Schools are facing all kinds of challenges these days because of physical distancing (note: we are still being social with virtual hang outs, virtual meetings, virtual commencements, etc). As a result of this physical distancing, which has been implemented in most countries

  • teachers are at home
  • classrooms are empty
  • schools are shut
  • many students do not have access to libraries and other school resources

Even though we are far from business as usual, our schools can still educate and evaluate online until we find our new normal.

There are five quick steps you can take to transition to online education quickly and kickstart daily activities:

  • Step 1: Map out your system of running a virtual / online classroom with mobile support.
  • Step 2: Transform your classroom materials to quick videos. Make sure you focus on content that can be presented with a mix of visual aids (ex. PowerPoint) and lecture vs. content that needs to be specially shot (ex. giving a video presentation direct to camera for 50 minutes).
  • Step 3: Get your LMS (Learning Management System) ready to handle increased traffic. See if auto-scaling is possible. Don’t forget that a transition to online learning also means that you have to move to Teaching + Entertainment.
  • Step 4: Plan out your assessment strategy. It is difficult to design complex courses within such a short time. Therefore, designing smart assessments can be the faster option. These can be shorter and more often to check knowledge development.
  • Step 5: Conduct rigorous practice sessions with your colleagues (or friends) before going online.

*****************Deep Dive*****************

Let’s break these five steps down even further.

Step 1 – There are four main things to keep in mind while using a virtual classroom:

  • Not every participant will have the same bandwidth – so pre-plan which features will be of use to you.
  • Select an LMS that allows you to use multi-fold features where you can enable a PowerPoint or a video to be shown to students live.
  • Select platforms that are easy to use to keep the learning curve low for you and your students (ex. LMS, virtual meeting software, etc).
  • Ensure that your virtual classroom gives you the ability to record.

Step 2
– Divide your classroom content into two different groups:

Group 1: Content that can be presented through lectures and visual aids. This content can be transformed into recorded video lectures followed by an assessment. (*Ask me about companies doing great, cost-effective work here.)

Group 2: Content that needs to be presented through specific documentary-style videos – such as lab experiments and other demonstrations. This might require special equipment or a film crew but can be edited/produced remotely to be more cost effective.

Step 3
– If you already have an LMS, then you have already solved a big piece of the puzzle. You already have a distribution platform for your content and assessments as well as the means of gathering enough data on your students’ performance.

Double check a few things about your LMS:

  • scalability – before you launch your courses
  • performance – test this with sample students or a small group of real students
  • mobile performance – how do you ebooks and courses appear on a mobile phone? Make sure your video/courses are formatted properly.

If you need to find an LMS, you are probably looking to get it up and running quickly (like yesterday!). Choose to buy one vs building one. There are great options that are implementation ready and can help you with your virtual game.

Features of an LMS that helps in faster onboarding, course release, and self-learning for student:

  • User management – seamless onboarding of students, classifying students into groups, assigning training to users, user controls
  • Learning management – easy upload and download of courses, Tin Can compliance, score management, SCORM compliance, videos and document management
  • Reporting – detailed reporting and user analytics, performance analytics, competency and skills, completed/incomplete status
  • Recommendations – interest and learner-behavior based recommendation system that allows users to choose from recommended courses
  • Interest based selection – allows users to choose a future skill and order courses around it based on their interests and future career related prospects
  • SaaS usage – platform with high scalability, low barrier to entry, and easily deployed for global audiences

Remote teaching is not equivalent to online teaching. Engagement lies in social features, not just course design. Teachers and students, and the interaction and engagement that happens in a classroom is what makes learning shine. In today’s world, engagement lies in social features, not just course design. Look at your courses through a student’s perspective to evaluate if its really engaging from their perspective. Design smart discussion boards from the same perspective.

Its helpful to have a team built out to help here, or at least some type of resource that is experienced and can help you pull together engaging materials. You don’t have to tackle (any of) this on your own!

Step 4 – The quality of your assessments will determine a lot at this point since you cannot have extended periods of lecture.

  • Make sure the questions are probing enough
  • Make assessments interactive
  • Use scenarios, puzzles, etc as tools for testing users

Step 5 – When you conduct classes in a virtual classroom, the following challenges will crop up:

  • You may not always be able to run the video for a virtual classroom because of bandwidth issues. If you have to go audio only, remember your body language while speaking is no longer effective!
  • Recording of you lecture will likely focus on your face, so you may not always be able to use your hands or other materials. Be conscious of what is in frame.
  • Not everything that you say in the class will be remembered – especially in a different learning environment. Therefore, you need to constantly use quizzes and interactions in the classroom to ensure your learners are paying attention.

There is so much to think about when putting together a good virtual course, but it can be done if you are mindful of your environment and that it’s different. Find a good partner to help you develop the course if needed, rehearse your lecture in a virtual environment before you go live for your students, and embrace all that the virtual world allows you to do.