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Online teaching during the COVID-19 crisis

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I have been a physics teacher in secondary school (grades 9-12) for twenty-five years, and during that time have always been sure to share and publish things I do with students to provide examples and ideas that may benefit my teacher colleagues and their students. The easiest way to share is to put everything online, so that both students and other teachers may access resources at any time. Whether having a live classroom of students or teaching an online course, which I have done with Northwestern University, having Internet platforms on which to put teaching and learning resources has always been part of what I do as a teacher, and I recommend all teachers begin to take this approach if the technology is available. While never being in a situation like we have now because the COVID-19 crisis, where teachers must move materials online for students, the transition for me during this crisis is minimal since I am already setup for online teaching and learning.

There are numerous online platforms on which to put classroom resources, as well as video conferencing platforms that can be used to hold live class sessions with students or meetings with colleagues. With technology, we can make distance learning as close to a live class session as possible. For my students, the everyday class materials are on a Google web page that is linked through my school’s website. I have separate folders for each class, so students can access the appropriate material. I also have maintained a separate class blog for years. This is a normal tool students are used to accessing since many of the posts come from student recommendations they want to share with everyone. On the blog, I have different pages dedicated to different activities and resources students find helpful and interesting. For example, before the era of Khan Academy and online ‘how to’ lessons, I had already been making screencast videos of most of the topics I cover in my physics classes and formed an online library of over 100 videos for students.  In the past, the reason for doing these videos was primarily for two reasons: for students to have a resource outside of school when working on homework and needing to review the material at their own pace; and when a student misses a day, I can provide the appropriate video for them to watch and see what we did for that topic. There is also an increase in views before exams, when students are reviewing the relevant topics. Each video is stored on YouTube, and the videos are public for any student or teacher to use.

With the current situation, I post video links for students to watch either before (i.e. a ‘flipped’ classroom) or after an online class session. My preferred videoconferencing tool is Zoom. Teachers can open a free Zoom account that allows for 40-minute sessions. Students do not need Zoom accounts, but only a link that the teacher can post on a web page or email to students. I record each class session, put the video on YouTube, and then share with students on the class blog. If a student is absent or needs to review the class session, they can watch at their convenience. On a class website, teachers can post homework sets, labs, worksheets, assignments, help resources, articles and any other videos or websites. Students email me questions, or can organize virtual study groups through chatrooms, shared Google Documents, Facetime, Zoom, or Skype; or they can call each other on a phone. I setup Google Sheets for each group of students to share questions about materials, but also share new things they are trying during down-time while being in isolation: keep a focus on student mental and emotional health, because they will get lonely and will miss being in school!  Do NOT overwhelm them with too much work, because this is new for them, too.

I am fortunate my school has wonderful supports in place to help all teachers and students with this transition to e-Learning. We have staff dedicated to providing numerous online options and training staff on how to use the technology. We have Zoom department meetings to share what we are doing with our classes, and have email and texting groups for each discipline so teachers can support each other. The best advice I offer is to have good communication with both colleagues and students: listen to everyone and learn, and get feedback from students. Students are the ones who matter – they are getting different presentations from different teachers, and will tell you what works and does not work if you ask them! We need to be sure we are listening to the students so we can best serve them.

 

Mark Vondracek

Mark Vondracek was one of the finalists of the Varkey Foundation's Global Teacher Prize.

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This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.