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Usable Knowledge

The Shift to Online Teaching

How K-12 educators can translate proven higher ed practices to their virtual classrooms
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K-12 teachers across the country have been asked to undertake a daunting task: take the classroom and culture they’ve been building since August and move it into a virtual space. For some, tools like Zoom, Google Classroom, or even Slack are relatively new or haven’t been used as anything more than a homework tracker.

For educators thinking about how best to begin the shift to online learning, Usable Knowledge has compiled practices and strategies from higher education institutions (which have previously offered online instruction) that can translate into the K-12 classroom.

Let your pedagogy inform the technology you choose to incorporate.

  • Consider the way you teach and your values as an educator in order to choose your platforms. Do you find that lecturing is the best way to transmit information? Or do students need to be able to collaborate and talk to one another? Are you teaching to an end-of-the-year final? Or do you want your students to demonstrate a certain skill set by the end of the semester? There are no wrong answers, but certain virtual formats are likely better equipped to handle certain pedagogical style.

Rebuild your classroom community in a digital space.

  • Know your students and what their limitations are in terms of technology — send out a questionnaire to gather the information you need about each students’ learning environment.
  • Let students take the initiative in designing the class format. How do they want to use their time? Is it easier to do the reading on their own time or watch a prerecorded lecture and use virtual meetings for questions? Allowing students to have agency over learning is especially critical now that so many other aspects of life are in flux.
  • Reestablish norms. Should students express their questions in a chat or discussion board, or should they use the “Raise Hand” feature available in some group video chats?
  • Allow time for students to socialize and even to be silly — after all, they’re not getting much interaction outside of their homes. Incorporate things like icebreakers before easing into instruction.
  • Establish expectations clearly and early on. Make sure students know what they can do to succeed — whether that’s participate on discussion boards or complete a project. Also be willing to be flexible in success metrics as this is new for many and what works in a classroom may not translate to online learning.

Develop new ways of encouraging engagement.

  • Think about value-added technology. Many technologies offer a whiteboard feature or the option to share your screen.
  • Arrange breakout sessions where small groups can meet virtually to discuss a text or work on a problem together, then reconvene with the whole class.
  • Keep lessons brief — around 10 minutes. This is especially critical if students are working in an environment where they can be easily distracted or have other tasks that require their attention.
  • Consider using polling features in the software as a way to check in and monitor what students are learning.

Other things to consider:

  • Get in touch with parents and let them know what your expectations are for their children. Let them know how they can support learning.
  • Think about closed captioning and prerecording to make content accessible to all — and that includes parents who will be partners in this work.
  • Use a calendar feature to outline due dates and class meeting times.

Overall, flexibility and iteration are key to ensuring student success. Be willing to let go of something if it’s not working. Communicate clearly and often with students to let them know you are in this together with them and you are there to support their learning.

Usable Knowledge

Connecting education research to practice — with timely insights for educators, families, and communities

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