Some of my students have no access to a computer or broadband internet at home, making it difficult for them to attend the zoom meetings or even access the course’s page. Before covid-19, those who did not have a computer or internet at home could utilize the computer lab on campus or go to the library to access computers to do their work. As a result of covid-19, both campus and libraries were shut down and effectively removed that option.
My second mistake was deciding to record lengthy lectures and share them with my students each week. I convinced myself that my students would enjoy listening to me droning on and on about a topic for some odd reason. Unsurprisingly, not many students viewed my lecture videos. Of the few brave souls that viewed the videos, I highly doubt that they viewed it all the way through. I do not blame them. After the semester was completed, I attempted to view one of my recorded lectures and had a hard time keeping awake.
My third mistake was not providing more opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions. I gave students reading assignments but did not provide enough opportunities for them to share their thoughts. I believe this lack of peer-to-peer interactions further disengaged my students.
Last but certainly not least, I made the mistake of focusing too much on the small details of the readings and assignments. Yes, it is essential to know some details, like terminologies, but I could have spent more time focusing on the big picture. Luckily, I broadened my focus towards the end of the semester and provided more value to my students.
Here is what I would do if I have another opportunity to teach. First, I would take more time to understand my student’s technology skills and accessibility. I am very aware that not all of my students are tech-savvy, but I could have taken more time to find out precisely what they have and what they don’t. For instance, I could have surveyed my students to find out how many have a computer at home or broadband internet access. With this information, I could help my students by connecting them with the people who could provide technology resources and support.
Second, I would not require weekly synchronous meetings. Instead, I would hold virtual office hours to answer questions related to the course. I do believe in interval check-ins, so I will ask my students to attend a few synchronous meetings scattered throughout the semester. I would send out a survey to get the best dates and times for the meetings and let them know the meeting time in advance.
Third, I would structure my courses to include a series of short, concise, and engaging presentations (using a tool like Squigl) on the topics I plan to cover each week. I believe these quick concept videos will help my students learn the course materials more quickly and better retain the information. To further support my students’ learning, I would incorporate check-in questions within the video to ensure that they understand the concepts. I would also ask my students to write down their questions and thoughts as they watch the video and share it at our synchronous virtual meetings.
Fourth, I would include more discussion opportunities to foster peer-to-peer interactions and build online communities. I would take advantage of a bad situation by creating opportunities for my students to share their stories, concerns, strengths, and self-care tips. Providing more opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions will allow my students to leverage the class for better learning, as well as emotional and psychological support. This would have been invaluable, especially during these challenging times.
Finally, I would incorporate more relevant activities that promote significant learning. I would focus less on the small details and instead more on the big picture. I would spend more time asking myself what I would like my students to remember five years from now and structure my class to help them get that experience and knowledge.
I believe these improvements would not only increase engagement amongst my students, it will also add significant value to their educational experiences. I know these improvements can be intimidating, especially for educators who are new to online teaching. I do not think it is necessary to significantly change the course overnight. However, I do think it is essential to make incremental improvements to the course over time. While I do hope that a solution to Covid-19 can be found soon, I think it is a good idea to be proactive and continue to improve the online learning experiences, just in case we need to continue to teach online for a longer period of time.
About the writer
Professor Dung Mao PhD is an experienced Instructional Designer at Northwestern Health Sciences University. He serves as an expert advisor on the Squigl team.