The best way to teach online? keep it simple and flexible

‘I don’t have to be an online learning expert to deliver engaging and informative material online’. Discuss.

As the corona virus pandemic escalates, universities and schools in the UK have to adapt from face-to-face classes and events to online formats. For academics in the UK – many coming out of a prolonged period of strike action – this means having to find time to convert teaching or papers designed to be delivered in person into an online version.

I no longer work in academia – I resigned my post almost a year ago. Although I don’t work within the constraints of the university – student numbers, evaluations, platforms and tech issues – I have experienced trying to work around these whilst unable to deliver face-to-face content due to my chronic illness and fluctuating health.

I appreciate and know all too well the extra work and stress that having to quickly convert and repurpose content causes. The fear of negative evaluations if the online teaching experience was not the same as the offline experience.

I am now self-employed and my business model is based on the delivery of most of my services – coaching and teaching – online.

It has taken me a while to get up to speed with the platforms and formats that work. I’m not a tech expert. I’ve learned this as I go.

However, there are some quick and straight-forward ways to do this quickly; using the existing content you have and the platforms you already use.

How to deliver good enough offline content online, quickly and relatively stress-free.

Let’s repeat this, not discuss it; ‘I don’t have to be an online learning expert to deliver engaging and informative material online’.

Acknowledging and accepting this is point number one in reducing stress and time.

Ditto accepting that the online learning experience will NOT be the same. As Dr Jess Perriam outlined on Twitter – it takes the Open University 2 years to design bespoke online learning experiences.

This is not what is being asked of you. It cannot – you are responding ad hoc to an unfolding crisis. Also – read this blog post on not investing too much time on this repurposing.

This doesn’t mean what you can offer won’t be useful.

It does means you need to think about how to best repurpose your material and thinking about your audience and how they will engage with the new format.

You don’t need all-singing and dancing experiences. You are not being asked to turn yourself into a professional YouTuber.

You need the content to be good enough. It needs to fulfil the ILOS, be engaging, be informative.

It has to be adapted to the audience.

Less is always more

Do you need to go beyond your existing slides with a voice or video-over? This might be most appropriate for a large undergraduate lecture.

What about if you are trying to convert a 2-3 hour participatory workshop for Master students? Again, less complicated that you might think.

I want to offer with some prompts and suggestions that you can try and adapt to find the most straight-forward – and effective – platform and approach for you and your students.

Think about the following:

  1. What is the core learning point from the lecture/seminar/workshop that can be delivered without you physically present?
  2. What is the best way to deliver that – slides; slides with audio; slides with video? Or a more participatory option (with written comments, or video participation)? You can add audio on Powerpoint or use software like Camtasia if your institution has it. You can also do this with Zoom because it allows you to share slides and record. You get a little video of you too with this option.
  3. What platforms are available/required of you to use (internal like Moodle or a course Facebook page, or do you have more choice?)
  4. What platforms can you already use? Well enough?
  5. How much time do you have to convert what you already have?
  6. How can you REPURPOSE not REWRITE that content?
  7. What are your expectations – are they reasonable of yourself?
  8. How long do you have to host the online version for? Does it have to be an hour like a face-to-face lecture?
  9. Think about the online learning experiences you have had – which worked and which didn’t? What are the essentials (information, engagement, opportunity for clarification).
  10. If the thought of recording a video makes you feel sick – don’t. Do audio or assign guided reading.

 Think about what you already do

  1. Think a bit more creatively about how you can repurpose the tools you already use.
  2. Take from the flipped classroom; can you record a short video and give guided prompts to the reading for students to do on their own time?
  3. If your course or subject use Facebook or similar, could you use the Facebook Live option?
  4. Could you use Zoom? You can use this video-conferencing software free for up to 40 minutes with unlimited participants and you can record to offer a reply option (then you have to pay). You can share the link. If you want to encourage participation, Zoom allows the participants to share video/audio, or listen.
  5. What about Vimeo – again the free version has a time limits, but it is an easy platform to use for a video and you can send the link in an email.
  6. Remember captioning; not only because we should do this as default for accessibility, but more people watch on their phones with the sound off. There are apps that you can use to do this.
  7. What about those longer 2-3 hour seminars or workshops? Why not send out a timetable factoring breaks and activities. There is no reason why you can’t run this as a discussion and participatory event with a few tweaks. Zoom works really well here.
  8. Check out Janet Murray’s podcast on this – although not aimed at academics, it is really useful in thinking about how to make this enforced transition of offline-online teaching work and can definitely be applied to university lectures, seminars and talks.

Manage student expectations from the outset

Your students will get a better experience if you manage their expectations from the outset.

Do the basic things like send an email with instructions of where and how to join the class.

Give a set of preparation exercises.

Outline what level of contact they will have with you – will there be a forum for Q&A, or will they be able to participate in real time if hosted on something like Zoom?

Will it be recorded for reply – if so, where will it be hosted?

What can they do after the class – will you host online office hours?

Again, using something like Facebook Live, or the resources within your institutional intranet/platform forum can be used – you may even be doing this anyway.

Manage your expectations of you: you know what you are doing

I don’t intend any of this to come across as ‘new’.

I know that you know all of this already.

However, it is useful to have a reminder that less is more; you can do it; this is not forever.

The positive in all of this is that we might finally edge closer to a wider landscape of platforms and forms of teaching, which can only enhance accessibility and perhaps reduce stress and overwork when we are unwell – not only when we are trying to confront a pandemic, but when we are chronically ill, or otherwise unwell.

I’m happy to chat more if you want to Tweet or email me.







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