As residential courses are being forced to move to online delivery in response to the global pandemic, residential faculty are facing the challenge of migrating learning activities that were designed for face-to-face delivery to the online modality. This transition will inevitably cause some new challenges for instructors.

Often times, residential activities as originally designed simply won’t work online. This may be due to the need for specific equipment, computer hardware or software, or other resources not available in the student’s home. This realization requires residential faculty to move beyond simply attempting to duplicate the residential activity online, and instead create a new, unique online activity that will achieve the same learning objectives as the residential activity.

Some instances will be more difficult to adapt than others. We’re here to help as you begin the process of transitioning your learning activities online. Keep reading for some advice on how to approach the situation.

How to rethink learning in an online environment

When developing a new online activity to replace a residential learning activity, there are some important questions you should ask yourself. Consider the following:

  • What is the precise learning outcome the residential activity is designed to achieve?
  • Can a remote activity be created that achieves the same learning outcome, but in a different manner?
  • Can part of the activity be performed remotely, with the balance of the activity held for when campus is reopened and students return to class?
  • Is there a virtual option available from a textbook publisher or other educational technology vendor?
  • For a lab activity, can students watch a video demonstration of the experiment instead of performing it themselves?
  • Is it a situation where students can be supplied with a data set for analysis rather than being required to produce the data set themselves through experimentation or other means?

How to incorporate interaction between online students and faculty

There are certain activities built into residential courses that are meant to foster student-student or student-faculty interaction. While this is certainly more challenging in a virtual learning environment, it’s not impossible.

Consider the following online alternatives:

1. Online discussion board in the LMS

Regardless of which type of learning management system (LMS) you use, there will be some sort of discussion board feature. This allows for back-and-forth conversation between classmates and instructors on a prompted topic.

The asynchronous nature of a discussion board makes it convenient for students to participate during a time that’s convenient for them. This platform also provides an organized method of keeping responses to a specific subject. The drawback of this system is the lack of synchronous interaction can change the learning experience and greatly limit feelings of immediacy.

2. Synchronous discussion in web conference system

Video conferencing software is another effective tool to support online learning. Live streaming conversations helps support faculty presence and student-to-student interaction in real time. This often stimulates more thoughtful discussions and offers a platform for healthy debate and dialogue.

This method can lead to technology or bandwidth issues for students and also requires students to all be online at the same time, which can be challenging. But it is the method that most closely replicates classroom discussion.

3. Email interaction

For certain situations, email communication is the most effective way to disseminate large volumes of information to the entire class. For assignments that involve case studies, data analysis or other detailed materials, email can be an ideal method of delivery.

Just keep in mind that some students have developed “email fatigue” and may not pay as close attention to their inbox as they should. There can be a general lack of immediacy to this method of communication, so find other ways to draw attention to these assignments as well, such as calendar reminders and other announcements in the LMS.

How to identify the most effective online learning method

One of the advantages of online learning is the flexibility it gives both students and faculty, since learning is not necessarily bound by the weekly residential class schedule. Residential faculty should think carefully about whether to mandate synchronous activities which require all students to be online at the same time.

When designing your online activities, it is best to consider both the synchronous and asynchronous alternatives before making a final decision. An example of this thought process is shown in the table below:

Classroom activitySynchronous optionAsynchronous option
Student presentationStudents present live via web conference system.Students record video presentation and upload to the LMS.
Group projectStudents collaborate in a web conference meeting room or via applications like Google Drive.Students collaborate using discussion board in the LMS.
Peer reviewStudents share and discuss in a web conference room or via applications like Google Drive.Students share documents and feedback through email or via discussion board in the LMS.

Adapt to the online classroom

As you can see, there are many options for residential faculty as they move activities online, but the critical success factor is always the same: focus on outcomes. The method, activity, actions and deliverables of the online activity may be different, but the learning outcome must always remain the same.

Once you identify the appropriate learning activities to include, the next step is determining how best to evaluate students in this new format. For expert advice on this topic, check out our article, Assessing Students When Your Residential Class Moves Online.”

For assistance in navigating your institution’s transition to online learning, contact us at info@collegiseducation.com.