AWS Public Sector Blog

Teaching online for beginners

Guest post by Garry Smolyansky

Do you ever get overwhelmed by the thought of preparing and teaching your students online?

It’s a challenging task at best but remember to keep it simple. Leveraging cloud technology can help make teaching and learning remotely more manageable for our students, our community, and us. Picking the right tools in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud can help you with course development. Let’s explore a research-based method called technological pedagogical and content knowledge (or TPACK) that helps plan learning experiences.

Content knowledge (CK): Always begin with content to make sure your learning is rich, and not just a chance to try out the latest app or tech tool. Often dictated by a set curriculum, a program, or the interest of your students, content is what you teach. It could be a question you want to answer or a topic that you want your students to know about. The greatest challenge here is to keep things clear. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do you want students to learn?
  2. What skills will students need to develop to proficient?
  3. How will you guide the learning?

Co-creating clear, actionable, measurable learning goals is not easy but definitely worth the investment. It makes the destination clear. The success criteria help us confirm we actually got to the right place. Often, we can set a clear goal but go off the trail and never realize we are no longer on track. We can only be certain with success criteria.

Growing Success” is a resource to help you talk about how to set effective learning goals and measure progress. The most authentic way is to co-create them with your students so you’re all invested in the destination and have a role in deciding what “getting there” should look like.

Pedagogical knowledge (PK): The way you teach content is key to keeping students engaged and to supporting their learning. You could just lecture, which means students are passively taking in information (if they are taking it in at all). They will learn very little and remember even less. However, if you engage students with low-risk activities that invite them into the learning, students will be more invested and retain the content for much longer. They will also enjoy the experience and want to repeat it.

There are many ways to engage students, regardless of age. My two current favorites are three truths and a lie, and six word story. Both are simple and suit any grade level or subject. We only need a few strategies that we can use effectively in many different settings.

Technological knowledge (TK): My definition of technology is similar to the definition of simple machine: It is any tool that helps make work easier and more efficient. Technology could be a pencil and paper, a tablet, or a high-end application. The goal of technology is to remove barriers and reduce friction of a task, not to increase it. Think carefully about why you are using technology. Is it to use technology or because it is a lot easier to complete the task using the method you chose?

Completing a worksheet online rather than by hand is not necessary a good use of technology according the SAMR model. With the worksheet, you pick it up, pick up a pencil or pen, complete it, and hand it in. With the worksheet online, you have to locate a computer, log in, find the worksheet, open it up, and type or write on the screen, save the document and submit it. All the extra steps associated with the digital version create barriers to doing the actual task.

When deciding what tool to use to support your learners, ask yourself:

  1. What tools do I already have and know how to use? Will any of them help?
  2. Will this simplify the task for students or create more barriers?
  3. Where does the tool fall on the SAMR model?

With the cloud, you can scale solutions to meet your students wherever they are worldwide.

Online education can be complex. Let’s keep things simple by using TPACK to know where we want to take our students and lead them there using engaging pedagogy while removing barriers using the right technology. Watch this webinar to learn more.

Garry Smolyansky

Garry Smolyansky

Garry Smolyansky is a certified teacher, professor, and learning consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. He works with individuals, schools, colleges, charities, and corporations to create engaging and rigorous learning opportunities. Garry's core values of knowledge and kindness drive his work to make positive change in our world through the vehicle of education. You can connect with him to learn more at Take a deep dive on TPACK in this webinar.