“I need to explore general principles of online teaching and learning”
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Moving to an online environment opens a number of opportunities not easily realized in the traditional classroom or lecture hall. Like the film version of a favorite book, it can't possibly be the exact same experience… but we can still get the same story across using different methods (and sometimes reach the audience in a more effective way). Some aspects will fall away, but others will be discovered.
One of the most obvious factors is time. Since we no longer have the restriction of a 50-minute lecture, some longer explanations, anecdotes, or examples can be presented. Those enhanced lesson items needn’t translate to extended “talking head” recordings, though: look to sites like MedEd Portal or MERLOT for potential illustrations of your points. YouTube is ubiquitous, and is a deep well of educational video. Most educators have collections of articles, websites, or images we’ve saved in anticipation of changing our lecture content – moving online opens the possibility for sharing those with our learners.
One way of engaging learners and uncovering new resources is to assign a task like “research and identify illustrations of _____.” Depending on the class size, this may work better as a group assignment. Students may be aware of media online or elsewhere that has not made it to mainstream educational channels. Making this a discussion-board assignment would allow learners to share findings with one another, and also give instructors the chance to chime in and clarify or emphasize points. Alternatively, students could submit their findings directly to the instructor, who could then vet those and release a “best of” list to the class.
You probably don’t need to change your learning objectives just because your session is moving to a remote learning environment, but any time you are revamping a piece of curriculum, it’s a good idea to take another look at your objectives and make sure they still make sense. It can be overwhelming to think about all of the content you need to cover. Instead, try reframing a little, and ask yourself the following:
How should my learner be different after they’ve participated in this curriculum? What should they know/understand/think/do differently?
By framing your teaching in this way, you are setting yourself up to think critically about all aspects of session design. This approach is called “backwards design,” and is based on the premise that once you have clearly articulated what you want your learner outcome(s) to be, you’ll direct your efforts in every step of course design towards meeting those outcomes. Your chances of meeting your outcomes will be higher, and your chances of getting bogged down in sometimes fruitless (and always time-consuming) details of content delivery, will be lower.
If you’d like to learn even more about backwards design, check out this book, available FREE online with your PSU Access ID:
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to designing College Courses, 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
If, after you’ve reviewed your current objectives, you’ve decided that they may need to be adjusted, you can use Bloom’s taxonomy to help you craft new objectives. Bloom’s is a framework for categorizing your educational goals from something very basic, like being able to remember a piece of information, to more complex goals such as being able to create new work. The taxonomy underwent some revisions in the early 2000s; here is a nice overview of the original taxonomy and its evolution.
In the case of didactics and lectures, consider creating an asynchronous module through Canvas, One Button Studio or your preferred slide-set software, Powerpoint or Keynote (Record a narrated PowerPoint how-to). When converting a lecture to a module, consider punctuating the material with multimedia and activities to keep learners engaged. Converting an existing lecture to an interactive slide set with embedded links and videos may be a relatively easy way to up-cycle some of your existing materials, and guide learners through the subject. Further, linking additional resources with the relevant material may also allow learners to do a deeper dive into the subject than they might otherwise be able to in a traditional lecture format.
When teaching to medium sized or large groups, participants may need to be broken down into smaller groups with more facilitators. If tackling a medium to large group alone, consider utilizing the breakout rooms in Zoom. (visit how-to link) Give specific instructions on the material to be discussed in the smaller groups with the expectation that each smaller group will report to the larger group. Have the smaller groups rotate the presenter to try to engage all learners. You may need to visit the breakout rooms to help start the conversation and this is where additional facilitators might be helpful.
While it’s wonderful that you do not have to re-write learning objectives with this first foray into online education, it might be worth revisiting the learning objectives as you go. You may want to consider if higher order learning objectives could be achieved by using different, or a combination of, modalities.
Free online tutorials:
Do you expect learners to complete activities outside of class at their own pace (i.e. asynchronous learning) or will all of your interaction take place in real-time online (i.e. synchronous learning)? How you organize your instruction ultimately depends on your goals and objectives for the session. Typically, learners will need to prepare more for a discussion-based session than for a lecture-based session.
Educators can incorporate asynchronous activities into one session or a full course. A common asynchronous activity that can be completed at any time before or after your meeting might include reading an article or viewing a video and posting a reflection. By reading through posts before a class, the educator can assess understanding and plan a session that will meet the learners’ needs.
During an online class session, polling software and other tools can be helpful to check understanding and assess whether the objectives for the session are met. You can ask learners to submit brief activities during a session in order to provide real-time feedback. For example, after learning about how to use questions to promote critical thinking, new educators were asked to submit open-ended questions. The session facilitator was able to quickly read through the questions and provide immediate feedback to the group by thinking aloud to revise sample submissions.
To plan a learner-centered session, an educator can ask learners to research authentic questions that relate to the session topic and share findings with peers. Incorporating a variety of activities is a great way to help learners to be more engaged with the material. By asking participants to present for a portion of the session or lead a discussion, for example, you can increase participation overall and decrease the stress of managing a live, synchronous session. The responsibility is shared.
When teaching remotely, the first thing you will want to think about is do I want to teach synchronously or asynchronously? If you want to teach synchronously, you will hold class at the same time each week, and the students will attend class at the same time, just as if you were in a classroom. If you want to teach asynchronously, you will allow students to work individually at their own pace, and you will not hold a regularly scheduled class. There are pros and cons to both, which can be fleshed out through further discussion.
The real question here might be, “How do I drive or increase participation in my remote class?” Participation can be gauged very simply in a synchronous setting. For example, in a Zoom class, asking students questions and having them use the reaction buttons or the poll options are a good way to get students involved. Having them post questions or comments to the chat is another way to encourage participation, especially those who may be reluctant to talk in a face-to-face classroom. In an asynchronous setting, a good way to boost participation is through use of the discussion boards. Often, instructors will post some leading or framing questions to help students think through a reading or video, and students, at their leisure, can use those questions to participate in the discussion through a written response. After leaving a response on the board, other students and instructors can respond to comments to enrich the discussion. This approach allows students and instructors to interact with each other, at their own pace, but still with fruitful results.
Zoom is a great option for sharing lectures, especially if you want to use synchronous (live) learning. Holding Zoom sessions in your regularly scheduled class time helps maintain a sense of continuity for both your students and you. General strategies to consider when adapting to remote teaching are available through Penn State’s Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. A variety of tips and links to training courses offered by Penn State can be found on PSU's remote teaching website. Free training on using Zoom in teaching is also available through Harrell Health Sciences Library here at PSCOM.
While you can certainly give a standard PowerPoint lecture in Zoom, remember to leave time for student interaction as you would in a live lecture. Take advantage of Zoom’s features to have your students engage in a classroom discussion, analyze data, participate in a think-pair-share activity, collaborate on group work or give presentations. Examples of Zoom engagement features include:
- Breakout rooms
- Screen sharing
- Raise your Hand
Some ideas for how to use these Zoom features to enhance learning as well as other strategies to facilitate student engagement while learning online can be found at Harvard’s Best Practices: Online Pedagogy website.
Using the record function in Zoom is also a great way for you to ‘flip’ your classroom. You can pre-record the foundational knowledge you want your students to learn, ask them to watch the recording before class, and then use class time to focus on application and higher order thinking. More information on flipping your classroom can be found at Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching.
When teaching in a remote or online teaching atmosphere, gathering and using data takes on a slightly different role than if one was in a face-to-face classroom. In the online environment, it is a good idea to use multiple, low-stakes assignments to assess if students understand the lessons or readings. Using this information, an instructor can gauge whether the students need more scaffolding for comprehension, personalized help, or if students are having trouble keeping up with the material, both physically and mentally.
Using the data from these assessments and assignments, an instructor can alter their online teaching approach or lesson plans to combat gaps in knowledge. You will want to use this feedback to make sure that students are first, comprehending the knowledge, and in turn, they are able to apply their knowledge. This can be done through a series of simple quizzes via Canvas, where the instructor can customize point values, ability to see correct] and/or incorrect responses and enable students to work alone or with a group. If you need assistance, please reach out to woodwardcenter@ psu.edu.
It is important to think about what you want your learners to take away from the session as you design the learning objectives and materials for your remote teaching. Many of the techniques that we use to assess learners’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills during live sessions can be translated to remote teaching.
In Zoom, we can ask questions of learners and obtain feedback in many ways:
- Verbal questions: please see section xxxx for suggestions for how to increase participation to verbal questions or through the chat function
- Zoom polls: surveys directly through Zoom
- Zoom icons: learners can express opinions through nonverbal feedback in the participant panel
- Poll-everywhere: share a link to a polling website that can be posted directly on the zoom chat or on a shared powerpoint; multiple choice questions, open ended questions, and word clouds are available.
- Learner observation: through discussion during session or in break-out rooms
For example, how would you assess a session by Zoom about reading EKGs? By the end of the session, we want learners to be able to (1) describe the EKG findings during an acute myocardial infarction (MI) and (2) analyze if an EKG is concerning for MI. We could ask learners to describe EKG findings during an MI verbally, through chat, or by poll as a short answer question. Participants could be observed analyzing EKGs through a shared screen or in break out rooms in small groups (with EKGs sent electronically). If we wanted to additionally assess learner comfort with reading EKGs, this could be done with attitude-based questions or icons.
Assessment of behavior change through demonstration of clinical skills is also possible during remote sessions. For example, learners can be directly observed using a rubric during a role play in break-out rooms to assess communication skills. Depending upon the procedure, participants could be observed practicing a simulated physical skill through video. Learners could also be sent a survey following the session to see if they noted a change in behavior or were able to apply a new skill.
No problem! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description (2-3 sentences) of what you are working on, and include some days and times that would work for your schedule to participate in a virtual consultation. One of the members of the Woodward team will be happy to help!
“I need to know what technology is available to me for online education”
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Free training is available for many of these resources through the Harrell Health Sciences Library. Check the library’s events calendar and register for workshops.
The Educational Technology Team is here to help. The Ed Tech team consists of individuals with information technology and education expertise.
Contact us at email@example.com if you need:
- Answers to specific questions involving technology for online teaching
- “In-room” support for your upcoming live Zoom instruction—so that you can focus on teaching
- Suggestions for technology that is already available at Penn State or Penn State Health
- Consultation on how to turn your instruction ideas into reality using technology
- Customized training for individuals or groups