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Structure and direction

Considerations for how to develop a regular learning structure and give clear directions when new to teaching online.
© FutureLearn

In the previous step we compared synchronous and asynchronous, as well as online and offline approaches to teaching and learning. Now we’ll consider how developing a regular learning structure and giving clear directions when teaching online, just as in the physical classroom, can help motivate and engage students.

Setting a timetable

A clear timetable will help you organise your preparation and teaching time and set clear expectations of what students need to work on any particular day.

Suzanne Mordue, British Council UK: “Set a timetable and stick to it.”
Martin Weller, The Open University: ”[A] clear study calendar, and descriptions of exactly what is required from learners.”
In step 1.5 we suggested creating an initial study plan for your students. You can develop this into a timetable that sets learning objectives for the week and indicates the time students need to spend on various learning activities. Set clear time expectations for each activity, so students know when they need to engage and when to take a break. Remember that live classes might need to be negotiated if students only have access to a computer or other device at certain times, or if students live in a range of timezones.
The Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan has created student guidance entitled Adjusting your study habits during COVID (with thanks to Lyndsay Wing) licenced under Creative Commons 4.0 which includes a link to a Daily Schedule Google spreadsheet you can copy and share with your students. It includes an important column for students to schedule ‘self care’ activities.

Virtual Office Hours

Setting regular virtual office hours within a timetable sets clear expectations of when you will respond to messages. If you have a quiet moment during this time you can use it to reach out to students you haven’t heard from. This article by Jennie M. Carr provides some further advice on virtual office hours.

Encouraging independent learning

Teaching online offers opportunities to design learning activities that require more independent study.
Rebecca Ferguson, The Open University: “In the face-to-face classroom, students are used to relying on educators to arrange their study timetable, set study goals, and assess whether these goals have been achieved. At a distance, more of these tasks will be the responsibility of learners, so support learners in recognising and acquiring these self-regulation skills.”
Try starting with small tasks asking students to work independently either online or off. Independent study is valuable, even with younger students. This article by David Valente suggests teachers ‘Plant seeds of early independence’ with primary school students by giving them choice in their learning activities.

Giving clear directions

When planning online learning activities it’s important to make instructions clear and concise.
Amy Ike, GDST: ”[Give] simple clear instructions outlining what is expected of them.”
Hannah Tyreman, Chartered College of Teaching: ”When writing instructions for learning content or creating the content itself, make several edits to ensure your communication is concise.”
Lisa Harris, University of Exeter Business School: “I may think something I’ve said within a course is obvious, but I should check that students have understood it in the same way. There is always scope for misunderstanding!”
Martin Weller, the Open University: “No matter how carefully you word something, there is always room for misinterpretation when a student is on their own. So be prepared to clarify, and be very clear.”

Peer feedback?

You may want to share your task instructions with a colleague. Then you can review each other’s texts and suggest clarifications.

Discussion In the comments below, share how you plan to give your learning activities structure and clear directions. You plans may be similar to how you approach a face to face environment but you’ll want to include how you will you adapt it to an online context.

© FutureLearn
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How To Teach Online: Moving online post-pandemic

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