Coronavirus and Switching to Online Courses

Tips for moving to online-only courses to help prevent the spread of COVID-19

By Alec Fehl, author of Labyrinth Learning’s Microsoft® PowerPoint 2019 & 365 Comprehensive

As the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) intensifies, more and more school systems are moving to online-only classes. Many teachers are asking, “What do I do? How can I teach my class online?” Sadly, there’s no easy answer. Delivering a meaningful and engaging online class takes painstaking planning and isn’t something that can just be thrown together over a few days. If you’re fortunate enough to already have access to an online Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or Blackboard that integrates with online conferencing such as Zoom, you likely have all the tools you need to offer your course online. However, there are many roadblocks to consider and plan for before opening an online class.

Teacher training
While you may have access to an LMS and online conferencing, do you know how to use them? Do you have access to reliable high-speed Internet, know how to create assignments and activities, upload files needed by students for assignments, provide a place for students to submit work, provide feedback and a grade to students, and facilitate an online video meeting?

Student access
Do all students have access to reliable high-speed Internet? Do they have reliable email? Do they have devices (computers, tablets, etc.) supported by the LMS and video conferencing service? Do they have devices on which they can complete their work? Do they have access to the software they need? Will they be able to troubleshoot technological problems such as their webcam, speakers, or mic not working? Do you have a way to provide tech support to students in need?

Content delivery
Do you need video conferencing or can you get by with just providing written lessons/tutorials/instructions to students? Do you need a full-blown generic LMS or can you use the system provided by your textbook publisher, such as Labyrinth’s eLab? Some community college courses such as massage therapy, cosmetology, and nursing require physical contact hours where students perform hand-on tasks. That type requirement can’t be met online. Other courses, such as math or history, may do just fine with assigned reading, self-study, and an opportunity to email/message teachers with questions.

So, what can you do?

Here are some tips that might work for you depending on your course content, student age level, and technological expertise.

  • Use Moodle, Blackboard, Zoom, eLab, or any other LMS/conferencing system you have access to. Take as long as you can to plan at least the first few days’ worth of lessons before making anything available to students. They’ll be stressed enough already. Don’t add to their stress by requiring them to figure out a poorly planned and hard-to-navigate online course.
  • Record video lectures with your phone and upload them to YouTube. Mark the uploaded video as “unlisted” and then share the URL with your students. (This prevents the general public from stumbling across your video.) YouTube automatically adds closed captions, so your videos will be somewhat accessible.
  • You can leave comments enabled for your YouTube video to provide a makeshift class forum where students can leave comments and ask questions.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation/lecture/lesson and use PowerPoint’s Present Online feature to share it with your students.
  • Use screen capture software such as TechSmith’s SnagIt to create screen captures (or screen videos) that you can mark up with arrows, callouts, and other effects. Paste the screen captures into a Word document to create detailed step-by-step tutorials. TechSmith is offering free access and expanded usage of SnagIt and Video Review tools through June 30, 2020.
  • There are many free online learning services that offer courses and lessons. Take some time to scope them out. You might find a few excellent lessons that already cover what you were planning to cover, saving you from having to create your own materials—though you’ll still need to figure out how to assess student learning. YouTube, edx.org, khanacademy.org, coursera.org, and ed.ted.com are just a few that offer either totally free courses or free samples.