Over the last year, educators across the country have been adjusting to teaching online or in hybrid form due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before last spring, most college faculty had never taught online, and they are learning the skills the new learning format requires. Below, our colleagues in the Columbia University Schools of Social Work, Professional Studies, and Public Health, who have each worked on at least twenty online courses, share their thoughts, advice, and encouragement as we look forward to the spring semester.
Take the Time to Grow as an Online Educator
“Online teaching has brought out the best in me as an instructor because it challenges me to consider multiple angles and perspectives as to how I design, describe, and present assignments to students. It reminds me to be thoughtful in verbal explanations, thorough in video recordings, and clear and concise when writing up each assignment.”—Beth Counselman Carpenter
Practice Self-Care as a Class
“Once, when asking students to share a self-care activity, one student decided to share by turning her webcam and showing us the landscape where she was sitting, and we all got to enjoy the view. This was an instant self-care activity that we all engaged in for a moment, and it immediately revitalized each of us although we were logged in from many different states. Very refreshing!”—Allison Ross
Build Community among Classmates and Instructors
“There is a level of intimacy that develops unexpectedly in the online environment. A dog or toddler wanders into the webcam video, in effect acting as a sort of icebreaker, and thereby helping to build community. Through the online classes I’ve supported over the last four years, I’ve come to appreciate how technology can bring people closer together and how learning happens in these interactive, dynamic spaces.”—Delia Ryan.
Find New Ways to Communicate
“Those new to online teaching often fear it will be difficult to create connections with their class and build a sense of community. This has not been my experience. For example, online courses invite us to communicate in new ways. As a composition professor, for years I had struggled to help students see the relationship between their conversational dialogue and their writing. Suddenly, in the online classroom, where most conversations had to be in writing, it was much easier to illuminate.”—Roxanne Russell
Change Things Up with Different Media and Teaching Formats
“You have the ability to create powerful storylines with your content and deliver the story in new ways—synchronously and asynchronously. Take advantage of the most preferred method to learn today—videos. You can pre-record your own and also embed videos from thought leaders, industry luminaries, and others to bring your story (and course concepts) to life. You will see the results in student evaluations as well as in the long-term relationships you build and nurture with students.”—Lauri Harrison
Prepare for Class with a Little Music
“I play music before class starts. The songs usually cover the same topic the class will, which allows students to sing and dance together (on or off webcam/mic) while they prepare for the session.”—Krystal Folk.
Use Other Voices and Visual Experiences to Spark Lively Discussions
“I recommend using short, 3–5 minute videos that are updated for the time or as close to current events as you can. Videos allow for a virtual field trip from the online platform and switch things up so the instructor isn’t speaking all the time. Other voices and visual experiences enter the room and spark lively discussions.”—Kevin Ram.
Get Comfortable Navigating the Online Environment
“Whether you are a student or an educator, being comfortable with navigating the online space and setting up your technology is key. For more advice, I invite you to read my recent article, ‘The Power of Lighting in a Virtual Classroom: Tips on Improving Webcam Lighting for Online Educators.’”—Agata Dera
Adapt to Your Students’ Needs
“Check in with yourself about how your social identities inform your relationship to teaching. The ways in which we internalize oppression impact how we show up in our classrooms, relate to our students and the complications of their lives, and inform our relationship to the use of technology. One tool that I recommend checking out is the social identity wheel. It can offer a first step into examining your social locations and identities.”—Amelia Ortega
Engage in Reflection and Seek Student Feedback
“I encourage online educators to engage in consistent personal reflection and seek student feedback to identify and address any issues that might prevent them from creating a space that is student-centered (e.g., not requiring students to have their webcams turned on throughout the duration of a live class or webinar).”—Dawn Shedrick
Be Ready for Teachable Moments
“I recommend being ready for teachable moments, which can happen in any class regardless of the modality—for example, in classes in which someone breaks a classroom agreement and the agreements need to be revisited, or someone commits a microaggression and you need to use a model such as ‘The NAME Steps: How to Name and Address Anti-LGBTQIA2S+ Microaggressions in Social Work Classrooms.’”—Matthea Marquart
Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning Can Help Students in Difficult Times
“Consider adopting trauma-informed teaching and learning strategies, such as looking for ways to include student voice and choice in assignments. You can read more about trauma-informed teaching and learning ideas for online courses in this article: ‘Trauma-Informed Online Teaching: Essential for the Coming Academic Year.’”—Johanna Creswell Báez