<span class='p-name'>Teaching in the Time of COVID</span>

Teaching in the Time of COVID

For more than a decade, I’ve been teaching educators from Pre-K up through higher education how to be digitally literate educators.

In earlier posts discussing how to be a digitally literate educator, and agile researcher, I boil this down to a three step process:

Create and curate your digital identity – Write yourself into being. Just as you create your offline self, build up your digital version.

Digitize your workflow – Start thinking digital-first as you consume, curate, create content. Gone are the days of “that file is on my other laptop” or “I need to re-upload that file as there is a new one.”

Build an online learning and research hub – Have one URL that serves as the linchpin for all of your digital content. Many of my students think that the main source of lesson plans is Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers. They indicate that LinkedIn is their professional page. Build your version of these sites that you control.

Why be Digitally Literate?

There are a number of reasons why you would want to follow these steps. In a Pre-COVID universe, my lectures and keynotes held a “wouldn’t it be nice” vibe. Now in our current situation, this is paramount. I hope that in Post-COVID learning spaces, we don’t go back to business as usual, as it wasn’t working for all.

I think there are three main reasons why you’d want to change your learning and research processes.

  • Share your ideas and work others
  • Develop a professional learning network (PLN)
  • Build up a digital identity that you control

Teaching Online in an Age of Screencasts

My thinking about the need to be a digitally literate educator came to a head as Magi of the Internet, George Station sent me a request. He was having a discussion with his PLN and this post from my past was brought up.

The post is inspired by the work of Gustavo Reis and his research on engaged students.

Reis posits that in most classes, students are alert and attentive for the first five minutes of class. About halfway through the class, only about half are still paying attention. With about five minutes to go, the teacher says “finally” and all students wake up. They know that the teacher saved the best for last…or at least the class is about to end.

Reis comes to this realization from his study of online video. He discusses how, after just the first 10 seconds of a video, 11% of all viewers have abandoned the video. After just one minute, more than HALF of all viewers are gone. And after 5 minutes, just 9% of the original viewers will remain.

Station’s question is whether or not we (educators & support staff) should be locked into our desire to create longer lectures (with or without PPT).

What should we be doing whether or not our current screen-trapped lives warrant it?

Teaching in the Time of COVID

Good pedagogy is informed by digital, hybrid, connected learning spaces. We should not be afraid, or conscripted into service by these circumstances. Being deliberate about our relationship with the digital dragon will pay incredible dividends.

In the remainder of this post, I’ll discuss how I approach the organization and teaching in light of my knowledge about good teaching and learning, hybrid pedagogy, and some recent research.

A note: I know that many are suffering from the impact of coronavirus in our lives. I share this guidance while privileging care. For those that resign themselves to the “kids are different these days” or “that’s not how I learned”…you should find a different post to read. 😉

Aim small, miss small. Teach what is need to know, not what is nice to know. Don’t follow the chapters in the textbook. Identify the two or three main topics you definitely want students to take from a unit/module/class. Use that to frame your goals and objectives.

Focus on knowledge, skills, dispositions. Pedagogy is all about gains in knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Knowledge is facts, information. Skills are the expertise or talent needed to do a job or task. Dispositions are the habits of mind needed to act in a certain manner under given circumstances.

Chunk course content. After you aim small/miss small, break up that content into shorter, bite-sized pieces that are manageable and easier to remember. For some students, you may need to pre-chew the material a bit to make it more palatable.

Treat it Like a Morning Show. Most of the morning shows on TV are designed to be accomodating and approachable. They want hosts to engage in banter with the audience and others as the show begins. The host will then identify the “top stories of the day.” After that, they dig into each of these stories and keep things moving. At the end of the class, they remind you of the stories they cover and perhaps offer a closing synopsis of what you’ve learned, what to watch out for next, or a synthesis/reflection from the host. Follow this format.

Don’t rely on lecture. Lectures are great. We, as educators can start up a slide deck, and talk for days. In a way, it is a way to chew up time in the class. But, it is doomed for failure in a long class, especially online. In truth, any strategy that you use on a regular basis will fail over time as students get bored with it. Brief, dynamic lectures are necessary for direct instruction. I try to keep my lectures to 20 to 30 minutes..and aim for the middle of class.

Block Classes. Look at your class period as a series of 20 to 30-minute blocks of time and switch activities in each chunk. You should change things up in your classroom every 20 to 30 minutes.

This post from Cult of Pedagogy shares 5 structures for breaking up your classes:

  • The Classic – a typical lesson with an anticipatory set, direct instruction, application, assessment, reflection.
  • The Workshop – students working independently on a long-term, hands-on task.
  • The Lab – student-focused activity on a single meaty task.
  • The Performance – students take the lead and share/celebrate.
  • The Variety Pack – a fast-paced mix of activities, review, drill & practice.

Use Breaks. Humans get restless when they are required to sit still or do the same thing for long periods of time. It’s also bad for their mental and physical health. Your students may be sitting for hours in your class, or in a series of classes throughout the day. If you’re changing things up every 20 to 30 minutes, take time for a brain break, or to get away from the computer. Have your students get up and do some stretching or breathing exercises. Have then listen to a podcast, video, or lecture while going for a five-minute walk. Have them go identify an example of a radius as they walk around their home or street. Come back and discuss what they found.

Take time together. In my classes, I need to account for 2 hours and 45 minutes of seat time in a semester. Of this, I have students attend one hour of synchronous class time per week. In an online or hybrid class, this is relatively easy. In a face-to-face class, we agree on the day, time, and location with the department and Registrar’s Office. We meet up for an hour (in smaller groups if possible) and do some hands-on work, answer questions, and engage in probing discussions.

In terms of George’s question about video recording of lectures, this is where I add this component. I record my lecture for the week/module and share out the slides and video in the learning management system. Some weeks I share parts of this lecture in our one hour together. I don’t get to everything and indicate that students should revisit the video and slides if they want more info. Some weeks they consume the lecture on their own. I circle back around to the content in the lectures by assessing that in quizzes, reflections, Flipgrid discussions, or other authentic assignments throughout the course.

Provide just in time supports. In some research that is coming out soon, we asked faculty and students at our institution about video demonstrations and lectures. What shocked me was that faculty indicated that they were annoyed when support staff would share a 20 minute video showing how to add a quiz to the learning management system. They wanted a video on demand, concierge-like system in which the mentor would show a ten second clip of “where is that link to set the date of the assignment.” This led me to think a bit more about providing a library of short, bite-sized images, GIFs, and videos showing discrete knowledge and skills. This library would be easily searchable, but better yet…easy to link to courses, discussions, and content.

Good teaching is good teaching

As we are disrupted and try to adapt to the changes wrought by the coronavirus we need to use this as an opportunity to examine the inequalities that existed before. This is a time to re-examine most aspects of our lives and think about how we could or should do things differently.

Much of the guidance in this post I’ve built into a series of open courses on the website at Digitally Literate.

Let me know what works for you and how this may help.


Photo by Chris Malinao Burgett on Unsplash

This post is Day 74 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

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