A huge thanks to Jo for writing a contribution about creating lessons for an online context. There are some very clear and logical processes involved in preparing and delivering lessons within an online context. One thing that perhaps needs to be considered is online teaching pedagogy and suitability for nationalities.

Jo has been teaching business, general and academic English for more than 10 years in Hungary, Poland, and in the UK. Having finished her DELTA, she became actively involved in teacher training, and is a regular presenter at TEFL conferences, an external lecturer of methodology and education technology at a Hungarian university, and a contents writer for several English teaching websites and video channels. In her free time, Jo just loves going downhill and jumping around in foreign forests on her mountain bike. You can follow her on Twitter and also visit Short and Simple English.

Hands up if you’re also trying to make the best out of the current COVID-stricken situation! Even though I can’t see you now as you’re reading this post, I’m sure many of you have raised an imaginary hand, or at least smirked a little. Every country and every school seems to have a different approach to dealing with the second wave of the virus; some prefer face-to-face lessons with masks and social distancing, others went fully online, and some decided to pick hybrid teaching. In this post, I’d like to show you how you can make an online course work well!

0. You’ll need a place where everything comes together

I could say that any shared drive will do, but in these post-first wave times I think we can all agree that using a VLE (virtual learning environment) makes our lives much easier. Not only does it keep everything organised, it can also be used for day-to-day communication, assignment submission and feedback, so I would suggest setting up one as your step zero. But which one? My go-to solution is Google Classroom, and not because I’m sponsoring them 🙂 I like its clean, minimalistic design, and even though I miss some small features, it does everything that I need it for.

1. Rethinking your lesson plan

OK, so now we’re actually at the beginning of online lesson planning. What does that really mean? Isn’t it enough to just upload my handout, the slides I wish to use, the homework assignment, and then I’ll either stream my lesson, or I let them book a consultation slot with me? Well … that could’ve been a sort of acceptable solution in the first wave. But we’re better than that now! We want more than to simply survive this period – we’d like to thrive in it! And for that, we’ll need to rethink our complete lesson plan.

2. Categorising into remote and live

We basically need to start looking at our tasks with filtered glasses on. Which elements of the lesson do we want to keep live (if we want to keep any) and which can be done remotely? Let me give you a concrete example, and that will help you understand the idea. So my university presentation skills class lesson plan looked something like this:

            1. Revision of previous lesson (elements of a successful presentation)

            2. How to plan the content of your presentation

            3. What’s the preferred structure of an argumentative presentation

            4. Checking and analysing the structure of two presentations (YouTube)

            5. How to do research for your presentation

            6. Practice

  •            pick a topic from a list
  •            brainstorm how you’d prepare for it in groups
  •            plan individually
  •            present in groups
  •            give feedback

My decision was to definitely keep the practice stage live, while the others could all be turned into remote tasks.

3. Creating remote activities

As I said before, our aim is not to just put up a list of tasks in a pdf that students cannot interact with, but to create something that can be engaging and educational at the same time. So how do you go about it?

  • Revision: Online quizzes could be a good solution here. I usually use Google Forms, Quizizz or GoFormative, and a combination of multiple choice and open ended questions. To make revision even more worthwhile, I also include a 5-8-minute live quiz as well in the live lesson with the help of Quizizz or Mentimeter, because they are competitive and have a fun design.
  • Teaching: The actual teaching, lecturing or knowledge transfer stage could be the most difficult to turn into something engaging because it’s basically you talking most of the time on video. But try to keep two things in mind: 1) keep it short, 2) use the same techniques you would in real life (supposing you do).

Keeping the video short is key because in today’s world our students’ attention span is decreasing day by day. Consider cutting up the teaching part into several videos if the content is lengthy.

The second step is using classroom management techniques online as well – what does that mean? Well, if you normally ask your students to brainstorm or discuss something during a lecture, or you try to elicit certain concepts from them, you can easily do that remotely as well. Just use such tools that let you insert questions into your video, and you will be able to activate their knowledge even if they are sitting at home by themselves. My tools for this include Nearpod Lessons, Quizizz Lessons, iSLCollective or Edpuzzle.

  • Asking more questions: Maybe you’d like to test your students’ understanding. No problem! Keep using the quiz tools you used for revision if you wish to see individual performance, but you can also initiate discussion between students if you ask a question (“Question” material type in Google Classroom) or create a post on they can comment on.

4. Staging your sections and activities

This doesn’t have to be any different than the staging you’d do in your live class, just keep in mind which activity serves revision or prediction purposes, which is for teaching, and which is for checking. Also don’t forget when the live part of your lesson takes place. I normally work in a flipped format, which means that students do their remote tasks and listen to my videos before the live lesson, when they can put everything into practice.

If you decide not to have a live section at all, then consider when production would happen in a live face to face classroom, and insert the activities at that point in the activity sequence.

I set up separate sections in Google Classroom that stand for each occasion, and I upload activities in the order I wish my students to solve them under those sections.

5. Wrap up and follow up

Once both your remote and live parts are over, don’t forget to upload any materials that were created during the live session to your common VLE so that even those students can review them who couldn’t perhaps take part in the live lesson.

Think about follow up opportunities as well – what sort of productive tasks could your students do online? In my case, I asked them to perfect their impromptu presentation they did during the live lesson part, and upload it onto Flipgrid, where I’ll be able to give proper feedback on it. But you can also think of using shared Google documents, various resources uploaded onto the VLE or even TED ED lessons, where they can give feedback on each other’s work or engage in a discussion that you can monitor.