Don’t forget your online class!

TL;DR — don’t forget your online class in the great COVID-19 mid-semester course redesign challenge of 2020. Online classes may need adjusting too, and (depending on what you teach) you may even find a way to make changes that encourage your students to be on the front lines, helping with crisis response in whatever field you teach.

This semester I’m teaching a campus-based class and an online class.

I bet you’re thinking I have one class that was all systems go, ready to handle COVID-19, and one class that needed reworking. If you are, you’re correct. However, I bet you’ve got the two confused with each other.

In my case, it’s my online class that needs some rethinking. Just because it was already online doesn’t mean that my students aren’t affected by COVID-19.

Let me explain:

My campus class is a PhD seminar. Each Friday morning, 14 of us sit around a seminar table for 2.5 hours and discuss. Invariably we have a few folks who zoom in because they’re not in town or they’re sick. No big deal. We have a meeting owl, we screen share from the instructor station and project that on the screen in the classroom, and it’s pretty seamless. We function well this way. I don’t anticipate any of these students struggling to join a zoom session from home in the upcoming weeks — and we discussed this during our last face to face meeting, on the last Friday that campus was open. In fact, half stayed home and opted to join via zoom that week. And so our “Friday morning coffee club” class will continue as planned, meeting in real time, covering the same material and doing the same assignments. Not a big deal, no real change. Heck, I already set up the weekly zoom link back in January!

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My online class is full of MS and PhD students who are learning about open educational resources. The class contains a mix of campus and online students. Most of the online students and some of the campus ones work full time, and many of them are educators or instructional designers in the K-12, higher ed, and corporate sectors. I’ve communicated with a few of them this week (it’s spring break) … and they are slammed with work! It’s not surprising. They’re either shifting their own classes to a temporary remote format or helping others make the shift.

It’s clear that some of my online students will struggle to return to class as normal next week. They have other top priorities. It doesn’t matter that they are students who signed up to be online students, and it doesn’t matter that the class was already running online with no real issues. They may have the access, experience, and mindset to be successful online learners, but many of them are experiencing extra job stress and duties right now.

I’m fortunate that the online class relates to instructional design and the on-the-job issues that these students are now facing. With that in mind, I’m making a modified final project option for them which would allow them to apply what we’re learning in class to their job and provide me with a portfolio that documents and explains it. This is in lieu of a similar project on a non-work-related topic. And for the other students, I’ll give them the option to continue as planned or to provide help to others on a volunteer basis right now and build their portfolio accordingly. Win-win, right?