Schools around the world have just gone through the most concentrated upheaval in living memory. The sudden shift to online courses placed a unique and serious strain on educators and students alike. The fact that many of these shifts took place in just days was both impressive and stressful. Even the best-prepared educators had to adapt and think of new ways to help their students.
Succeeding during a pandemic demands more from students in every way. Keeping up with normal coursework can be a challenge even without added stressors. The recent disruption has added new barriers to learning, even for students who normally thrive in online classes. Students and educators who relied upon on-campus resources scrambled to find alternatives.
Now that the spring semester is over, there is time to prepare for the future. Higher education specialists around the country have found the weak points in their current systems. There are a myriad of strategies and resources available for helping students succeed, regardless of the pandemic. Setting them up now will help everyone make the most of the coming semesters.
Offering a Variety of Easily-Accessible, Educational Resources Will Help Your Students Succeed During the Pandemic
At a glance, online courses seem like they would be relatively simple. If students are able to attend classes and turn in assignments on campus, then it should be just as straightforward at home, right?
Many students rely on campus resources like printers, desktops, and their classmates to help them achieve their goals. At home, these students may have nothing more than a smartphone and a pair of earbuds to complete their work. That means that using the wrong materials can lock these students out of the courses they’ve already paid for.
As an educator, one of the best things you can do for your students is diversify. Give your students as many resources as possible. Different students will have different needs and abilities at home, and a resource that works for one student may not work for another. Luckily, there are many digital tools available for helping students thrive during a pandemic.
Learning Management Systems
The simplest option for most educators is to make use of a full-service Learning Management System, or LMS. These systems are designed to help students access everything they need for an online class. Many LMS options allow students to watch lectures, read articles, and submit assignments all on the same site. Even better, good LMS options are optimized for use on tablets, smart phones, and computers. As long as students have some kind of access to the internet, they can get to their course.
Most schools already have some kind of LMS in place. That means most of your students should be familiar with the platform and understand how to use it. Using resources with which students are familiar helps keep the learning curve less steep. Students will be able to concentrate on the lecture instead of focusing all their energy on figuring out how to watch it in the first place.
In many classes, the ability to discuss the subject matter helps students broaden their understanding. Online classes make it a little trickier to manage these discussions, but not impossible. You can set up large group discussion boards or smaller personalized video discussions. Some instructors even see more benefits from online discussions than they do in person.
Discussion boards aren’t constrained by time limits. As long as everyone contributes, the individual posts can be made at any time. They also allow students to create more thoughtful comments, since they have more time to consider them.
Video chats, on the other hand, most closely mimic in-person discussions. They enable students to interject, interact, and ask questions freely. Ideas flow more naturally and it’s easier to see who isn’t engaged. Just make sure to use a platform that all your students can access easily.
Offering your students access to free online resources will help them handle even difficult materials more easily. Options like Google for Education, links to video series on your subject, or online models and course materials can make all the difference.
Many students no longer have access to their textbooks or the school library. Providing students with the right online resources can help them overcome this. Look for options that can be used on smartphones. Making your course easily accessible is essential to ensuring that each student is able to participate.
Students simply can’t take courses in person during a pandemic. However, it’s important that tests remain a fair and unbiased assessment of students’ grasp of the coursework. Providing online proctoring services helps students safely take tests online while maintaining academic integrity.
Online proctoring also allows students to schedule tests at times that work with their schedules. Students who are caring for loved ones or working to pay bills have more freedom this way. Online proctoring makes secure testing accessible for all students.
Provide Structure and Support for Students Taking Your Online Course
Many students prefer in-person classes because they provide structure and support. It’s harder for students to forget assignments when they have to attend a class three times a week, after all. The switch to online classes has taken that routine away from everyone.
One of the best ways to support your students during the pandemic is to give them structure. Help them develop a new routine, and they’ll be better able to focus on the material. Of course, it’s just as important to provide flexibility for students with changing life circumstances. Walking that line takes planning, but it’s worth it.
Have a Well-Designed Course Structure
The simplest way to provide structure is to set clear expectations. Loose syllabi can work fine in normal circumstances, where the structure of in-person classes can provide support. Online classes need more detailed course layouts.
Provide your students with well-organized course guidelines from the start. Lay out deadlines, expectations, and requirements as clearly as possible. Most students are balancing work, family obligations, and other classes. Knowing that there’s a twenty page paper due halfway through the semester will help students budget their course and life responsibilities more efficiently.
Your expectations will be different with an online course than they would be with an in-person class. Instead of grading on attendance, you’ll need to focus on work quality and general engagement. Specify what you expect out of your students with regard to:
- Online discussion input
- Response times
- Response to technical problems
Your expectations don’t need to be strict, but they need to be clear and firm. Students really do want to live up to your expectations. If you provide specific rules and examples, then they know what they’re supposed to do, and you’ll be surprised at the positive response you get.
You should also consider providing all materials right from the start of class. Some learning management systems give you the option to time-gate lectures, presentations, and assignments — don’t take it. Now more than ever, students need the opportunity to work ahead.
Offer Multiple Types of Content Delivery and Assignments
Every student learns differently. Regardless of the format of a course, successful classes provide students with a variety of different course materials. This helps improve student engagement and helps them retain course information more effectively. The more ways you can present lesson information, the better your students will learn.
If you’re trying to maximize student success, the first step is to adjust your lesson presentation. Audio recordings are unhelpful for deaf students, while slideshows are difficult for the blind. Turning your lectures into a multimedia experience is the quickest and simplest way to reach your students on their level.
Consider breaking up your lectures, too. When you’re presenting an online course, you’re not bound to hour or ninety-minute time slots. In a home filled with distractions, students are more likely to pay attention to all of a ten-minute video than a 60 minute marathon lecture. Plus, it’s easier for you as the educator to produce.
Once you have multimedia lectures, you can add other teaching methods as well. Post the transcription of your lectures online for visual learners. Use online discussions to help students talk through problems. Use online models and materials to engage hands-on learners outside the classroom. This multimodal learning approach will keep students engaged and learning from home.
Make It Easy to Reach Out for Support
One of the biggest benefits to in-person classes is the ease with which students can ask for help. If a student has a question after a classroom lecture, they can hang around after class and talk to the instructor. That isn’t the case with online courses.
Without in-person support, it’s essential that you make it easy for students to get help in other ways. As a course instructor, that means you need to give your students ways to quickly, easily, and safely contact you. It also means that you need to respond in a timely fashion to questions and concerns.
Emails, LMS messaging systems, and even texting can all be great ways for your students to contact you. Instruct your students on how to best contact you, and then check those platforms regularly. A good rule of thumb is to respond to students within 24 hours. Be sure to clearly state the times when you’re available in your syllabus.
You should also point your students to other resources. Good options include school librarians, the counseling center, peer mentors and tutors, and the class contact list. If you’re unavailable, it’s reassuring for students to know that they have access to other resources. Social distancing can be an alienating experience; support resources can be crucial to success.
Provide Students with Flexibility
Within your structure, remember to allow for flexibility. When they’re not on campus, students have other responsibilities. Some are caring for ill family members, while others are trying to work enough to make up for lost income. Giving students the ability to be flexible in how they fulfill your course requirements can be pivotal.
Nowhere is this flexibility more important than in test-taking. Of course, it’s important to maintain academic integrity standards as well. Balancing these two requirements — flexibility and integrity — is easier than you might think. Online proctoring of tests can provide your students with a trustworthy online testing environment that still allows for flexible scheduling.
For online proctoring to work, it needs to be as simple and seamless as possible. It doesn’t save you time if you’re spending twenty hours a week proctoring tests. It doesn’t help your students with flexibility if you’re trying to manage things yourself. Instead, you should consider an integrated service to take care of proctoring for you. Everyone is struggling with pandemic-related challenges. Tests shouldn’t make life harder.
An online proctoring service that’s integrated with the coursework is ideal. Our ProctorU integrated testing system provides easy scheduling, personal support, and help with incident reports and reviews. The goal is a simple, seamless experience that helps the class go more smoothly.
How Health Science Educators Are Helping Students Thrive During the Pandemic
Health Science may seem like one of the hardest subjects to tackle online. It can be heavily lab-based and deeply complex, and it’s critical that students understand the material. After all, attention to detail today may one day mean the difference between life and death for a patient. Many health science educators find that their biggest challenge is keeping students engaged during the transition to online teaching.
Health Science educators have stepped up to the challenge, though. There are several tools and strategies that are being successfully used to keep students engaged and learning. Integrating these methods into your own courses will help your students continue to succeed even in difficult conditions.
Supplement Robust Core Curriculum
Most higher education institutions have in-depth curricula for their Health Science students. The basic information doesn’t change from year to year, after all. The designs of these programs have been tested and refined for decades in many cases. That means most educators have robust, trusted curricula on which they can rely.
Just because courses are now online does not mean that your curriculum is somehow less useful. The same concepts, skills, and information can be covered online. The big hurdle is to overcome rigid thinking about how materials should be presented.
The core curriculum, including lectures, presentations, and even demonstrations can remain the same. It’s the supplementary material that must change. The anatomy labs and dissections available during in-person classes may not be possible, but other options are. Using new, virtual models and content can be just as effective at teaching anatomy and Health Science topics.
In fact, some subjects may even be simpler to teach virtually. Delicate systems are hard to preserve during dissections, while physical models can be prohibitively expensive. 3D models, on the other hand, are infinitely reproducible and cannot be damaged. Plus, 3D digital models will never lead to viral transmissions, unlike physical models.
Virtual Models and Interactive Content
Many Health Science courses benefit from interactive materials, especially courses like Human Anatomy. Most universities have in-person models that students can study and examine on campus. Unfortunately, those are now unavailable. That’s where modern computing has provided a solution.
Virtual models and interactive 3D content are helping students explore Health Science topics for themselves. Videos allow them to see anatomy in “real life,” and interactive tools help them explore in ways that are impossible in many anatomy labs. Schools are already using videos, models, and other interactive content to help Health Science students learn in new and exciting ways.
Taking Physical Labs Virtual
Physical labs have an important place in the learning experience. However, it’s possible to replace them with the right resources. The goal of most physical labs is an in-depth experience of the subject matter. There are plenty of ways to replace that experience online.
Anatomy labs in particular are easy to take completely virtually. Clear-cut interactive models help students understand the body more easily than even the clearest 2D diagrams. With the use of a cloud-based, virtual system, educators can provide activities that were previously only possible in-person.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for everyone in the educational system, students and instructors alike. However, with the right materials and planning, you can provide students with everything they need to succeed during the pandemic. Clear expectations, accessible resources, and a wide variety of learning materials make it possible for every student to get what they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already cut off so many options for students. Their access to quality education should not be another casualty. Providing students with the online resources they need to learn is key to helping them succeed in the face of adversity.