By, mid-afternoon yesterday, we heard of more local universities moving classes to an online platform due to the COVID-19 virus. While we understand this move, moving a course (or, worse – part of a course) online is not as easy as it sounds.
While I’ve never taught online, I do have digital course experience. In 2018, I completed an entire Master’s degree in Natural Resources through an online platform. I never had any instruction on the physical campus from where this degree was conferred. And, there is a physical campus – it is part of the University of Wisconsin system.
During that experience, I learned that there were different levels of ability in course delivery among the professors. There are also parameters to ensure course participation that need to be put in place. These include the number of posts/class or assignment, where to post (usually not just a submission to the prof’s email), and even how to post – such as being supportive, not argumentative towards your classmates. Then, there are the deadlines that come with specific dates and times (11:59 p.m.), not just handing a paper in during class on the day the assignment is due.
Digital feedback and grading are additional issues that will have to be addressed for the weeks that learning is moved online. I suspect this will be less of an issue, as most grade books are kept digitally now.
The above concerns do not even begin to address how well the students are equipped to navigate an online course. Most students, especially college-aged, could be expected to handle this transition with some ease. But, not all. It largely depends on their own experience as well as their learning style. Digital learning from online courses takes a large degree of self-discipline. I think some bumps in the road can be expected for the rest of this semester no matter where students are attending university.
On a positive note, however, the move to an online platform for several weeks (or more) presents an opportunity I have long thought all students should have. Everyone, by the time they reach college age, should experience at least one online course for learning. This means that high schools should be providing opportunities for exposure to this platform, whether through their own system or the use of other systems. As we are seeing now, it would be a useful experience.
All three of my boys had online learning experiences. My oldest took online math classes as early as 7th grade. He went on to finish high school (11th-12th grades) through a digital platform and was valedictorian of his class. He made the move from a physically-based class to a virtual one to have more challenges academically. He remains a highly successful graduate student today. My middle son experienced his first online class during his freshman year in college. Since he was living on campus, I do not know about what bumps he experienced, if any. I do know he is very literate with computers, so I expect that it was not too much of a strain on him. And, my youngest son – now a senior in high school, is completing an online AP course through a large university this spring. he has taken two prior online math classes in previous years – following 7th grade and 9th grade.
Communication is key in online classes. So, I hope that both professors and students are ready to communicate clearly about expectations during the move to educate online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patience will also be required and should be extended to all involved. For more specific guidelines, you can read this recent article in Education Week. by Mark Lieberman.