Here in Pennsylvania, class cancellations due to snow are the most challenging part of the spring semester. Days before our college closed due to the pandemic, I joked with a colleague that this could be the first semester without any snow days. Little did I know that within days, I would have a much bigger challenge than losing a few class days due to some bad weather.
I have no experience teaching an online course or “flipping the classroom,” and in a just a few days, I had to reconfigure my organic-chemistry lecture while worrying about the health of my family, friends, and students, and about how I was going to manage working from home with two small children while my husband worked on the front line.
My strategy wasn’t to focus on the pedagogy of online learning, but just to maintain learning during this need for emergent remote teaching. I used what instructional support was familiar to me and my students to try and make this transition as easy as possible.
I already use my college’s online-learning platform, Moodle, which contains:
- Announcements and Due Dates
- A Gradebook
- Chapter Worksheets with Answer Keys
- PowerPoint Slides
- Khan Academy Videos to Accompany PowerPoints
In addition, I already assign online homework through Smartwork. Smartwork has been an excellent resource for students, especially during this difficult time. Students are able to work at their own pace and are given multiple attempts for each question with a 5% deduction for each attempted wrong answer. Homework is about making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Karty does a really nice job with the quality of feedback given to students. I know my students appreciate both the quality and the immediate feedback and grades they receive on the work they submit. The immediate feedback helps students recognize their strengths and weaknesses so they can search for the proper approach and reinforce their studying by reviewing their work soon after completion, instead of having to wait days before knowing if they understood the material.
The question that remained was: How was I going to lecture? I was already familiar with Panopto, an online video platform that I had used to record lectures in the past. I pre-recorded short, 10-15 minute lectures on the remaining topics from Chapters 18-23 and constructed units, which consisted of 2-3 similar sections from a chapter to make the material easier to digest. Each unit is accompanied by a short, low-stakes quiz. An example of Unit 1 for Chapter 20 is shown below.
I felt I did my best, but I wanted to help my students feel included in this transition to an alternate way of learning, even if it was only by asking them for some feedback. After a week of remote learning, my students completed an online questionnaire. I provided some of the feedback that I received below.
I assumed this transition would be difficult for students, but seeing their responses made an indelible impression. We, as educators, may be reluctant to provide accommodations to our students because the need is not visible, but our approach should be understanding and flexible. Students may not have the support they need at home, whether that be from family or the support services supplied by the college, or they may get sick or have to care for someone who is sick. I would highly recommend, if you haven’t already, to check in with your students using a survey and see how they are coping with the transition to online learning.
After hearing the news that our college would be transitioning to remote learning, I had sent an email to my organic students. Not with details about how the course would continue, but with a message reassuring them not to worry—that even though the reason behind this remote-learning transition was beyond our control, I was going to give my best effort and ask that they do the same.
Please feel free to contact me @email@example.com if you have any questions.
-Jillian McCue, King’s College
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