As much as we didn’t want it, it’s arrived – another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many places, educational institutions are once again (if not already) going online, and a discussion on online learning is once again becoming relevant.
Truthfully, over the past 9 months we’ve begun to live in a new world of communication, and the topic of online learning has gone through many different stages – delight, rejection, cold professionalism… I believe we are not even in the middle of this process and much still lies ahead, but it is already clear the transition to online has touched upon many topics, revealing that there are many new skills to be developed, and the many issues on the agendas of those working in education.
We still have a large part of the academic year ahead of us, and there is every reason to assume that we will spend a good amount of it in a virtual space, so I think now is the time to look at our work on a larger scale and draw up a plan for a comfortable transition, taking into account the experience of the past months.
The first step is for us to draw up and update the curriculum of your program. In other words, paint the big picture with broad strokes. Start with the biggest projects throughout the year – openings and closings, holidays and related events, any important events that you have planned for this year. Then, add all the other content units your students will interact with: classes, contests, games, and so on.
Having drawn a detailed map of the upcoming year, you can start updating it to take into account the unique qualities of this year. Determine if some of your previously planned programs should be replaced with ad hoc programs related to our current situation.
Also check how many educational assessments appear on your map – perhaps you have a separate method of assessment for parents or colleagues?
The second step is to classify the types of activities.
There are many different techniques for classification, one of which involves the allocation of semantic, supportive and asynchronous type activities.
Semantic activity is the classification that includes all of your content blocks that account for the core of your learning. It is important to take into account that the effect of semantic activity online lasts less than offline, so the gaps between such blocks in virtual format should be reduced as much as possible.
Supportive activity includes everything that is aimed at maintaining the motivation of the participants, team building and working with the dynamics of the group. When it comes to online learning, we can also include all activities related to facilitating the educational process in an online format (simple checklists, quick calls, and so on).
Asynchronous activities are the independent work of participants and their interaction with the material. These are homework assignments, case studies and projects that students work on outside of sessions and classes. It is important that the load from this type of activity is lower than in an offline setting – make them a fraction of the learning and uncomplicated.
Finding a balance between these different types of activities, taking into account the specifics described above, is one of the keys to being successful in transitioning to online learning.
What needs to be done next? Connect the content blocks and activities with the capabilities of online services and platforms. Several months ago, I made a selection of services that I used most often, but progress does not stand still and, of course, demand creates supply. Updates to preexisting services or entirely new programs addressing challenges in education are constantly appearing, so I recommend constantly monitoring the market for innovative solutions.
Another tip here – if you are not constrained by the requirements to use “frontal” learning, look at your plans more broadly. Maybe you can replace a Zoom lecture with some other activity? Make Talmudic midrash via twitter – why not? Recreate King David’s Instagram? Make a cooking video of a Jewish meal? I am not even taking into account services with unusual functionality! It seems that everyone is sick of zoom calls, but the possibilities for digital learning are much wider than it might seem at first glance.
The final stage of our preparation is to calculate the risks. Try imagining what could go wrong. At what points in your program do you have the most doubts or confusion?
In my experience, the most common problems are:
- Low activity of participants in the process;
- Lack of contact between members and with you;
- Inability to build a dialogue due to sound lags;
And also, in my experience, possible solutions to these problems could be:
- Simplification of content – reduce the number of semantic blocks and make them alternate more often;
- Establish a rule that everyone present in the class should turn on cameras – eye contact is important online as well;
- Divide participants into mini-groups and hevrutas more often;
- Make your content more interactive with a variety of programs and services.
I am sure that each of us already has our own toolbox that comes with our experience working in virtual space. I am sure that our skills will grow and change as quickly as the field of online education changes. As they say, don’t turn off, we’ll keep be back to keep you informed!