With the threat of the coronavirus pandemic reaching into the future, learning institutions across the globe are considering how the "new normal" will look for the classroom. Several colleges announced their commitment to a 100% online format, but these overhauls take time and, in many cases, significant investment dollars. What can teachers do to make their digital classrooms more effective and, most importantly, more accessible?
To help bridge the gap between student and teacher, consider these five strategies for educators at all levels, from K-12 to graduate programs.
- Put Accessibility First
Flashy animations, HD video and live guest lecturers certainly help bring a subject to life, but be mindful of student learning outcomes and choose approachable over slick. It is more reasonable for instructors to distribute a quality course online with fewer bells and whistles. Students with limited connectivity or older computers will find it easier to access. Always elevate course content above the way you deliver it.
- Skip Live Learning
The new term in distance education is "asynchronous," or delivering course content in an offline, recorded format. Asynchronous coursework achieves two important goals for students. First, they can learn at their own pace throughout the day or week, according to their personal schedules. Second, it is more forgiving of limited connectivity, since it requires less bandwidth than live learning. Another perk to this approach is the flexibility it gives teachers to plan and record material when it works best for them, too.
- Maintain Privacy
Educators have an enormous responsibility to protect students' personal information, and live learning often complicates this duty. In response to reported data breaches and cases of "Zoom bombing," online conference platforms have tightened their security measures and even developed best practice guides for users. It pays to become familiar with these strategies if you use live conferencing for one-on-one meetings, tutoring or lectures. Not only is it essential for liability purposes, but your commitment can help students feel safe in today's changing education environment.
- Check In Often
If you think that having asynchronous content limits you from connecting with students, think again. There are numerous offline ways to see how your class is doing, and today's classroom management tools have this priority in mind. Whether you request a weekly forum post or email, it pays to let students know you are expecting their participation. Sending personal notes of encouragement goes a long way toward boosting attitudes, especially with limited face-to-face interaction.
- Assume Nothing
Today's students don't need handholding when using technology, right? Wrong. Not only is it incorrect to assume that all younger students have the same basic technological aptitude, but the assumed demographic of your class may be way off. From subtle tech differences, such as Mac users vs. Windows users, to the needs that senior adult learners may have, you can't dismiss that each student will have a different level of tech awareness. Take time to document every step for using classroom tech, including troubleshooting tips and ways for your students to reach out if they have problems. Make this information available to everyone and continue your emphasis on accessible classroom experiences.
If there's one positive takeaway from the pandemic, it's that classrooms are opening up to include a more diverse student population than ever before. Any stigma around online or distance learning is quickly disappearing, and the education realm has fully embraced what's possible with a high-quality, digital classroom experience.
Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University's online Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction – General program.
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