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Online teaching tips from digital learning experts

March 26, 2020 //

man working from home

Americans everywhere made the transition to work from home to flatten the curve during the COVID-19 outbreak. It has affected the lives of millions of people, who are now using unfamiliar technology and adapting to different communication—and teaching—techniques. 

To assist the Temple and Fox community who find themselves teaching online, we asked Carly Papenberg, director of Instructional Design and Online and Digital Learning, and Sonni James, instructional designer, for tips on enhancing the online learning experience. 

“The biggest thing for faculty as they get started teaching online is to relax,” says Papenberg. “Open up Zoom (video conferencing application) and talk to students. Consider that a win.” 

She also suggests professors rely on the resources at their disposal, each other, the larger Temple community or students for help with technical questions or recommendations. In online instruction, teachers should try to create a sense of community through Breakout Rooms and classroom discussions. Breakout Rooms can help students showcase new, or otherwise hidden, skills. 

How can professors ensure that the breakout groups are effective? James has a few tips: 

  • Assign discussion roles, or ask students to identify roles. For example, who is going to ask the questions within each group? Who will act as the note taker? And, when it comes time to present, who will act as the leader? 
  • Limit time in Breakout Rooms realistically. If a conversation in person would take ten minutes, give students eight when teaching online. That way, there is a little bit of pressure. This inspires students to work faster, leading to more productive conversations.
  • Send timing updates. Once students are in Breakout Rooms, updates can be sent through Zoom. Using chat options, students know how much time they have left to discuss a certain question.
  • Move between groups to answer questions. Pop into Breakout Rooms throughout the sessions. A lot of the time, the groups will be working and they won’t need help, but that action will reassure students that the professor is accessible if questions or concerns arise. 

Despite this forced and unexpected change, Papenberg says that online classes have benefits that traditional classes don’t. “Have students turn on their cameras. You can call on students in a way that you probably couldn’t in a larger class because you can see their names listed there,” says Papenberg. 

After starting simply, by sharing your screen and talking to students, Papenberg suggests that faculty ready to try a new tool can reach out to the Online and Digital Learning team for support. Their weekly webinars and one-on-one support will help even the most nervous faculty member finish the semester. 

Everyone is going through a transition right now, says Papenberg. Remember that we are all— students and faculty alike—trying our best to adjust to this unexpected change. “Overall, take it piece by piece. Use a little grace during this time,” adds Papenberg.

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