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Teaching From Home: 4 Ways Educators Can Help Their Students—and Themselves—in the Age of COVID-19

Touro’s Assistant Director of Instructional Design offers some helpful advice By Elizabeth Laura Nelson

We’re several weeks into our current work-from-home, school-from-home reality, as we continue to practice social distancing in hopes of “flattening the curve” of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Teachers and students are adapting to new routines, using various online learning platforms and attempting to stay on track as they anticipate finishing the school year without returning to their physical classrooms.

Elizabeth Nelson, Assistant Director of Instructional Design at Touro University, has a wealth of experience when it comes to teaching online. Her webinar series, “Maintaining Instructional Continuity When Moving Courses Online,” is an invaluable resource for instructors who are either new to teaching online, or who want to sharpen their skills in the virtual classroom.

Here, she offers guidance for educators who find themselves faced with the task of bringing courses that were designed to be taught in person into the online sphere. The four pieces of wisdom below will be helpful for anyone teaching in the age of COVID-19—and beyond.

1. Learn the technology

The first thing Owens highlights is the importance of becoming comfortable with the technological aspect of online education. “Get some basic training on the systems you’re using,” she says. “If you’re not comfortable being online, reach out to the IT department, or the instructional designers, whomever fills that role for your organization. Start there.”

Many of the faculty members Owens works with are what she terms “very traditional. They really enjoy their classroom experiences. And now they’re being forced to be online for a bit and they’re really struggling with it.” For those instructors, the challenge is not just technical, but mental and emotional as well. “They’re wondering, ‘How do I talk to my students? How am I going to connect with them and have lively discussions?’”

Developing the ability to deftly navigate the technology can be helpful with these deeper issues, Owens explains. “You can still do this stuff online,” she says. “You’re not going to see your students in person, but you’ll still see them on the screen. And there are things like Zoom, which offers breakout rooms.” Understanding what’s available, technologically, is the first step toward successfully transitioning to online education.

2. Adapt your content

Over the past few weeks, as Owens has worked with teachers to move their courses online, she’s been helping them make the shift from passive to active learning. “We’ve been talking a lot about the difference between putting content online and actual online learning. Putting content online is just getting information and materials out there. Online learning involves pedagogy, metacognition, the whole learning process.”

Owens says it’s imperative that teachers adapt their content to work in the online environment. “Your students aren't going to want to sit in a four hour lecture on Zoom,” she warns. “They're not going to want to do eight hours of discussion boards or write endless essays. You're going to have to be open-minded to different types of tools and different types of pedagogical methods with your students.”

That might mean doing a group activity one week, and an individual project the next, she says. But whatever methods teachers use, they need to be prepared to think outside the box. “It’s great that you got your content online. Now you’re going to have to take it to the next level.”

3. Reach out for support

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the task of moving classes online, especially with the current state of the world and so many anxiety-provoking unknowns. But you’re not alone, and this is no time to forget that and try to do it all yourself.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” says Owens. “There are so many resources, and so many places are offering support. It’s important to reach out. How can other people help you?” She recommends the LectureBreakers, EdUp Experience and TOP Cast podcasts, as well as the following websites:

Teachers should take advantage of the wisdom of their peers, as well as utilizing the many instructional materials available to them. “Use things that other people have put out there. Many institutions are putting together instructional continuity resources. You might have to sort through some clutter, but see if there are things that are pertinent to you, that you can use in your own classroom,” Owens advises.

4. Embrace your humanity

Lastly, but most importantly, Owens emphasizes that we need to recognize how hard this time is for all of us—teachers and students alike. “Everyone is going through incredible adversity right now,” she reminds us. “People might be sick. Some of the students, their parents or their grandparents or their friends, might contract the virus.”

“Make sure your students know you're there for them, even though you're not there in person,” says Owens. “Even if that's simply posting an announcement saying ‘I'm here if you need to chat,’ or being flexible with some of your assignments, being human is an importable component of teaching online. Make your presence felt throughout the course.”

Don’t neglect your own needs, either, says Owens. “While you’re rushing to get all your content online, it’s important to take your own mental health and wellness into consideration. Don’t act like a robot and pretend like nothing's happening in the world, because we have a lot of crazy things happening right now. Take breaks,” Owens advises. “You’re going through things, and your students are going through things as well. We need to embrace our humanity.”

To hear more from Holly, check out her feature on Barbi Honeycutt's podcast in the episode 5 Ways to Help Students Succeed in Online Courses.

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