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10 tips for transitioning to online education

Amanda ClarkMarch 10, 2021

Student's hand holding a pen while typing on the keyboard of a laptop

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COVID-19 has changed our educational landscape, and today, there are more teachers online than ever before. With approximately 1.3 billion students out of class worldwide due to the pandemic (in April 2020), educators are wondering how to manage open and distance learning.

As a former educator of several years, and with friends still in the field, I sympathize with all of the teachers and administrators doing their best to teach our children during these unprecedented times. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of tips for how to teach online. I hope it helps — and thank you for all that you’re doing for our children’s future!

How to teach online

1. Seek creative ways to individualize learning

I know you’re creative, and that in the classroom you had a big bag of tricks for individualizing your students’ learning experiences. But digital learning is a different world. Your workload has likely increased, and you’re also probably faced with plenty of new distractions. I get it. 

But as an educator, you still want to offer that individualized learning your students crave. Luckily, there are ways to personalize online learning. Some case studies have even observed that individualized online learning has increased student achievement, with test scores up by as much as 30%. But how do you offer this personalized attention to your students online?

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask your students what they want to learn about — their voice counts!
  • Offer set times for individual check-ins, via Zoom, email, or phone.
  • Integrate your students’ personal experiences into their assignments. For example, an English class could assign students a personal essay on their five most meaningful songs (or other things) in their life.

2. Get organized with your digital space

Your school may already have a learning management system (LMS) set up for teachers online that organizes assignments, grades, lessons, and more. But if you don’t, collaborative spaces like Google Classroom, PBworks, and Classcraft could work for you.

Even if you already have access to an LMS platform, you could use more ways to organize your digital space. You may consider other online grading platforms like Engrade, where educators can create online quizzes, wikis, and more. Or you may decide you’re interested in Classcraft, a classroom management tool that gets students excited about learning through interactive quests and educational adventures. 

3. Celebrate the power of empathy

If there’s a positive that we can take away from this pandemic, it’s the power of empathy. The virus has affected everyone somehow, so we need to do our best to put ourselves in others’ shoes and focus on spreading kindness. 

A paper titled Empathy is Beneficial to Social Development notes that teachers must understand that their students’ background will differ, “and if successful teaching is to occur, they must use empathy to embrace each of their students and their ways of knowing, being, and feeling each day.”

Teachers online can integrate empathy into lesson plans, conferences, and class lectures. Here are some ways you can incorporate empathy into your online classroom:

  • Use statements like, “I understand this project was challenging,” or “I wish we could meet in person, too.” Students appreciate teachers who are able to see things from their perspective. 
  • Host class meetings. You may have already hosted these in person, but class meetings transfer to online learning, too. They allow students to feel heard and validated, and they provide teachers with a deeper understanding of their students’ lives.
  • Model empathy in your own actions. When a student acts out on Zoom, it’s easy to get frustrated. But before reacting to classroom conflict, try taking a deep breath and asking the student about their motives. Often, behaviors are a call for attention and a need to be heard. Set a positive example for how to handle conflict, and your students will be more likely to do the same.

4. Keep it simple

Remember: With online learning, less is often more. Like you, your students have a lot on their plates. During a worldwide pandemic, keeping it simple comes with many benefits, including easing anxiety, prioritizing quality over quantity, and providing more time for individualized engagement.

5. Recognize the importance of flexibility

Information is constantly changing, and it’s difficult for students, teachers, and administrators to keep up. You’re dealing with new, unfamiliar variables, so cut yourself some slack and be flexible when you can. Perhaps you have to readjust your grading policy or cut a digital project that’s not resonating shorter than you would have liked. Rolling with the punches is essential when you’re teaching online.

6. Reevaluate your homework policy

We could go on forever about homework philosophies. But in all seriousness, these days, you may want to revisit your homework policy. Perhaps you can cut down or eliminate homework in favor of other activities, or modify homework assignments by making them project based. When you teach online, you’ll want to be aware of the changing needs and resources of your students. Brainstorm a list of homework assignments that may benefit them in an online setting and a separate list of assignments that you may want to scrap.

7. Collaborate with other educators

During a time when face-to face-meetings are rare, this one may seem difficult. But in the midst of all of this, teachers have discovered creative ways to keep the human connection and collaboration alive. For starters, Zoom is now a household term. Plus, online chat rooms, wikis, and courses dedicated to educators offer you plenty of ways to collaborate with other teachers just like you. 

Another idea: Give a co-worker a call to discuss strategies or decompress.

8. Emphasize the importance of having a designated workspace

In a traditional classroom, both teachers and students have designated workspaces. But when teaching online, it’s tempting to work on the fly — on your couch one day and from your cluttered dining room table another. Harvard Business Review argues the case for finally cleaning up your desk and notes that a cluttered workspace takes focus away from the task at hand: “When our space is a mess, so are we.”

When thinking about how to teach online, you’ll need to consider your workspace and those of your students. Spend a few minutes decluttering your own designated zone and encouraging your students to do the same. But bear in mind that some students may face obstacles, such as a lack of internet, desk, and so on. Elicit your students’ feedback on any challenges they face in setting up a dedicated work area.

9. Try to see the bigger picture

No matter how much we want it to be, online learning is simply not the same as face-to-face instruction. Do yourself (and your students) a favor, and try to see the bigger picture.

Because let’s be honest: “school” represents an even broader concept than before the pandemic began. During these times, grace is critical; in a traditional classroom, pre-COVID, you were running around, racing through a curriculum. Your goals involved teaching the meaning of a hypotenuse or the most impactful Shakespearean sonnet. 

Times have changed. Although you’re still teaching our youth facts and figures and lessons to propel them forward in the academic world, you’re also providing reassurance, safety, and consistency.

This doesn’t mean you should burn yourself out. In fact, it means the opposite: Give yourself mercy and flexibility. If you have to miss a lesson on the law of cosines to address the recent storm that took down the internet, or because a student got sick, do that — and hopefully your administrators will support you.

10. Brainstorm ways to motivate students

One study conducted by the University of Virginia surveyed 2,400 math students at the beginning, middle, and end of class. The survey’s “[f]indings indicated that online students received lower grades and were less likely to pass from their courses than face-to-face students, with online adult learners receiving particularly low final course grades and pass rates.”

We know motivation is essential to academic performance, and students face these obstacles in traditional classrooms, too. But throw in a worldwide pandemic, skyrocketing unemployment numbers, lack of childcare, and you’ll come to realize that kids, like adults, have a lot on their minds right now.

So how can you motivate your online learning students?

  • Try your best to be enthusiastic
  • Provide engaging assignments, such as collaborative projects
  • Provide organized and easily accessible online resources, all in one place
  • Encourage your students to set reasonable goals for themselves
  • Provide consistent and quick feedback on students’ work

Conclusion

Above all, be kind to yourself. When thinking about how to teach online, many educators prioritize thinking about others — it’s in our nature. But to successfully transition to online learning, you need to also take care of yourself. 

If you burn out, you won’t be able to provide the online education that your students deserve. Slowing down and taking something off your plate, when possible, will result in a more fruitful and productive learning experience for everyone.

Remember: You’re human, too, and you can’t possibly do it all. When transitioning to online learning and teaching online, take one day at a time, forgive yourself when you make a mistake, and do your best to connect with your students.

By being kind to yourself, you’ll reserve the energy to be kind to your students. And, during these times, that’s what your students need the most.

Photo: Google for Education

Intrinsic motivation: 
The key to tiered intervention

When students care about their behavior, a good tiered intervention program becomes great.

Get playbook
Intrinsic Motivation Playbook Mock Up

Distance Learning

Intrinsic motivation: 
The key to tiered intervention

When students care about their behavior, a good tiered intervention program becomes great.

Get playbook
Intrinsic Motivation Playbook Mock Up