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Covid-19 and the Roll out of Online Education

Education 15 Apr, 2020 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

At the time of writing this article, there were close to two million people infected with this virus and every country on the planet has been putting in place various strategies to reduce the incidents and deaths that have come with this pestilence. The race for a vaccine is on.

Here in the Cayman Islands, strong and decisive leadership has been helpful in limiting its impact. Information has been easy to access and there has been transparency on the various plans and processes.

Various writers have opined that our lives have been forever changed. One area of change is certainly the way in which education is delivered. While the offering of courses on online platforms was nothing new, the extent and dependence on these platforms is certainly unprecedented. At the University level, preparation and training done by the UCCI, enabled this institution to switch to online delivery very rapidly and to make the necessary adjustments to ensure effectiveness.

The online delivery of a course can be a challenging prospect, as switching from on-site to online is a significant change. As with most aspects of the teaching and learning enterprise, it is the professor in the ‘classroom’ who is most important in determining outcomes.

Positive guidelines from those who have had success in this method are helpful and are outlined below.

It is important to reach out to each student to find out how each of them is doing as they too are adjusting to a new learning environment even while they do to the changes in their personal lives and in their communities caused by the corona virus situation. Students must be encouraged to stick it out even with the challenges that the new environment brings.

Students should be enabled to feel that they are part of a collaborative atmosphere with the professor as well as other students. This helps with the retention and performance of students in the course. When students are asked what is working for them and what is not working, the necessary adjustments can be made.

The use of online settings provides many opportunities to engage with students in frequent dialogue. Some lecturers are finding opportunities to create an engaging classroom such as setting up virtual discussion groups to assist students in working together. When students are encouraged to ask questions, they get more directly involved. Discussion boards work great for student questions as they may feel more comfortable typing their questions which the facilitator can easily answer.

Online settings provide many ways for students to engage with course content, get to know each other and have stimulating discussions. Students can respond by using the discussion board or work with small groups in a chat room and then provide the group’s response.

Experts in the field emphasize that online delivery requires more than providing outstanding course content and challenging assignments. It is crucial that students stay engaged and feel that the facilitator is constantly present in the course. The dialogue, they point out, should be varied and can include video chatting, discussion boards, emails and voice-recorded comments providing feedback on assignments. An advantage of using such methods is that the students need to log in to the course frequently, and frequent logins help keep students on track and aware of assignment due dates.

With practice and experience, much of what is done in a face-to-face classroom can be adapted to the online classroom.

Success in online teaching requires considerable effort on the part of both the teacher and student. The teacher must be responsive and provide timely feedback. Jean Dimeo’s article ‘Transforming Teaching and Learning’ published November 2017 in Inside Higher Education, is correct in pointing out that students are often submitting discussions and assignments into an online campus management system, which can seem impersonal and create a sense of anxiety for some. Faculty responsiveness can alleviate some of that tension and truly make learners feel supported.

The use of strong rubrics and the setting of clear expectations and proficiencies help to guide the learning process. It goes without saying that the use of humor helps students to enjoy lessons. When key points are summarized and main conclusions and learning outcomes emphasized at strategic times throughout the lesson, students have a sense of completion and achievement. This also helps them to focus on what is important.

The switch to the virtual classroom comes with challenges for both the teacher and student. It also comes with significant opportunities for educators to learn more about how to be effective using this mode of delivering education. Some of us may not get the technicalities right immediately but it is hardly necessary that the emphasis be on perfection, but instead, on ensuring that the students love the course being taught and that their curiosity is stimulated to continue to engage with learning even after the course formally ends.

My personal congratulations to all educators who are using online platforms currently. Enjoy this time with your students. Make it a great experience for them and for you!

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