How to Re-Transition to Online Learning Following a COVID Outbreak

Transitioning back to online learning

With the reopening of schools, educators have begun to transition to teaching program. However, the threat of another COVID wave lingers and this may force schools to remain closed. We breakdown the tips you need in case schools are closed and your online class resumes.

With many schools returning to a full session for the fall term, it is vital to be prepared for the possibility of a potential COVID outbreak on campus, resulting in classrooms becoming virtual once again. Regardless of the precautions taken, some high schools and higher education institutions have experienced difficulties with containing the coronavirus across campus. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame has already had to suspend face-to-face lectures following a surge of COVID cases during their first week of classes. These suspensions will not only result in a loss of learning for students but will also present challenges in the teaching method of educators as they must work quickly to modify their curriculum for online learning.

Strategies for re-transitioning to online classes

Educator preparation is encouraged to make the transitioning to online classes much more seamless. The pandemic may have thrust our institutions into unfamiliar territory back in March, but we have learned and adapted to the online environment. We know what works (and what does not) with regards to online learning, but just in case anyone forgot, here are some strategies to help with the re-transition to online classes

1. Be Dynamic

One of the most important things to keep in mind in preparation for transitioning back to online lectures is to keep your course dynamic. Given the uncertain circumstances, a manner of pedagogy that is easily scalable for both synchronous and asynchronous learning would be beneficial. Deciding what approach to use will ultimately depend on your content area, but do not hesitate to get input from your students either! Some students may prefer a synchronous approach where they can still follow a similar routine of live lectures and scheduled assignments to maintain a sense of normalcy. Others might prefer more flexibility and may want to work at their own pace due to the sporadic nature of the school term. A blend of the two approaches could be made to accommodate a wider range of learning styles. For instance, you could have live Zoom lectures as scheduled for those that prefer synchronous learning but also record and upload these lectures to make them accessible at the discretion of students who prefer asynchronous learning.

Most importantly, try not to replicate your in-person lecture for online use; online students require far more mental stimulation to stay engaged during online classes. In a survey conducted among Kritik users in June, we found that 60% of students feel less engaged with online classes and that the most challenging aspect of transitioning to online learning was the absence of face-to-face interaction with their instructors.

2. Take Advantage of Technology

Whether you are planning on using Zoom, Kritik, or an alternative platform, the goal of implementing technology into the classroom should be to facilitate effective learning and to promote student engagement. Take advantage of the features that your technology offers, whether that be a peer-assessment tool, a discussion board, or customer support live chat. Using technology as a teaching method can help improve the full-time student teaching experience. Understanding and using the resources you have effectively will optimize the utility you get from these technologies and will ensure that your students are fully reaping the benefits.

To help ease the transition to online teaching, use technologies that work well for both face-to-face and online learning. For instance, Kritik’s discussion feature allows students to continue their conversations outside the classroom and is an important tool for keeping students engaged even when they are away from campus. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that technology is not a replacement for a TA, advisor, or instructor, but rather an extension that will help bridge the gap between them and students.

3. Be available to students

As mentioned, one of the aspects of education that students value most is face-to-face interaction with their professors. While working from home certainly makes the “face-to-face” aspect a little more challenging, that does not have to mean you can’t be present for your students. Provide multiple communication channels for your students to increase your accessibility to them. This could be through emails, a discussion board, a social media group, or Zoom office hours. Students have shared learning experiences of how their courses used Slack to communicate with both their instructors and their peers. However, it is essential to set realistic expectations for your availability so that your students are aware of when they should contact you.

Moreover, a transition to online courses will result in more time spent addressing student questions and concerns, on top of the preparation time for the coursework. Implementing peer assessment into your course work will help save time with grading, it will also allow for more student teaching students interactions, and it will promote student success. After interaction with professors, interactions with their peers was the second biggest challenge for students following the transition to online learning. Kritik’s platform not only allows for interactions among students through the discussion board but also grants students the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback to their peers and to gain a better grasp of course work through learning by teaching.

4. Keep it simple

Lastly, one of the essential strategies to keep in mind should you have to transition back to the online teaching method is to keep online courses simple and have fun with it! In this time of the pandemic, it’s important to stay light-hearted and be positive for yourself and also for your students. Try to remind your students that there’s a lot more going on in the world besides COVID and school, as tough as it may be to see it. If you plan on doing live lectures, try making the online environment positive with world news, a fun question (what book series would you like to live in and why?), or even a funny meme from social media.

Reevaluate your subject-area and the learning management system of your course to make things as simple for all parties involved. Keep in mind that simple does not mean easy. Continue challenging your students but be cognizant of the obstacles they may be facing in their remote learning environments.

The pandemic has completely changed the teaching method for both elementary education, secondary education, and higher education. The upcoming fall term is going to be interesting to say the least. Hopefully, all goes well, and your schools can effectively implement the necessary precautions and classroom management to keep students and faculty safe. However, whether in-person or online, it is important to remain empathetic through these times and to keep your student success and best interest in mind. These strategies will help ease the transitioning to online learning should it come to that, but they aren’t the only solution.

Philip Tran
Education Researcher