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You’ve likely spent countless hours creating and perfecting your lesson plans and how you teach content to your students. And much of it has probably worked exceptionally well in your in-person classes. Unfortunately, during these unprecedented times, you may have discovered that what works well in an in-person setting may not work as well online. Both you and your students may be getting frustrated by the barriers between you as you try to teach each year. Virtual classrooms don’t have to keep people apart, though; they can also bring people together and help your students connect to the material in new and exciting ways. You can take simple steps to adapt your curriculum for an online environment and help your students find the joy of learning.

As the Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning notes, “online course design is more than transferring content online or replicating face-to-face classroom sessions.” A meaningful amount of redesigning is necessary to ensure students get the most out of their online classes.1 In addition to activities that are simply impossible to do when not in the same room, you may find students are less engaged in lectures and other content that works well in a classroom setting.

Virtual learning necessarily involves more independent learning for students. Making sure things are clear and understandable for students and ensuring that they have access to necessary resources is essential for allowing students to use their independent learning time efficiently.2 To ensure that students have the best possibility to succeed, try to be consistent on how assignments and other content is displayed in the online classroom. If students are confused about how to find assignments or what the due date is, they are far more likely to get frustrated and not participate.

Breakout rooms (where classes are split into smaller groups) and sharing documents can be great ways to ensure students get the most out of the synchronous parts of their learning.3 Regardless of what subject you teach, they can be a great tool. An online math teacher may have students work in small groups to solve a complex math problem, or a virtual English teacher could have students work in pairs to read a story or dialog.

“Online, we do not naturally get to know each other or have the opportunity to catch up before class, so community building needs to be done intentionally and transparently with students.”

Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning

Remember that many of the ways rapport builds naturally in an in-person classroom may not be options in an online environment, so you may need to make a more conscious effort to connect with students and build community. As the Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning points out, “Online, we do not naturally get to know each other or have the opportunity to catch up before class, so community building needs to be done intentionally and transparently with students.”4 Ice breakers, games, and structured discussions can help create this feeling of community in your online classroom. It is also essential to have empathy for both yourself and your students and remember that this time is difficult for everyone.5 When teaching, you may need to increase your enthusiasm and energy level to compensate for not being in the same room. You may also want to limit the lecture sections of the class and provide more opportunities for students to interact.

Remembering that students may be working in less than ideal environments and keeping that in mind while making assignments and deciding due dates can help make the class work for everyone. India Mansour, writing in Nature, advises allowing more time for assignments to accommodate students’ other responsibilities (and their internet connections) may have.6

Try to give students a variety of opportunities to provide feedback on the course and the resources used. It is imperative to solicit input for fully online classes as you won’t be able to judge how students are experiencing the class as easily as you would if you were all together in a room.7 Often courseware can look different for a student user as opposed to a teacher, so communicate regularly with students about how usable course materials are for them.

Look for ways that the virtual environment can add fun to your material as well. You may be able to change your background to that of places your students are studying or help students collaborate on projects that would be impractical in an in-person classroom. Students may find virtual “stickers” and other rewards just as fun as any physical rewards you could give out.

Virtual Classrooms don’t have to prevent you from connecting with your students, and some students may even prefer them. Online classes have their own challenges and their own advantages, and adapting courseware to suit an online environment can help ensure that students can thrive regardless of what the classroom looks like.

Citations for “How to Adapt Content for the Online Classroom
1,4 Adapting your face-to-face course to a fully online course. (2020, August 17). Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/teaching-with-technology/teaching-online/adapting-your-course/
2, 3 Ferguson, C. (2020, October 12). Adapting reading comprehension instruction to virtual learning. Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/adapting-reading-comprehension-instruction-virtual-learning
5, 6, 7 Mansour, I. (2020, April 22). How to ADAPT 16 hours of in-class teaching material to an online format in 5 days. Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01178-y

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