus outbreak. As many of my personal friends are fellow educators, I want to share my knowledge in this challenging time.
I have been teaching the same online course (Introduction to Sociology) for over two years now. Each semester, my course attracts 20-25 students. The course was developed based on the same course that I had taught in the traditional classroom. Here are several tips I’d like to offer.
1. Stick with the Reading List and Topics That Work
When I converted my offline course into an online one, I pretty much copied and pasted the reading list and the topics that I’d like to cover throughout the semester. Online teaching is different mainly based on the methods of delivery and tools of evaluation. If this is not the first time you teach the course and you know that the readings and topics worked well, there is no need to change them simply because the course is now delivered online.
2. Do not Upload Your Boring PowerPoint Slides
When I first turned my course online, I uploaded all the weekly lecture slides under the corresponding learning modules. When I checked the statistics tracking on them, almost no one looked at it. For those who did, they mentioned to me that they were confusing and hard to follow.
For educators who practice active teaching, we all know how boring and ineffective lecture slides can be. This is pretty much the same in the online learning environment. Instead of using lecture slides, consider recording your own lectures. If you have never done it before and you think you would suck at it, feel free to borrow resources from different sources (Yes, you are allowed). They can include YouTube videos, short and long documentaries on streaming platforms, blogs, and podcasts. In my Introduction to Sociology course, I heavily utilize Crash Course to introduce new concepts I want students to learn. Crash Course has a channel for Sociology, as well as ones for Statistics, Psychology, World History, etc.
3. Complement Lectures and Readings with Documentaries and Podcasts
To reinforce the concepts that I teach in my course, I love to recommend at least one documentary/podcast episode for my students to watch/listen to every week. Believe it or not, students these days love documentaries and podcasts. This is largely because streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu offer a great variety of good-quality documentaries, and there are so many excellent podcasts out there on almost every single topic.
More specifically, when I covered topics of gender and socialization, I assigned Miss Representation on Netflix or The Mask You Live in on Kanopy. When my students learned about sexuality, I have them watch “Intersex”, an episode of Follow This created by Buzzfeed on Netflix. When I taught them about rape culture, I assigned Hookup Culture on Hidden Brain. To teach them about race and mass incarceration, Ava DuVernay’s 13th is indispensable.
Bear in mind that not every student can afford to sign up for streaming service(s). If your institution offers Kanopy for students, I strongly recommend that you select films and documentaries that are available on the platform.
4. Assign Simple Reading Quizzes to Ensure Reading Progress
When I walk into a classroom and discuss the readings, I can almost tell immediately who actually did the readings and who is BS-ing me. Well, I don’t get to do that in the online setting. I also cannot compensate for the lack of students’ effort by teaching harder.
Since online learning relies much on student’s individual effort, I assign weekly reading quizzes to make sure they do their parts. Reading quizzes motivate students to read and allow them to gain confidence in their own learning progress. Undergraduate students, especially first-generation college students, have a need to ensure that they are “getting things right”. Quizzes help them know that they are on the right track.
These quizzes don’t have to be complicated. They can be as simple as several multiple choice questions or couple open-ended questions. I also tend to leave encouraging comments when I grade them. It helps my students feel supported even though they can’t see me.
5. Assign Vlogs and Maintain Discussion Board to Boost Engagement
In my online class, I assign 5-minute bi-weekly vlogs to have my students talk about their reaction of the readings. Similar to how I stimulate and facilitate discussion in the classroom, I provide prompts to help them think through the concepts I want them to learn and retain. For instance, when I teach sociological theories, I ask them what their favorite paradigm is and why. When I teach them the concepts of race and ethnicity, I ask them to interrogate their own racial and ethnic identities. Logistically, I ask them to upload their vlogs on YouTube. This way, fellow students and I can view them easily.
In addition to vlogs, I also ask them to participate in an optional weekly discussion board to earn extra credit. I like to ask provocative questions that are related to current events and the topics they are learning. For example, this week when I’m teaching race and racism, I ask my students to think about how the racial stereotypes of model minority and yellow peril have impacted Asian Americans during the corona virus outbreak. Once I ask the question, I pretty much let the discussion evolve on its own, unless (in rare instances) students make disrespectful comments.
Most importantly, remember you don’t have to do everything. Learning can take different forms, and students can learn from various channels other than the instructor yourself. Pace yourself and don’t stare at the computer screen all the time. Set a fixed schedule for each class and let your students know when you will be online for them. The schedule includes when you are posting learning materials, replying emails, grading, and moderating discussion.