Suddenly All your Students are Online

“You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.”
Seymour Papert

Every aspect of our society is currently getting upended by the coronavirus. Every day, news agencies and politicians throw numbers at us. While many of the numbers lack the context for proper understanding, some things like reducing the size of groups are evident.  For education, the most impactful recommendation is the CDC’s recommendation to postpone gatherings of 50 or more people for at least the next eight weeks.  As of March 13, 2020, at least 90 colleges and universities had already canceled classes or gone to online education.

As a faculty member, you are likely asking, “what happens now?” You have spent your entire career teaching in a traditional face-to-face environment.  Suddenly your school expects you to teach online, likely without any training and probably minimal support.  This sudden and drastic change is likely to overwhelm campus IT departments. You will likely have to rely mostly on yourself and your fellow faculty members to figure it out.

However, let’s try and help with some suggestions and ideas. As a faculty member suddenly thrust into online education, the most important thing to remember is don’t panic.  Take a deep breath and start with something small. When we administer exams, we tell our students don’t get stuck on a single question. If you can’t answer a question, move on and come back to the hard one later. Take the same approach to online education. Don’t fixate on a single issue.  Put problems aside from that you can’t answer now and move on to something you can.

Let’s discuss mobile apps. A lot of faculty are talking about apps they can use to teach. However, keep in mind all your students might not be able to use a specific app.  While many apps have both an iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android (Google, Samsung, etc.) version, some apps don’t.  If an app is only available for iOS and half your students use android Phones, you can’t use that app. Perhaps you want to use live video conferences for group discussions. Your students might not have reliable high-speed internet in their homes. An excellent way to start planning is to send your students a survey to find out what technology they have. Here’s a short example

As you all know, the coronavirus has forced the university to shift to online education for at least the next several weeks. So that we can determine the best technology to use in continuing your education remotely, we would like to collect some information about the technology you have available to you.

Thank You
Instructors Name


What mobile tech do you use?

What kind of operating system does your mobile tech use?

What type of computer do you have?
Don’t own a computer

What operating system does your computer use?

what type of network access do you have?

Once you know, the technology your students have access to, you can start thinking about apps and other mobile technologies.

Because the change to online education was sudden, you will likely be playing catch-up. While you are waiting for responses from your students, let’s move one to another step. Even if you have never taught online, you have likely used a powerful online educational tool, your school’s Learning Management System (LMS). Your students can access the LMS anywhere they have an internet connection. Many LMS’s even have apps that give access through mobile devices.

A good starting point is to transfer your quizzes and exams into your LMS. You could even use the LMS to send your technology survey to your students. If your class involves lots of discussion questions, as the next step, set up discussion boards around your questions. Online discussion boards are not exactly like an in-class discussion. If you use the discussion board in the LMS, you are probably going to want to give your students some guidelines. As an example

This week’s discussion will focus on:

To receive full credit for the discussion, everyone must post at least a two-paragraph answer to the discussion questions.

Then comment on three other discussion posts, and responds to at least two comments

Next, look at the assignments tool; faculty can use it for more than grading papers. Students should be able to upload all kinds of digital files (document, image, audio, or video) through the assignment tool. Use the assignments tool as a means of excepting any type of data that gives your students one location to submit files. It also helps you keep track of your student’s submissions. The ability to accept multiple file types is especially useful in a class that has a lot of auditory content like speech or music classes. If your students have a regular weekly performance, you can create an assignment for each week.  The students can record their performance and then upload the file to the assignments page.

Yes, I know everyone is asking, what about lectures? You can use video or audio recordings to present your lectures. Today most LMS systems will allow video uploads. However, you should ask your school IT department if your school has access to a streaming video service. Streaming services are like YouTube or Netflix; they use a unique technology to deliver videos. Delivery of videos over the internet is technically demanding, and bandwidth-heavy process streaming services have optimized technology. If your school has access to a streaming service, you should use it. If your school does not have access to a streaming service or video delivery through your LMS, there is always YouTube.

What’s is the easiest way to record a lecture.  You might not like to hear this, but PowerPoint is a quick and easy way to create narrated presentations, you can find basic instructions here or here. Once you have recorded your narration, you can save your presentation as a PowerPoint show, which will play even if your students don’t have PowerPoint.  Alternatively, your school might have a lecture capture system.

However, the strongest recommendation I can make about online videos is to keep them short. If you record a whole lecture, break it up, and post it in 5-10-minute pieces. Alternatively, just record 5-minute videos concerning the most important topics.

Finally, over the next weeks and months, share what you learn.  Let people know what worked for you and what didn’t.  Let people know why something did or did not work. The best way to get through this is to help each other.

Thanks for Listening to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

P.S. Let me know if there are specific technologies or distance education problems where a blog post might help.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s