In Part One of this five part series, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa reviewed the factors teachers should consider before transitioning classes to online courses. In Part Two she explored how student attitude and the quality of materials contribute to successful online learning outcomes, and demonstrated how communication and good design motivate students to learn in Part Three. Now in Part Four Tracey discusses how to manage the transition to online and the support systems available to teachers and students.
It is natural for humans to fear change for two main reasons. Firstly, from a neuroscience perspective, shifting from “go-to” heuristics and our innate biases towards new learning takes energy (Tokuhama-Espinosa, & Nelson, 2019); and as the largest consumer of energy in the body organ-wise, the brain works hard to conserve whatever it can. It takes far less energy to complain about change than to imagine the possibilities of change.
Second, fear is a strong motivator. People make decisions based on fear faster than on any other emotion (Bechara, et al., 2000). In evolutionary terms, this is easily explained by self-preservation: it is better to be fearful and possibly save yourself than to be at ease and be ambushed. However, taking the time to exercise a cautiously optimistic openness is much harder, but yields far more in terms of personal and collective growth. People who walk into situations of change well-prepared by studying an issue in depth, make far better decisions than people who are reactionary and who have nothing but anecdotal evidence (i.e.,”I failed at a MOOC, therefore I reject online learning”).
Worked Models, Templates and Decision Trees
One way to assure a smooth transition into the virtual classroom is through a worked model (Hattie, 2012). Most people moving online are intelligent, hardworking and good at what they do, which is why feeling unintelligent, slow and bad at something frustrates them and leads them to label the move as “too hard.” One of the fastest ways to learn something new is when you have a worked model. When a person can see what a successful final product looks like, they are more likely to consider the task manageable (for a worked model of a Canvas course, see here). By simply sharing what a good virtual classroom or two looks like, most people reframe a hard task into being manageable and decide it is within their grasp.
Close to a worked model but different in purpose is a template, which is the basic design of an online course in which materials, like videos, discussion board questions, and quizzes can be populated with each teacher’s own content. This saves time but reduces creativity (for an example of a template in Moodle, write to firstname.lastname@example.org).
To help teachers make good decisions about what to put online and to give everyone a sense of “progress” towards a goal, the use of a decision tree is helpful (for an example of a decision tree to create an online course, see here). Decision trees not only lay out a logical process towards the goal of opening online classrooms, but they also make people feel they have clear steps to take and well-defined tasks to complete.
Change is hard and changing without support can feel impossible. When a change like going online into virtual classrooms is requested – or demanded – of a faculty with little or no warning, many people run through the same cycle of grief as if they had lost a loved one: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; and 5. Acceptance. Access to a support system speeds up the cycle towards acceptance.
In the rush to implement the software or purchase the hardware, many leaders forget the basic human need for clear communication. Simple, regular updates go a long way for lowering the angst of people who must implement the system. A highly stressed person does not learn, so lowering the stress level of the group by attending to each individual is vital to getting a new system up and running, quickly and efficiently.
Students as well as teachers also need support. A quick welcome to the new online platform, even if it is filmed from your mobile phone, personalises the change and makes students feel that going online is manageable (for an example of a welcome video for students, see here).
Volunteers can be saviours at this point. No institution budgets for the need for a new department to hand-hold teachers going online on mass, but there are more resources at hand than you think. Other people experienced in teaching online may be willing to be the support system for new teachers. Students-helping-students is also an underused resources. Many who have managed to “survive” their own induction online are very happy to share tips with people new to the system. Use of teacher-to-teacher or student-to-student explanations make sense. After all, peer explanations are often better than those from technical experts who might know the software but who have never taught in a virtual classroom before. And more often than not, the questions posed by people new to online platforms are easily answered by anyone with just slightly more experience than them.
In Part Five, Tracey concludes her series by reflecting on the advantages of online instruction for teachers.