Teaching Online during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Part 1)

Quick Tips for Educators who are rapidly developing online courses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Quick Start Tips for Teaching Online during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Put as much as you can online, as quickly as possible!

Editors Note as of March 23, 2020: As the situation quickly evolves, some of the information in this blog (originally posted on March 13, 2020) is outdated. Some changes include:

Do not ask students to go to a library if they do not have internet access at home.

Asynchronous teaching sessions supplemented by existing resources (i.e. Khan Academy) is being widely promoted by educators as the best method for course delivery right now.

K-12 educators are being encouraged to focus on promoting social, emotional, and family while at home. Any educational losses can be readdressed in the Fall.

Original article follows.

As the US responds to the COVID-19 outbreak by closing schools and universities, the message that many educators are receiving from their administrators, parents, and students is to migrate their lesson plans from face-to-face delivery to an virtual delivery platform. Transferring a residential class to an online class is not a trivial task. As a rule of thumb, it takes about 10 hours of preparation for each hour of online instruction.

In the best of circumstances, educators facing this challenge are already using a Learning Management System (LMS) and have worked with Instructional Designers and Learning Technologists to supplement their resident courses with digital learning opportunities.

But this is the real world and many educators do not operate in the best of circumstances nor do they have ready access to instructional designers.

Below are some quick tips for all of you amazing educators who are spending your nights and weekends preparing to teach online for the first time.

Get your Students Ready!

  • Write a list of the support services your organization will be providing you and your students.
  • Validate that your students have access to a computer and internet at home. If not, help them identify safe public spaces (like libraries) to access their course work. This one may seem obvious but for many families, technology is a luxury they cannot afford. Note: For families who only have access through Smart Phones – many LMSs are not mobile friendly or have limited functionality. Consider this when designing coursework.
  • Validate that your students know how to access their course work. Something as simple as logging in and navigating to your course website can take hours for the untrained user. If possible, create a one page printable job aid to guide them.
  • If you plan to have scheduled times to meet online, make a contingency plan for students who don’t have access or encounter technical issues. DO NOT punish students for missing online classes unless you are absolutely sure they are being intentionally negligent. This goes double for any student with an IEP or special needs.
  • When interacting with students be positive and confident. If you are suddenly teaching distance due to emergency circumstances, strive to provide a calm and trustful partnership with students. Be encouraging and positive about the new paradigm. 
  • Talk to other instructors and peers within your network to get support and ideas. Perhaps you may want to team up with another instructor to team teach or share resources.

Adapt your course for DL

  • Imagine your students in close proximity to loud and small children, frequent interruptions, and unreliable internet connections.  Design your coursework and lecture materials in small, manageable segments so they can work in sprints.
  • When delivering online synchronous lectures be prepared for the new teaching mode. Remember that without body language and close proximity to students your usual jokes will fall flat, your metaphors will miss their mark, and the normal visual cues you use to gauge student understanding will be eliminated. The best methods to prepare include:
    1. Identify protocols you want to use for discussion, student questions, getting student feedback, etc. One fast to implement process is to let students know you will be lecturing for fifteen minutes and ask them to save their questions until the end of the lecture. Encourage students to post their questions in the comments box. After questions and student discussions are completed have everybody take a stretch break while you prepare materials for the next fifteen minute delivery.
    2. For small group courses you may be able to be less structured and have an informal discussion environment.
    3. Learn the technology and practice, practice, practice. If you are new to the technology available start with the basics and as you become more comfortable start trying new functions to enable more interactions with and amongst  your students. Many synchronous meeting tools enable file sharing, comments, group discussion, and small room breakouts.
  • Consider the time to grade each assignment when designing it. Educators often make online assessments harder or more thorough in an effort to ensure students are mastering the material. Not only does this not improve learning outcomes, but it also increases the time the educator must spend grading each assignment. Eliminiate unnecessary grading time and spend your time interacting with students as much as possible.


  • Online courses are either a “One stop shop” of information or an “Constant Scavenger Hunt” – there is no in between. In the Scavenger Hunt scenario, students spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do instead of learning. Explicitly tell students the following:
    • how they will communicate with you (usually LMS messaging system)
    • how you will communicate with them (usually LMS announcements)
    • how they will communicate with each other (usually Forums or LMS chat features)
    • how they will receive instructor (usually LMS lessons/modules or a Webinar features)
    • how they will be assessed (usually LMS assignments and tests features).
  • Communicate often. Students need you to respond to their questions and concerns within one business day.
  • Get student feedback on a regular basis, especially at the beginning of the course. This can be done anonymously using LMS survey tool, you may email students individually, or use an outside survey tool. Some questions you can ask include:
    1. Can students access all course materials?
    2. Do they understand what is expected of them?
    3. Is the pacing of the course appropriate?
    4. How many times do they access the course during the week?
    5. What is working best for them?
    6. What changes would help them be more successful?
    7. Do they have any questions?
  • Do not underestimate the power of online office hours. This is especially important for K-12 learners who aren’t use to office hours.  To hold online office hours, open up a Web Conferencing channel, enable chat, and just be present. Invite students to pop in and out with their questions, to stay silent on the line while they work on homework, or to work with one another to create a peer-to-peer learning environment.

Final Thoughts

  • Rehearse before any webinar. Murphy loves webinars and will make sure your sound doesn’t work, your screen doesn’t share, and your internet is buffered the entire time. (Pro Tip: Significant others make great stand-ins for students during rehearsals!)
  • Keep a journal of lessons learned.  Spend 5 minutes after each course or module to make notes to yourself. This will save you hundreds of hours of errors and clarification in the future.  Trust us.
  • Be sure to do a “time on task” analysis. For each task you are setting for your students and for yourself, track the time and effort it will take and keep it within reasonable and required bounds. It can be really easy for an enthusiastic instructor to overwhelm students with content. Be judicious and thoughtful in what you are asking of your students.
  • Be easy on yourself.  Online education is a multi-billion industry that is rapidly evolving.  Many of us dedicate our lives to “doing it better” and we are continually learning and making mistakes. Your students are lucky to have you. Now go get ‘em!

About the Authors

Lisa Spence is the Director of Research, Technology, and Innovation for MKS2, LLC – working globally with customers to design world-class solutions. She’s a prolific writer and speaker on topics including user interaction, instructional design, personalization, and blended agile methods.

Dianna Beardslee is an Instructional Design Subject Matter Expert and Consultant for MKS2, LLC. Dianna believes that “everything is possible”. She turns problems into ideas, ideas into solutions, and solutions into programs.

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