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If you’re being asked to “move a class online,” models may be even more useful than “tips.”

Here’s a link to a course site for my fully online class last semester. It’s a simple approach with very little “tech.” Feel free to borrow any of the ideas here.
I’ve built sites from scratch (started by hand-coding in HTML) for every course I’ve taught (whether online or not). For this one, I wanted to experiment with a more “out of the box” tool, so it’s built with a free Medium account.
The architecture is light. Basically everything students need to do the work is on one page, the “Schedule.” I’ve also minimized the number of words I use across the site to keep us focused on the work and to avoid misunderstanding.…
I offer very little to no technical instructions. Most of the tools I use are pretty intuitive. Lots of instructions lead to confusion and are just generally overwhelming. I focus on what we’re doing and let students figure the how out for themselves.
And I see this as critical, wherever possible, students determine the how for themselves. There are a couple tools that the course lives inside (for this course, it was Medium and Slack), but I otherwise try not to dictate tools to students.
I point students to places they can go for help (physical places, links to help guides, how to contact me) without assuming they’ll always need it.
My tone is incredibly casual. In a classroom, I’m easygoing and (at least dad-joke) funny. So, I want the language of my syllabus to reflect that. So, “here’s what we’ll spend our time doing this term.” And, “First, read; Then, do some stuff.”
Everything students read or watch is free and easy to access on the Web. If it’s not available free and easy to access on the Web, I teach something else. That hasn’t worked for every class I’ve ever taught, but it’s a constraint that ultimately helps me design better courses.
I am using Medium and Slack for this course, but those aren’t any kind of special sauce. The gist is I have one tool where the course lives and another tool where students talk to each other and share their work. So, could just as easily be WordPress/Discourse or a Google doc.
I don’t have students turn in work to me. They share it with each other. In this course, they were writing on Medium and sharing links in Slack. More often when I teach online, I don’t tell students where they have to put their work, just a place where they can easily link to it.
If the work can’t be linked to, they take pictures or make videos. The only thing they turn into me is their self-reflections.
Everything students have to do for the course is asynchronous. But I have optional synchronous chats, which are a lot of fun. Plus, folks are there because they want to be, so these are incredibly productive. I vary the day/time so everyone can participate if they want to.
One of my favorite things to do is watch movies with students. Again, it’s very low tech. We jump into a Slack channel together, all hit play at the same time, and then chat while we watch.
I could embed the video and have us annotate right on the film itself (there are some excellent tools for that), but I’m pretty strongly of the mind that if you don’t need a fancy tool for something, don’t use one.
Plus, all of this works on mobile, which is necessary for students who don’t have access to a computer or fast internet at home. And I’ve built flexibility into the course so that students with other access issues have points of entry and alternative ways to approach the work.
The only sentence in bold on the “Syllabus” page: “You should consider this course a ‘busy-work-free zone.’ If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.”…
Read some stuff. Do some stuff. Share what you did. Talk with each other about what you did. Ask me if you need help. Point me to stuff you want feedback on. That’s a course. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
Peter Elbow writes about what he calls, “minimal grading,” specifically about 0-point “rubrics,” basically ask students to do stuff and don’t bother (or, rather, deliberately avoid) monitoring whether they did it or not. Much of my course is structured around that as an approach.
Students grade themselves in my classes, and I try not meddle too much. No fancy rubrics. No elaborate patronizing policies. No points. I ask students to engage with their own work, link to examples, and reflect on their process.
Lots more rabbit holes to fall down in the example I shared, and I’m happy to answer questions.
To be honest, I’m troubled by the idea of a “pivot to online,” because that’s not how online learning works. You can’t take the stuff of a face-to-face class and pour it into an LMS and make online learning like magic.
I’m even more troubled by the word “continuity,” which suggests we can just continue online, “business as usual,” even in the midst of an emergency. Cool stuff can happen online, and we can keep doing useful work together. But I’m alright if there isn’t “continuity.”
What matters most I’d say is that we “pivot” to spaces where we can continue talking to one another. I’m more interested in compassion and flexibility than I am continuity.
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