Everything from employment to education to the ability to see friends and family in person is up in the air. So many things are uncertain. And one of the biggest questions affecting organizations is:

“How do we move our business online?”

Schools and learning centers rely on face-to-face interactions — which means they’re facing new obstacles during the COVID-19 crisis.

Some obstacles include:

  • How to handle student questions and interactive or group activities remotely — when software only goes so far. It can be hard to hear people on a video call with 10-100+ students.
  • How to participate in an online lecture without the freedom to simply raise a hand and speak. Constantly having to mute and unmute on a video conferencing platform can make participation difficult.
  • Getting access to reliable wifi and tech tools to participate in virtual classes. Not everyone has easy access to these things, and creating alternatives can be time-consuming or expensive.
  • Managing the expenses that come with a sudden shift. If you’re new to offering online classes and need to buy new tools, you might feel some financial strain. Plus, keeping a full staff on board with regular pay is a challenge for many smaller educational institutions.
  • Making sure your virtual education is still a quality education. Without the ability to monitor an in-person class, things like grading or taking exams might create feelings of unfair advantages among students.
  • Maintaining a classroom community feel. There’s no doubt – everyone is feeling the impact of isolation these days. Indefinitely going from a classroom to a computer can have a negative effect on student and teacher morale.

Luckily, our world has more ways to stay connected now than ever before, and many educational organizations are taking advantage of them to transition classroom learning into a virtual experience.

Students and faculty alike are working together to make the best of a difficult situation and continuing their education. Here’s how they’re doing it.

4 educational institutions transitioning from in-person to online learning

Every educational institution has had to do the same thing to adapt to online learning: pivot.

Whether it’s how you can literally see your class, how they see you and your lectures, or how you go about assignments and projects, everyone is making changes. Here’s how some of them are doing it.

1. Use new platforms to collaborate and communicate (like Columbia College Chicago)

Jeff Spitz is an associate professor of Cinema and Television Arts at Columbia College Chicago – one of the many institutions that have had to cancel or change their teaching methods during COVID-19.

His production class, The Doc Unit, has had to make several changes to how they operate, given that their regular coursework involves hands-on, real-world projects.

In the face of switching to remote learning, Jeff is taking it in stride and making it work for each of the 9 students in his course.

Jeff Spitz, Associate Professor of Cinema and Television Arts at CCC

“Since my production course titled The Doc Unit offers on-the-job and real-world projects only, this is going to be a difficult adjustment.

To simplify everything, I will focus on projects that are already shot and in post-production.
That’s easy because the students who can edit will simply edit as usual on their own.

For students who are only into cinematography, I will give them some personal assignments like updating their resumes and reels. I will also give them a few client-based projects that they can do at home. They can capture on their devices. So they don’t have to use school gear. No gear is available from the school, so this is a workaround situation.” – Jeff Spitz, Columbia University Chicago

Jeff’s class involves a lot of face-to-face pitching and discussion. As the semester finishes out, he and his students will use platforms like:

  • Zoom and Microsoft Teams for online group meetings and one-on-ones
  • Canvas for overall syllabus additions like short films and files
  • Vimeo for collaborating on rough cuts
  • Direct email to notify students, faculty, staff, and parents of updates

In addition to changes to Jeff’s course, Columbia College Chicago is shifting to applications like Zoom, Canvas, and Vimeo to communicate classwork and university updates with students.

2. Find free ways to be social and keep learning fun (like Leep Forward)

Leep Forward is a “Developmental Multidisciplinary Pediatric Therapy Clinic and Therapeutic Preschool Experience” located in Chicago.

This school focuses on services like:

  • Developmental therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech and language pathology
  • Social work

This kind of work is usually hands-on with students, so Leep Forward needed to get creative with their remote therapeutic methods.

Leep Forward is using its Facebook page as a (free!) way to keep parents and kids engaged with staff — from home.

This Facebook video post takes parents and kids through a breathing exercise to relieve some of the pressure of staying home.

A schedule of classes post for easy access that allows for social interaction.

“LEEP Forward Inc. is built on best practices rooted in a developmental, individualized relationship-based approach, instilling a sense of self-confidence, promoting a love of learning, while preparing students for future academic and social challenges.”

Their Facebook page is a great way to keep doing that, even during an unpredictable time like the COVID-19 crisis.

3. Use multiple tools to cover every remote learning gap (like University of Washington)

The University of Washington was the first large public university in the U.S. to report its move to online-only instruction through at least March 20.

The University of Washington serves 46,000 students across 3 campuses. To handle the transition to online classes, the school is providing instructors on each campus with 3 primary tools for online teaching:

  1. Canvas
  2. Zoom Pro
  3. Panopto

(Source: Canvas)

  • UW is using Canvas’s education platform for every course, and all students are automatically enrolled. The tool can be used for mass communications, asking questions, collecting assignments and posting group projects.

(Source: Zoom)

  • The university also bought Zoom Pro accounts for all lecturers to use for live instruction. Previously, instructors could use free Zoom accounts, which had limitations.

(Panopto)

  • Professors use Panopto to capture and share lectures online, including adding live polls and quizzes to the presentations

Luckily, the universities weren’t complete strangers to online learning:

“Before the coronavirus outbreak, about 40% of UW courses had at least some element of online learning,” said Beth Kalikoff, director of the UW’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “We’re not starting entirely from scratch, and I’m so glad.”

Although technology access issues can be a challenge in higher education, UW has a plan for that. To help students with limited access to technology, UW has laptops available for students to check out, and it’s still-open libraries have computer stations. The university also has Wifi open to students on campus.

4. 8 Ivy Leagues are stepping up to continue classes – and not just for their students

Are you bored at home and looking for some new educational challenges? Whether you’re enrolled in a university or not, there are some institutions that are turning campus courses into online courses – and making them available to students and non-students alike.

8 Ivy League universities are offering over 450 free online courses.

These universities are:

  1. Brown University
  2. Harvard University
  3. Cornell University
  4. Princeton University
  5. Dartmouth University
  6. Yale University
  7. Columbia University
  8. University of Pennsylvania

All of the available classes are housed on Class Central and available through other platforms like edX and Coursera.

The Class Central homepage (Source)

The courses cover numerous subject areas, including:

  • Computer science
  • Data science
  • Programming
  • Humanities
  • Business
  • Art & design
  • Science
  • Social sciences
  • Health & medicine
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Education & teaching
  • Personal development

How do these classes work? One example is a Computer Science course offered by Harvard via edX.

EdX is an online education provider that offers online courses, popularly known as MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses, from top universities and other institutions around the world. Currently, edX boasts a catalog of more than 2650 online courses created by these partners.

edX courses consist of pre-recorded video lectures that you can watch on a weekly schedule or when it’s convenient for you. They also offer:

  • Readings
  • Student discussion forums
  • Homework/assignments
  • Online quizzes or exams

An example course titled DemoX is designed to show new students how to take a course on edX.

3 tips and 10 tools to transition to online learning

Technology has advanced so much that, going from in-person to online classes may be an easier transition than you think.

Melissa Wong, an adjunct lecturer in information sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been teaching online courses for nearly two decades. She currently teaches all of her courses from her home in California, and said she has found that breaking up the class into 10- to 15-minute chunks where she switches between lecturing and facilitating a class discussion helps keep students engaged.

Although some classes can have more challenging workarounds than others – like those with labs or hand-on requirements – there are still ways to create a classroom environment so close you almost feel like you’re still in regular school.

1. Get creative with participation!

Video meeting tools are handy, but can be challenging for large group participation. Get creative with how you handle everyday things like taking questions. Use hand emojis to indicate raised hands when there are questions, or set aside an end-of-class time block (or multiple time block intervals) to answer them.

Emojis and other quick messaging tricks can help manage virtual communication…and even make it fun! (Source)

2. Think outside video options

Not everyone has access to the same reliable wifi or other resources needed to connect to a video class. Think about other ways you can send out assignments or study guides, such as email, Dropbox, a messaging platform like Slack, or other methods.

(Source)

You can also record lectures as podcasts, use video platforms like YouTube, and create lecture transcriptions to catch the moments that aren’t on slides.

3. Get your students excited about virtual education!

Even during a normal school year, getting out of the classroom and doing some hands-on learning is a great tool. Although it’s not quite the same, you can still shake up your curriculum with a virtual field trip. 2,500 museums are doing virtual tours through exhibits. Museums with virtual tours. Learn which ones you can “visit” here.

Check out these tools recommended by the National Education Association to make online teaching (and learning) easier:

Khan Academy and Scholastic are offering more thorough resources for homeschoolers and teachers during the time stuck at home.

Khan Academy

Kahn Academy is a nonprofit, online learning platform that offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. The material tackles:

  • Math
  • Science
  • Computer programming
  • History
  • Art history
  • Economics
  • And more!

Courses can be accessed online via mobile, desktops, and laptops. They use videos, video transcripts, and customizable lesson plans to continue online education.

Khan Academy is a useful tool for teachers, homeschooling parents, and students creating a new teaching system during COVID-19.

They also have daily (weekdays) live streams on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for students, parents, and teachers navigating school closures.

Scholastic

Scholastic has launched a Learn At Home website to share online course content with students, parents, and teachers.

The Learn At Home site offers 3 hours of material per day, including writing and research projects, virtual field trips, and geography challenges.

The site currently has 5 days of content for different learning age groups and will roll out a 15-day content package soon.

Conclusion: How to transition to online learning

The transition from in-person classes to online classes can seem daunting. Maybe your lectures have 200 students and it feels impossible to create a virtual experience to accommodate the demands of your school curriculum.

Or maybe your class feels too hands-on to be effective in a virtual setting.

Don’t worry – even the biggest challenges to online learning have solutions. Let’s recap!

To make the transition as smooth as possible, just remember:

  • Use new platforms to collaborate and communicate
  • Find free ways to be social and keep learning fun
  • Use multiple tools to cover every remote learning gap
  • Consider the reach your knowledge can have online – and not just for your students
  • Get creative with participation!
  • Think outside video options
  • Get your students excited about virtual education!

Times are uncertain, and we all have to make adjustments as we navigate the new ways of day-to-day learning. But as the examples in this post show, there are ways to make remote learning work for your courses, too.