While many industries have experienced unprecedented financial setbacks due to COVID-19, perhaps no other sector has been affected quite like education. Schools across the country began closing in March of 2020 in an attempt to minimize student and staff exposure and mitigate spread of the disease. At the time of this publication, 43 states have either mandated or strongly recommended public school closure through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. As a result, nearly all learning at the elementary, junior high, high school, and college levels has shifted online.
How Teachers Are Handling a New Online Focus
While many teachers – particularly at the college level – have dealt with teaching online classes before, a surprisingly large number have not. In fact, over 70% of America’s 1.5 million college faculty members are new to teaching online. They join a largely inexperienced group of K-12 teachers in navigating this new space.
Fortunately, according to our experts, the process has been relatively seamless for many as teachers continue to help students and colleagues while learning from home. Consider their expert advice.
“As an Assistant Professor at Grantham, an online University, I have had the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with others. For instance, my husband is a middle school teacher who quickly had to adapt to teaching online.”
“I have adapted online teaching methods to teach my children during COVID-19. Students who have access to internet service become part of online classes, which have been arranged for such students. Zoom is used as an online video chat tool for online classes. Email and text chat is for use as the exchange of files and communication tools, respectively.”
Director of Admissions, Pivot Point Academy
“We are, of course, missing the school environment and synergy; I think we all are. In reference to adapting, the staff at Pivot Point Academy likes to go with the flow. We think we are adapting fine, making sure we handle this a day at a time with a positive outlook. At the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine, the staff at Pivot Point Academy experienced various technical difficulties as they transitioned to teaching behind a camera on Zoom. However, each of our classes is now operating smoothly at full capacity.”
“It has been relatively painless as our Master’s program was already designed for online delivery – not every course, but most of them. We were able to convert to fully online for our Spring ’20 classes in less than two weeks. We had some issues with helping some of our Adjunct faculty who were not as experienced, but we have good infrastructure support and training, so we were able to help them quickly. Now 4 weeks in, all is going generally well.”
Other teachers have had to overcome various hurdles while adapting their normal teaching techniques to the online environment.
Overall, key points many of our experts mention are flexibility, and adaptability to ease the transition online:
3rd Grade teacher, St. David’s
“I quickly learned that I had to be flexible, a big cheerleader, and responsive to the unique needs of each family—requiring lots of patience and grace for students, parents, and myself. To keep things as normal as possible, I decided to use the same websites we were using in class for distance learning. Students were already adept at navigating these, which helped ease the transition.“
“The challenge has been adjusting to this “new normal” in our own personal lives and quickly transitioning to a very different learning environment. For some students, this has been very difficult as they were not able to go home to their families and are still on campus, feeling fearful and lonely, despite campus support. Remote Learning is more time consuming for both faculty and students, and we’re working hard to make the best out of this semester. I am allowing students to hand in assignments whenever they can, and my university has adopted a Pass/Fail grade policy, which allows students the option of requesting a Pass/Fail instead of a grade.”
“We went fully online right before spring break; upon returning from spring break, I videoed a message on our online discussion board and asked them to respond, on video if at all possible, to how they were doing with everything. I let them know I’d be available to help with whatever they might need.
Many of the students responded that they sincerely appreciated the “check in” because none of their other teachers/faculty members had done that. Moving to the online platform was something none of us had bargained/prepared for.”
“We’ve had an interesting transition moving the business from 100% in-person group classes and private lessons to 100% virtual classes and FaceTime private lessons, but it’s been very successful and worthwhile. We’re excited to be bringing more cool art lessons to more children who need a creative outlet during this time, but we’re also thrilled to add this virtual setting to our offering once we’re allowed to do in-person classes again.”
Maintaining Student Connections
One of the major concerns with transitioning to online learning is the potential reduction in connection between teacher and student. Building these connections is key to student engagement and can help facilitate better learning. After all, Gallup reports that engaged students are 2.5 times more likely to report success than students who don’t feel engaged.
Our experts report multiple methods of engagement during online classes:
“A month in, I do feel like there is a bit of fatigue from the students. To combat this, I have made sure to try to engage with them more during and outside of class. We talk about their interests, whether they are relevant to what we are learning or not, and I check in with everyone and just see how they are doing. I also try to share the things that I am doing to keep sane.”
Upper School Physics and Engineering teacher, St. David’s
“I have a check-in question at the start of class like ‘what is a snack you’ve enjoyed lately?’ I value hearing the voices of each student. Even if it takes 15 minutes or more, it’s worth it. I recently began ending the ‘main class call’ temporarily and putting students into smaller groups of 4. They have given me positive feedback that they like talking problems over in small groups.”
Middle School History and Media Production teacher, St. David’s
“I am messaging students on Microsoft Teams and via email while cc’ing parents when necessary. I am also trying to figure out the best ways to provide grace and while encouraging accountability. It’s hard to feel connected with students when we aren’t with them, but keeping lines of communication open as much as possible is a start.”
“Teachers often report that children find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. Attention spans are short, and they are easily distracted. Maintaining a sense of control and routine is a critical part of the success of children who struggle with sensory and motor challenges, and we hope that our programs can support families by bringing back a routine part of their day with familiar therapeutic activities.”
“For other instructors looking for activities to actively engage their students in a distance learning environment, then we would strongly recommend using a business simulation. The setup process is very easy, and students would only need internet connection to use the simulation. It can be accessed in any device and the range of resources available in the website would help guide students on what they need to do. This allows students to be in charge of their own learning and the best way to learn independently.”
“Offering multiple ways to connect with students seems most appreciated. I post to our classroom management system (Blackboard) regularly and offer to schedule phone calls or Zoom sessions whenever they want. I’m also updating our department’s Instagram account several times a day with information, silly videos, funny images—all meant to foster a sense of community among our program. Students have sent messages saying how much they enjoy the account and that these little things brighten their days.”
Just as Dr. Buskirk-Cohen suggests, there are now numerous platforms teachers can use to engage students.
Our other experts mentioned a veritable roundhouse of websites and interactive options teachers can use, and they suggest using multiple to keep things fresh:
“With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve had to adapt our curriculum to take our popular STEAM classes online. We connect with students through ZOOM, which works on almost any phone, tablet, or PC- as, long as it has a microphone and camera. Families register for a class of their choosing and 30 minutes prior to the class, we send a private ZOOM link. The students love the novelty of the process, and it creates a sense of normalcy in their lives.”
“Rock Out Loud is a music school that teaches Voice, Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums. On April 1st, I decided to refund all our students their April’s membership fee and decided to teach everyone how to play an instrument Virtually. Needless to say, parents needed something for their kids to do during this time and nothing beats learning to play an instrument. We decided to use FaceTime to call kids since it is so simple, it is secure (end to end encryption unlike Zoom) and just about everyone has an Apple Device at home.”
Education Consultant, Prezi
“We developed a video tool that allows teachers to efficiently create engaging and creative content for students. Prezi Video allows teachers to replicate their natural classrooms by incorporating a mix of synchronous and asynchronous tools, through live and recorded interactive visual presentations and to deliver their lectures, assignments, test preps, study guides and other content to students in a more effective way.”
“Asynchronous learning is key, but students will also need time to engage with each other! Interactive experiences should be fun and lead to community building. They also are where students can test their knowledge, practice together, and feel connected.
- Play live trivia on Fiveable or set up a class game using Kahoot that you can stream to the class.
- Assign science experiments and have students video chat in to play it out together.
- Write an essay together in a Google doc.
- Have students post responses to questions on Flipgrid.”
Mind the Test, LLC
“How am I connecting with students? I’ve been using both Zoom and Skype. I initially gravitated toward Skype because of its free unlimited group video calls, but Zoom has better call quality and breakout room options, so I just purchased an upgraded Zoom account today.”
What Equipment Should Teachers Use?
While the closure of most schools seems likely to last through the spring semester and into the summer, many schools have announced that COVID-19 closure for Fall 2020 is not out of the question. Whether schools reopen to students this fall or not, the use of antibacterial products like antibacterial tackboards and antibacterial tables are sure to be heavily utilized to prevent the spread of bacteria of all kinds. In addition, these items can help keep home-based classrooms remain germ-free during online learning.
Other equipment crucial for keeping in-home and in-school learners engaged both during and after COVID-19 includes these student-centric suggestions from our experts:
“Ideal modern classrooms consider the environment, sustainability, and seek to utilize nontoxic/non off-gassing materials (natural lighting, non-fluorescent lights, eco friendly/ non VOC paint…) that affect student’s health and learning.
- Special seating for learning/attention differences: ex: ball seats, floor seats
- Desk/table at the correct height (which should be propped up if need be)
- Ideal classrooms have flexibility locations for students to reposition themselves to work when they need to move/ reset their focus, i.e.: standing desks, tables alone/away from a shared table, desk/table/spot by the window.
- A cozy corner is an ideal spot to lounge and read (bean bags, soft rugs, firm
“When we’re in the classroom, we differentiate the instruction to meet the needs of our students, and although challenging, we need to do the same when teaching remotely. Whether used for presenting new content or as a medium for sharing knowledge, the tools should be varied – and not necessarily high-tech. Teachers can use video, text, audio, and students can use the same, but both can incorporate drawing, sharing, and responding on paper with pen or markers, or creating 3D models with common items found at home.”
In addition, our experts recommends teachers teaching from home should invest in materials that maximize their own comfort while not at school, improve the production value of their video interactions with students, and ease the use of technology while in the home:
“Teachers should invest in a standing desk, a yoga ball and other equipment to enhance an overly sedentary workday at home.”
Dr. Kevin Corsini
President, San Diego Christian College
“While it’s never been easier to connect with others online, there are a few things you can do to take your production quality to another level. And since the majority of teachers are not thinking about production quality at all, you can quickly stand out and get the appreciation of your students in ways other teachers will not.
Here are three simple tips for upping your online production game.
- Invest in a microphone so you sound good.
- Think about lighting so you look fabulous.
- Focus on your video recording to appear professional.”
Math Teacher, Voorhees Middle School
“I use my iPad to either screencast what I am doing, Explain Everything to record a math lesson or a simple video of myself speaking. Either option I use, having a microphone connected to my iPad so the kids can hear me clearly is crucial. This is very helpful in blocking out background noise (like my kids). If you have a pair of new Apple earbuds, they have a built-in mic which is all you need! Just plug them in and record away!”
“I have a school issued laptop that I use, docking it and using an external monitor has really boosted my workflow efficiency. I have a 32” computer monitor that nicely mirrors my 12” laptop screen giving me so much more room to work with. I also needed to add an external webcam and keyboard. Also, I decided to run an ethernet cable into my device so my internet connection would be more stable largely because my three children are relying on the Wi-Fi for their own school work.”
As teachers continue to navigate these trying times, our experts – along with the staff here at Worthington Direct – recognize the uncertainty COVID-19 has brought to the education community as well as the outstanding amount of heart and determination teachers have shown in response.
It’s important for teachers to show themselves and their students some grace moving forward, and we believe one of our experts summed this up quite well:
“It is normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure about this new online environment. You have had to uproot your classroom and are now trying to survive in an alien environment. Your experience and skills have been developed for another environment – not online. We get it. Your Chair gets it. Your Dean gets it. And, most of all, your students get it. We are leaders. We lead in the classrooms. We lead in our community, and we lead on campus. We lead in our specialties. We can continue to model leader behavior during these challenging times.
Demonstrate to your students how to effectively handle change, crisis environments, and uncertainty with grace and positivity. As a higher education community, we will get through this together. You are not alone and each day you will gain confidence and skills in the online learning environment that you never thought possible.”
As you continue to provide students of all types with the best education possible during a pandemic, Worthington Direct supports you. It is our hope that with this advice from our experts as well as the broad range of educational furniture, supplies, and support available on our website, you can approach the upcoming uncertainty with every bit of fortitude you’ve shown to date. Please reach out for more information or for help preparing your classroom for your return.