5 Dos and 5 Don’ts for teaching online
Contributed by: Andrew Schwarz, AWS Academy accredited educator at Louisiana State University
We are in an exciting era of higher education. Digital native students are arriving in our classrooms armed with deep and broad experience with technology. And now, the COVID crisis is pushing us all to teach online, giving us a chance to think big and bold about what we view as the future of education in the modern era.
And while it is easy to feel discouraged that education will never be the same, that the inevitable budget crunches will be crushing, and that higher education will be doomed forever, I take a more optimistic view.
Now is the time for educators and institutions to be innovative, and to take advantage of new technologies. While universities have held on to traditions for over a millennium, this is a point in which future generations will look back and be amazed at what was accomplished as we re-imagined university life.
I have been teaching online for over twelve years, in a variety of formats, from 100 percent online to a hybrid environment, leveraging technology inside of the classroom. For the past 18 months, I have been teaching AWS Academy courses, and I am currently both an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and AWS Certified Solutions Architect. Based upon my experiences, I want to share with educators around the world my best practices for online teaching.
5 Don’ts of online teaching
- Don’t attempt to replicate your face-to-face classes in an online environment. As you design your course, try not to think about the online space as an extension of the physical environment, but rather a different opportunity. Online means more than synchronous lectures. Take advantage of the unique technologies that are available and design a course that leverages new innovations in education.
- Don’t lose the course objectives in the transition. Online is not face-to-face “lite.” An online education has the same learning objectives as traditional courses. Expect your students to achieve the same outcome as they would in your classroom.
- Don’t forget about the interactions you have with your students. Going online does not mean you, the educator, are anonymous. Use discussion boards, Twitter, Slack, Zoom, or other platforms to enable you to connect with and mentor your students.
- Don’t get overwhelmed. It is easy to get overwhelmed as we talk about “scaling to meet demand” online, ramping up our programs and infrastructure to meet the rush of students. Yes, there is the potential for more students, and there are many different tools to choose from. But approach your course design rigorously and use a structure like Quality Matters to help guide your design processes.
- Don’t think that this is the end of higher ed as we know it. Education is changing and COVID has certainly forced us to think differently. Universities that choose to embrace change and innovate will be around long after us. As we prepare for an uncertain year ahead, this summer we have the opportunity to pause, reflect, and re-think how we will deliver our courses to students of a new generation.
5 Dos of online teaching
- Do leverage the technology that best fits your pedagogical approach. Use technology that aligns with your pedagogical approach. This also means that you can use new tools. I use online simulations and games to show students how to apply the concepts we learn in class. This type of gamification is the new frontier of education, and it will keep your students engaged in class in ways not previously possible.
- Do start small and iterate. Start small when you deliver a course online for the first time, taking note of what went wrong. I have been teaching the same online course for over a decade, and I constantly make tweaks to the content, structure, and assignments. Your face-to-face classes were never perfect either—so expect there to be plenty of room to improve online, too.
- Do communicate often. We are used to standing in front of our students, telling them what to expect and addressing their questions. But in an online environment, you could potentially receive 100 different e-mails asking you the same question! Anticipate pain points in your class and communicate often with your students. I keep a running list of points in the semester where problems occur and use built-in communication mechanisms to address questions before they arise.
- Do use an instructional model. There are many different instructional models that can help you move online. At Louisiana State University, we have an excellent staff of instructional designers that meet with educators and take us through the design process in a structured way. If you don’t have access to a team of instructional designers, get trained in Quality Matters or another design approach to assist you in the transition.
- Do have fun. These are exciting times for education. The research side of our job will always be there to stimulate us, our administrative duties will always be there to annoy us, and our students will always be there eager for professors that will inspire them. So let’s inspire them to become active and ongoing learners of the next generation, and have fun in the process.
AWS Academy, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) program, provides higher education institutions with a ready-to-teach cloud computing curriculum. The AWS Academy curriculum is developed and maintained by AWS subject matter experts, ensuring that it reflects current services and up-to-date best practices. Courses are taught by AWS Academy accredited educators who are trained by AWS to help students become proficient in AWS technology. For more information about the AWS Academy program, visit here.