Transformative Online Teaching
I have the privilege of teaching teachers and it is something that I appreciate now more than ever. As a faculty member of Loyola University Maryland’s School of Education Master’s in Educational Technology program and the designer and instructor of a fully online graduate course (ironically) titled “Transformative Online Teaching”, I am all too familiar with the obstacles and difficulties teachers encounter when transitioning from face-to-face to an online classroom.
As the pandemic forces the transition to online learning in a way that feels like an emergency, I am coaching my graduate students, all of whom are teachers in the Baltimore area, through the transition. They are frustrated, anxious, and stressed while receiving mixed messages about what to do and how to do it. All of these emotions are understandable. The teachers also are hopeful, persistent, reflective, and adaptive to these changes.
At this time in the semester, students have learned the 10 essential skills for teaching online. To maintain social distancing, I meet with my students individually via Zoom to discuss their final project for the course. This assignment is more relevant as ever as it requires them to choose a unit traditionally taught in the face-to-face environment and adapt it to an online classroom. My students must apply all of the concepts, theories, and strategies learned in the course to the design of this unit.
- Incorporate opportunities for learner-to-learner interactions, learner-to-content interactions, and learner-to-instructor interactions.
- Build a community of inquiry with an intentional selection of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities.
- Organize learning materials and design them to be accessible.
- Share expectations for their learners and what their learners can expect from them.
- Create closed-captioned screencasts and how-to videos that orient learners to their new online classroom experience as well as the implemented technologies and platforms.
- Address the different kinds of feedback that online learners need and build opportunities for formative assessments and self-assessment.
- Incorporate their own personalities as teachers through welcome letters, videos, emails, and announcements.
- Reflect on how their newly-designed unit addresses the National Standards for Quality Online Learning.
Now more than ever, I am impressed with the online units being created by my students. What stands out to me in our meetings this week—more than this exceptional and relevant work—is their caring and concern for their students. A middle school history teacher ponders how she can provide the best feedback for her 200+ students. A high school teacher openly worries about the health and well-being of her students who work in nursing homes and grocery stores. Another high school teacher is subdued when she speaks about all of the events and activities that her seniors are missing. An elementary school teacher tells me she spent the weekend writing cards and letters to her students who aren’t showing up online while another elementary teacher shares how she has been calling a few students each day just to check in with them.
I think about the skills and strategies in my course that teaches teachers how to teach online. They are functional skills and pedagogies that reflect the best practices of online teaching and learning. This knowledge is essential to becoming an effective online teacher. Amid this pandemic, I am reminded by my students that empathy, compassion, and responsiveness rise above these tangible skills. And, I thank the teachers in my class for calling attention to this.
Dr. Kelly Keane is the director of the educational technology program at Loyola University Maryland.