Fall semester 2021 is looming, and many schools are going back to in-person, face-to-face classes, at least here in the US. The pandemic that caused us to teach remotely has forced many of us to hone our skills as instructors and adapt them to the online environment. I mentioned earlier how I decided to enroll myself in an online program to get certified by my institution as a qualified online instructor. I had no intention of wanting to be an online instructor, but I wanted to take these courses because I needed to learn the important skills and methodology of being an online instructor because, whether I like it or not, and whether I want to or not, I was going to be delivering my lessons online. And I did, for the next 3 semesters (including summer).
The thing is, my training as an online instructor may actually have improved my overall skill as an instructor, even for an in-person setting. There are many important lessons that I learned from that training program, and I fully intend to use many of them when I go back to in-person teaching. What brought this article about was a discussion I had with a few of my colleagues on whether we will use any of what we learned from the online training courses when we go back on-site. All of us unanimously said yes.
So here, I want to outline a few of the things that I had used in my online/remote classes that I will continue to use in my in-person classes.
- Remote office hours. God yes! I no longer see the need to have specific office hours at a specific location. Oh, I am still going to publish one office hour on-site, but the other office hour will be via Zoom that students can drop in remotely. Not only that, I'm going to make it very flexible for students to make an appointment to see me via Zoom at almost any time of the day if I'm available. Students are no longer restricted to seeing me only when they are on campus.
- More extensive use of the Learning Management System (LMS). Before the shutdown, I have been using the LMS to record grades, to post announcements and the course syllabus, to upload my lecture notes, and for the students to submit their lab documents, etc. However, now, I will make even more use of the LMS after what I have learned from online courses. I will continue to use the discussion feature, although not as extensively as I did for the online classes. I find that students who are either shy or do not actively participate in person, often make more use of the discussion feature in their participation with the class. This discussion feature could be an extension of the labs, where students get to give their opinion on the experience of a particular experiment, or what they expected or didn't expect.
- Related to the LMS, I will keep the design and layout of the LMS page based on what I've learned from online courses. This was the biggest cosmetic and design change that I have adopted. Having weekly module that contains EVERYTHING that a student needs to do and finish that week makes so much more sense now. The surveys that I had done seem to indicate that this is highly successful and that students were able to navigate the LMS and find everything that they need easily.
- Before the pandemic shutdown, I was running a flipped classroom, so I was already making use of online lessons, videos, etc. I was also using clickers for the polls and a form of peer-instruction during my lesson. I adopted this for my online lessons. So this won't change when I go back to in-person classes. However, it think that I want to add a lot more video lessons that students can use as additional resources for when they are out of class. It just means that even when they are not in class, they will be able to review the lessons of that week via other means and other sources.
- One of the most important aspect of online courses is student engagements. It is crucial because this is one of the most difficult thing to accomplish in online classes, and yet, it has been shown to be an effective means to convey the lesson and get a student interested in it. This is not that big of a deal for in-person classes because, well, the students are there and you can engage them with via many things in class. However, I want to formalize this engagement even when it is easier to do during in-person classes. Before the pandemic, I was already running what I would call "Studio Physics" classes, where the students have frequent discussion when other students, and even perform the demonstration of certain physics phenomenon themselves as part of the lesson. I want to increase this even more. While I had used web applications such as the ones from PhET, I want to use more of these so that they become on-going "projects" for them to investigate outside of class hours. During the past year and a half, I found a lot more websites having many different physics online simulations, "labs", and other applications that had used in my online courses. I found many of them that would be very useful to assign to students even in an in-person class. Again, a lot of this could be part of their discussion task where they discuss and report what they learned or discovered while using these web apps.
- Clearer, more extensive and detailed feedback. In an online course, student and teacher often do not interact either live, or often, and feedback often does not come fast and quick, unlike in-person interaction. So feedback on something, especially on an assigned and graded task, must be as clear and complete as possible that first time. This includes the tone of the feedback where we were told be mindful of how the feedback might be perceived by the student. While this may not be as crucial in an in-person environment, I still intend to make full use of the feedback feature on the LMS to give a detailed assessment on a student's work. I think that having it in writing makes it more concrete and gives the student a clear and more permanent evaluation, especially if it involves something done online such as the discussion forum.
I'm glad that I got the training that I needed to be an online instructor, even when I have very little desire to be an online instructor. The skills and technique that I learned were valuable, and in some ways, I hope it made me a better teacher both during this remote-learning phases, and when I go back to in-person instruction. We shall see if this is the reality for in-person instruction soon enough.