12 Tips for Teaching in a Virtual Environment

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Teaching Online


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How can teachers adapt to teaching online?

A serious lack of funding over the last decade had already seen English state schools struggling to meet the needs of pupils. The COVID-19 pandemic caught all of us off-guard with an immediate need across the education community to readjust curriculum materials for remote delivery.

In a new research paper, 12 Tips for Pivoting to Teaching in a Virtual Environment published by the University of Manitoba, academics offer tips to provide insight on the practice of teaching in virtual [health] environments, from course design, to student engagement, to assessment practices, to maximising the potential that technology can provide for both the [teacher] and the students.

I’ve taken a closer look to see if there are any similarities that we can draw upon for the teaching profession.

Tip 1 – Review learning objectives

Teaching online will require classroom-based objectives to be adjusted; begin the design process by identifying what evidence is required for learners to demonstrate the desired level of proficiency before planning teaching and learning experiences (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005).

Recommendation: Think critically about what can realistically be achieved.

Tip 2 – Review resources

The interdependency between content, pedagogy, and technology is a unique characteristic of online teaching with a wide range of tools available. Systems should foster social and collaborative learning in both synchronous and asynchronous settings; social media can enhance social presence and build networks.

Recommendation: Effective integration of digital tools and technologies is facilitated by teachers who explore and learn technologies.

Tip 3 – Explore strategies to engage learners

When designing your online curriculum, it is important to consider not only content, but also how you plan for learners to engage with that content.

Recommendation: Forging positive connections with [teachers] has been shown to play a significant role in student satisfaction.

Tip 4 – Design educational content for online

Consider cognitive load theory (CLT) in course design for remote instruction during COVID-19, as increased stress during the pandemic may have an additional negative impact on working memory (Klein and Boals, 2001; Hubbard and Blyler, 2016).

Recommendation: Teachers can accomplish this by removing extraneous load that distract from the learning process. Teachers can enhance germane load by planning activities that focus on retrieval practice, that is, retrieving the learned information to apply it:

  1. Allowing students to ‘self-explain’ the material being presented
  2. When using active learning activities ensure adequate variability.

Tip 5 – Consider using diverse teaching strategies

New media provide us with opportunities to engage with our learners. It is important to be mindful of which technologies your remote students have to.

Recommendation: Using a variety of learning technologies will not only help you to appeal to different student learning preferences, it can also help you maximise their engagement.

Tip 6 – Maximise what the technology can do

online learning may seem like an impediment to blend assessment with learning activities, it can also offer an opportunity to consider practices which may be difficult to implement in a traditional classroom spaces.

Recommendation: Breakout rooms during an online lecture can also facilitate developing and maintaining learner relationships.

Tip 7 – Determine the purpose of assessment

When moving to online learning environments the purpose of assessments should be forefront. Assessments should reflect the intent, level of mastery, and depth of understanding required to achieve the learning objectives.

Recommendation: The use of authentic and other formative assessments in online contexts facilitates greater interaction and engagement with the delivery of the feedback through online discussions, peer reviews using shared documents, written feedback, synchronous or asynchronous video.

Tip 8 – Refine assessments to reflect virtual environments

If changes to assessments are needed with the shift to online delivery, it is important to remember that there is a consistent need for learners to receive quality and timely feedback to enhance their learning experiences (Reyna, 2020).

Recommendation: Refinements for virtual environments may include combining or splitting assessments to ensure that they cover the necessary level of mastery for each learning objective, as well as providing an opportunity for the learner to scaffold throughout the course. An assessment map provides a visual check of ensuring…

Tip 9 – Familiarise yourself and your students with virtual teaching

It is important to orient yourself and your students with the technology and software encompassing the virtual teaching environment prior to the start of the course. Materials should be easily accessible, such as a one-page document, short video, or short podcast.

Recommendation: Materials be distributed to students ahead of time, with encouragement for them to also play with the technology beforehand.

Tip 10 – Keep the environment safe and respectful

MacLeod et al. (2019) highlight several unanticipated issues with teaching in virtual environments, categorising them as visual, curricular, and auditory exposures.

Recommendation: Have an open and frank discussion of etiquette to establish standards and protocols for interacting within the virtual environment.

Tip 11 – Have a back-up plan

Having a back-up plan is sound practice regardless of whether teaching in-person or in a virtual environment. Being familiar with the technology and software used to deliver the course may facilitate greater flexibility and adaptability if something does go wrong.

Recommendation: Develop strategies and plans to be ready for when there are issues with technology.

Tip 12 – Maintain some compassion for transition to remote learning

Stress is already a major component of student life throughout health professions education (Ang and Huan, 2006; Bedewy and Gabriel, 2015), and has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic (Cao et al., 2020; Sahu, 2020).

Recommendation: Social supports within remote learning contexts can be facilitated through regular group study assignments that encourage small group actions and cooperation, and may lead to socialisation outside of the course.

It is important that all teachers reflect on curriculum delivery in virtual environments, deploying teaching strategies grounded in learning theory that is germane to virtual teaching environments, such as cognitive load theory.

You can find the original research paper here.

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