Two days after I published “8 tips for setting up and teaching online classes during coronavirus closures,” my campus made the decision to transition online due to COVID-19 for the remainder of the semester. After two days of canceled classes and a weekend to prepare (not great, but better than some peer institutions in our state), our first week of online instruction just concluded. Here are some of the lessons I learned to supplement my original tips and give those of you about to begin an idea of what to expect.
1. Explain what’s changing
Students need to know how your course is going to work moving forward. In my original article, I suggested:
It might also be helpful to draft a temporary syllabus, explaining how existing class policies, schedules, and assignments will change during the period of online instruction. In everything, clarity will help.
After making one and talking to students about their other courses, I’d strongly encourage this as something worth the time investment, even as our time is limited. Not only is the syllabus useful to students, but it may also help with grade disputes that arise from any changes you institute.
I created an “Online Transition Update” syllabus, highlighting (literally, in yellow) parts that were changing (e.g., attendance requirements, scheduling of exams), and removing some of the unchanged boilerplate stuff that makes syllabi eight pages long and unreadable.
I did the same for instruction sheets and rubrics for major assignments that changed, such as a service learning project that can no longer include an in-person pitch to our community partner (☹).
In line with Original Tip #1 (“Make it easy to navigate”), I put all of these new documents in an “Online Transition Info” folder and put it right at the top of our online content so it’d be the first thing students see when they log on. In line with Original Tip #2 (“Make it accessible”), that folder also included a video walkthrough of the Blackboard course and links to all the different ways students could contact me and each other.
2. Communicate early and often
The morning my classes went live, I posted an announcement to my course page on Blackboard, which was also emailed to all students. Four quick points:
1. Here’s how to use the course (direct to the “Online Transition Info” folder)
2. Here’s what we’re learning about this week (direct to the week’s learning module)
3. Here’s what’s due this week (direct to the week’s assignment folder)
4. Here are the opportunities to join us live this week if you’re able (include links to live sessions)