June 28, 2020 by Dr. Robbie Barber
I saw a recommendation for the book, Small Teaching Online, and decided to order from my favorite indie bookstore, Little Shop of Stories, during the pandemic.
Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Sciences in Online Classes by Flower Darby with James M. Lang
I didn’t want to just write notes because frankly, I thought that if I took notes from the book, I would never re-read and use them. I decided to use a coloring system of post-it notes.
The problem is that if you put the book down for a week (while working on other projects), you may forget the coloring system and have to re-read to get it going again.
(Learning how to learn is a work in progress.)
I saw someone post a sketchnote of a book review and thought I needed more practice using sketchnote. (I do. I teach this, but I certainly haven’t mastered it.) So I sat with my copy of the book and started trying to organize the information in such a way as to be useful, specifically for me. When I went through my post-its, the very first one was the line that made me continue reading the book.
“Learning doesn’t happen by accident. (p. 4)”Darby, F. & Lang, J.M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
I wrote that quote at the top of the page because it became my focus. Everything I was going to write down went back to that message. I went through the book, in the order it was written, making notes on things I considered important. It took two pages. It’s messy but connected.
Then, I decided that I wanted to organize a little better. Maybe not add some of the information that wasn’t as relevant to me and reconnect other information better. Again, my focus was to tie information to practical use in my online classroom – or in my case, online school library media center. I noticed that the second page had a section on specifics about feedback. But the first page talked about the importance of feedback tied to reflections and engagement.
I’m not an artist and my straight lines aren’t. So I used engineering graph paper and managed to put what I needed on one page. Again, I started by writing the key sentence at the top. I did go back with colored pens and do a little more separation, highlighting, and imaging.
Now to put this into practical application. I’ve learned that I have to be present – even online. I have personally taken many online classes and I do not underestimate the value of an introduction section. It gives you – the teacher – an opportunity to say who you are, what’s important, and maybe what your pet looks like. It humanizes you and makes you a part of the class and not some vague representation. It also gives the students an opportunity to share what is important to them which may also give you cultural references. Even with in-person classes, we don’t always get this opportunity to really know our students well the first week. This can be an advantage to online classes.
Caveat: Emergency remote learning that most of us did at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 is NOT online learning. Online learning takes training, planning, practice, errors, corrections, and time to get it right. And, sometimes it’s the better method of teaching something. Sometimes it’s not. The key to good online learning is that the teachers need to do a lot of organizing and arranging in advance.
Video use is a big part of online classes and this book addresses that. But here’s my takeaway: If there is not an explicit reason to watch a video – no matter how short it is – students won’t watch (p. 57). Videos need to be tied to the classwork and scaffolded. They don’t hang out there by themselves, but they are part of the learning, feedback, grading, discussion boards, etc. If you have a video, have an assignment – short, low grade value – to get the student to watch the video.
Important: The introduction (or any assignment) can be done in so many ways online. Be careful not to assume you have to use a discussion board if Flipgrid is the better solution for your class. Being open to the incredible variety of online tools is the key to being successful. At the same time, don’t spend all of your energy looking for the last technology tool. This book is more about focusing what things should be included in your online class. Pedagogy before technology.
No one is sure where education will be in the near future with the pandemic infection numbers continuing to increase. Therefore, start looking now for opportunities to blend your classes, using more online features. Even if you meet with students in person in the fall, can you provide them an online introduction area? How will you use video to teach? How are you available online? And, maybe most important, how will you be a cheerleader for your students? One example from the book was taking mastery quizzes. Students needed to learn the vocabulary before starting the week’s work. They had to get a 100% on the vocabulary quiz in order to move on. If they didn’t pass, they retook unlimited number of times until they passed. Materials for the week did not unlock until they passed. Giving students a low point (no point?) quiz that they pass is a form of cheerleading and scaffolding. It allows the students to learn at their own pace, does not punish them, the repetition helps them improve, and they get a 100% item at the start of the week.
I should warn my teachers now – my new online school library media center will have a copyright quiz. Teachers have to complete it – and get it 100% correct – to get a reward. While I’m at it, I should warn my students about their digital citizenship quiz they will need to pass. Just because my “classroom” encompasses the entire faculty, staff, administration, and student body, does not mean that I cannot engage with online learning. In fact, I’ll be interrupting my teachers’ classes to bring students the latest help in doing research, using online tools, analyzing data, and, of course, finding a great book.
And, I won’t forget to share pictures of my pets.