Educators all around the world are engaged in the process of online learning during the time of coronavirus. But learning to teach well online does not occur overnight. It takes years of trial-and-error to figure out what works with your learners. I’m still learning and I expect to keep learning and experimenting in the years to come.
Over the years, I have used a variety of tools in developing and implementing online courses for undergraduate and graduate students. Each semester, I try new assignments and new digital platforms. When something works well, I may keep using it for a second or third year (but never more than 3 years — that’s a general rule!)
SPRING 2020 EXAMPLES. Here’s a brief overview of the digital tools and platforms I am using this semester. I have aligned the digital tools with the AACRA framework for media literacy, which I developed in 2010 in the white paper entitled, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action.
These examples are from the fully-online undergraduate course entitled COM250, Digital and Media Literacy as well as the fully-online graduate course, EDC 534, Digital Authorship, which is part of the URI Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy. I use Notion to post the syllabus, calendar, assignment specifications, and some multimedia resources. Students post their own creative work on this Notion page, which gives them a public-facing page to showcase their work to a public audience. Each of these five pedagogical processes plays a vital part in student learning:
ACCESS. I do not use a “sit and get” approach to learning.
I do little lecturing. Students advance their own digital literacy competencies by accessing a variety of information sources through reading and viewing.
Instructor-Created Video & Audio. Each week, I present a 5-minute overview to guide students’ thinking about the work they complete each module (week). I model the use of a variety of different media forms, including podcasting with Soundcloud, video animation with Powtoon, video production with Adobe Spark and screencasting and vlogs with Screencast-o-matic.
Books, Articles, Websites, Films, Videos. Each week, I offer some required readings and videos, which I post to the LMS. Some weeks, students choose from among a curated list of resources, and other weeks, students are responsible for searching and finding information on issue or topic we’re exploring on their own.
ANALYZE. Students analyze ideas and information through PDF and video digital annotation.
The use protocols and frameworks that I have designed to support the process of interrogating information sources. Students work in groups of 7–10 people to annotate PDFs and videos. This gives them an opportunity to consider the multiple interpretations, comments and questions of their peers (and the instructor) as we evaluate and analyze ideas and information.
Asynchronous Threaded Discussion. I use Pathwright LMS, the best learning management system I could find. It is not supported by my university, so I pay privately to maintain this platform. You can register to be an observer in #COM250 here. Threaded discussion is an “oldie but goodie,” that cannot be overlooked as an essential part of online learning. When done well, it surpasses the seminar room for advancing thoughtful analysis and reflection and it leads participants to generate new ideas, too!
Individual and Collaborative Digital Annotation: I ask students to view and comment on YouTube videos using Video Ant and students engage in individual and collaborative annotations of course readings using Kami for Chrome. What I like is that, unlike a F2F class discussion, everyone is accountable for sharing their ideas and interpretations.
CREATE. Creating media is a powerful way for students to represent their developing knowledge and skills.
In addition to written works, students produce at least 2 or more significant digital work products during the semester.
Collaborative PowerPoint. Students work together to create a work that involves each individual conducting research and designing one or more pages of a PPT. Research on NYT writers from #COM250. Synthesis of the readings on the ethics of representation from #EDC534.
Digital Bulletin Board. Using Padlet, students may search and find examples to represent a theoretical concept or respond to a reading by adopting a particular point of view. What I like about Padlet is the chance to see how students apply what they are learning.
REFLECT. This is perhaps the most important part of the learning process.
Students engage in reflection occurs in optional synchronous video dialogue as well as reflective writing.
Asynchronous Video. I use Flipgrid for both reflection and assessment. See an oral exam question for #COM250 on Flipgrid. Especially for undergraduates, Flipgrid helps students become more comfortable in using academic vocabulary and presenting themselves as young professionals.
Synchronous Discussion. I have been using Zoom for years, but instead of using it weekly, I use it only 3 times per semester. Synchronous video discussion is good for relationship development, sharing feelings, and relating experiences. But because many of my students are juggling work and school, they rarely can all meet at a particular time. I like to use the small group function of Zoom to have people talk in groups of 3–6. Here’s an example of a Zoom video chat.
ACT. Students take action in the public sphere by sharing their work with a wide audience and using social media to connect with others who share their interests.
Sometimes their projects are relevant to issues of community concern.
At the end of the semester, my students will weigh in with their assessments of which of these instructional practices were more or less useful for them, and their opinions will inform what I’ll use in the future.
In the age of coronavirus, educators will be need to experiment and experiment and experiment some more. But there’s no need to try out all the different tools in one semester. Instead, try one or two digital tools and use them creatively until you get good at using them. Some of these efforts will succeed and others will fail, and that’s OK. In any case, educators will learn a lot — and their students will, too!
Renee Hobbs is professor of communication studies and founder of the Media Education Lab at the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island. www.mediaeducationlab.com