Initial Publication Date: March 12, 2020

Quick Transition to Online Teaching

Jump Down To: Communicating Content | Remember Accessibility | Virtual Teaching Activities | Virtual Quizzes and Exams | Other Resources

Sometimes, disruptions to regular routines call for a quick transition from face-to-face to online or hybrid teaching. Adverse weather, natural disasters, or health concerns can create the conditions where teaching online is only available path to continuing instruction. In such situations, the amount of time available for planning instruction and developing new teaching activities can be limited, but high-quality teaching and learning can still take place.

Understanding the larger framework for designing online courses will be valuable in the long run. But when faced with unexpected changes, concentrate on getting the basic elements in place first. As with any course redesign, it is not possible to do everything. Try something; see how it goes; try to do more the next time.

Communicating Content

As mentioned in teaching tips for designing online courses, traditional lecture is generally absent or minimal in an online course. It is still possible to present content in a variety of ways, but without significant time to recast existing lecture materials, concentrate on presenting information in a few easy formats. Post materials that students can access asynchronously.

  • Readings, including the textbook, articles, websites, books, or essays
  • Written material that you type up
  • Video lectures of yourself talking about a topic (read more about using videos and check out our video collections resources)
  • PowerPoint slides the students view and read
  • Narrated PowerPoint slides with a voice-over by you

Teleconferencing via a video app like Skype or Zoom can be an easy solution for office hours. Establish set times when students can log in and get help singly or in groups. For some classes, it may also make sense to hold entire sessions synchronously using these same apps. For small seminar-style classes, this can provide a similar experience to a regular class gathering allowing students to see, hear, and communicate in real time with each other and the faculty member using the features built in to the interface. For larger classes, this becomes more like a webinar than a standard class experience but can still be valuable in terms of communicating content with students. These technologies also usually provide other functions that can make any size of class experience more interactive:

  • participant polling can allow the use of ConcepTests and other clicker-style questions.
  • a "raise hand" function can prompt the instructor to allow students to unmute and ask a question in real time.
  • breakout rooms can be useful for dividing a large group into smaller chunks for discussions and group work.

There is a wealth of additional materials available to help illustrate key concepts. Begin incorporating these supplemental resources as possible but concentrate on becoming comfortable in the format at first.

Remember Accessibility

Students with disabilities need to be considered when moving instruction online. Organizations such as the International Association for Geoscience Diversity (IAGD) have resources to help design fully accessible learning experiences and provide a forum for faculty to share ideas and useful materials for addressing particular accessibility challenges.

The University of Washington's DO-IT Center (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) has published a guide of 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course. Items on their list include things such as using clear and consistent layouts, avoiding using PDFs unless they are created to be accessible, and making sure that navigation of online materials can be managed by keyboard alone. Many of these guidelines will improve the experience of all students but will be particularly meaningful for students with varying physical and mental abilities.

Virtual Teaching Activities

Engaging students with geoscience concepts and habits of mind takes more than simply communicating content. Teaching activities that have students interact with data, images, and information that can easily be transmitted electronically make perfect sense in the online environment. Explore some ideas and example activities:

If your course has a lab, you can absolutely incorporate lab activities into your online teaching. Here are some places to start.

Virtual Quizzes and Exams

Research indicates that students are more likely to try and cheat in face-to-face classes than online, but it still makes sense to mitigate the risk of cheating. Start by setting clear expectations about proper academic behavior and reiterating them periodically. Also point out to students that there are many tools available to faculty to help detect plagiarism.

All of the learning management systems (LMS) in broad use offer the functionality to create quizzes inside them. Many also have the option to make these quizzes dynamic, such that each student receives a different version. There are also online proctoring services available to help prevent students from cheating on online exams. If such a service is available, it can be a valuable addition. Either way, a quick (and perhaps temporary) transition to online teaching may occasion rethinking exams as open-book activities rather than tests of memory.

There are also ways of structuring your activities such that cheating is less likely. Consider using short answer questions rather than multiple choice to make it harder to copy and paste answers. Make sure that quizzes and exams are timed such that it is impossible to look up every answer and still finish in the allotted time. Using questions that make students justify their approach without right or wrong answers can not only help cut down on cheating, it can also help engage students more directly in their own learning.

Other Resources