Recently, I taught some classes on the changes to the spring 2020 Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Aside from learning about the specific changes for those tests, I had the opportunity to review good online teaching and testing. In general, the issues for students are similar to those they always face: what needs to be done to learn effectively and test well? Similarly, instructors still need to be able to have clear objectives, provide an effective teaching environment, and build confidence. The challenge for instructors is working in a novel teaching environment.
What issues are impacted by learning online? First, more and more students will look for information online. While this is nothing new, I believe a lack of guidance can lead students to unreliable sources. As instructors, we need to teach students good practices, such as determining what makes a good source. For example, the dependence on Google searches has become pervasive in society. Students can benefit from searching in Google Scholar instead for better academic sources of information than those in Google. Second, students will need to be reminded of how to organize information. Don’t underestimate the value of making table of contents for notebooks. Similarly, instructors should promote good methods for organizing their particular subjects. Remind students that the was information is organized for teaching and in textbooks is not necessarily the best way for then to organize that same information for studying.
Since students will be studying more on their own, we need to educate students more on effective studying methods. Again, there may be many ways for individuals to study, but best practices will always include preparation, repetition, accuracy, and self-assessment. In order for students to get the most out of online learning, they should be prepared. That is, students can get more out of their online experiences if they are prepared to ask questions when they are speaking to instructors. As convenient as email may be to ask questions, understanding can be impeded by long exchanges.
I can’t stress self-assessment enough. Always ask students why they think know what they know. It’s amazing how many students think they ‘know’ something by just reading or looking at a figure. Students need to prove that they can get material out to show they have access to information and can use it! Of course, online assessment will vary, so students will need guidance as to the best way to study and self-assess for a given type of assessment.
Another challenge for online learning and testing is the environment in which students will now do their work. As instructors, we need to realize the great variation in learning environments for our students. Not everyone will have a quiet room to themselves. Not everyone will have enough working space to do certain projects. Many of these issues may not have easy solutions, but we can think of ways in which to even the playing field a bit. For example, rather than ask students to work individually, we can promote small group work online and have groups come together to build answers to concepts.
Let’s not underestimate the importance of non-academic issues, such as sleep, nutrition, and mental health. Now, more than ever, we need to remind our students of the influence of these factors in successful learning and testing. There’s no reason we can’t build in some fun into online learning. We can build in some guided social exchanges, such as those related to activities enjoyed by students. If students seem to be dragging, lead them in some jumping jacks. You’ll be surprised how something so simple can energize them.
Lastly, remember that students need even more encouragement with online learning and assessment than they did with traditional methods. Change can be daunting to many students, and we need to provide positive feedback. There has been a lot of stress due to technical difficulties, as seen with the new AP exams. Let’s remind students that they are capable and can master online learning!
Interested in learning more about becoming a better online learner? Sign up for our Five Steps to Better Online Learning seminar on June 11 from 4-5pm Eastern. This is part of our June Seminar Series.