Five Tips for Switching to Online Instruction

Teacher records himself at home with video app

As schools across the nation announce they are switching to online instruction in an attempt to slow the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic, teachers everywhere are scrambling to convert their face-to-face classes to virtual classes—a process that often takes weeks of preparation—in a matter of a days. Not only has this quick turn-around forced faculty to scramble, but changing delivery methods in the middle of the semester has left many of us wondering how we’re going to provide a seamless learning experience to our students.

Here are five tips to begin the transition to teaching online over the next couple of weeks.

Don’t panic, be empathetic.
Sure it’s a pain for you to have to convert these lessons, but this is a much greater peril for many of our students. There are students in your class who can not afford to return home, who do not have safe homes to return to, who depend on their meal plan to eat. There are students in your class who do not have easy access to technology or are fearful of what may be happening to families in areas that are more affected than we are at the moment.

Keep it simple.
Focus on the next week, or even just the next class, depending on your workload. Converting three classes to virtual format will take some thought, so consider building your current module first before worrying about what will happen next week. Where are my adjuncts at who are losing their minds trying to juggle seven classes at two or three different schools? Take a breath and start simple.

Communicate with your students. A simple, “Hey, guys, I see you, hear you, and will provide directions in the next 48 hours” is much better than a panicked email. Or worse, no email at all! Planned actions are better than reaction or no action.

Stick to the curriculum but look for shortcuts.
Got a group project coming up? Can you convert it to an individual project without sacrificing learning outcomes? Do your students really need to watch a video of you reading them your PowerPoint presentation or could a couple short 3-5 minute videos explaining a difficult concept support the PowerPoint?

Still using photocopies and don’t have access to a scanner? Use a free app like Genius Scan or Scanner App to distribute your printouts.

Don’t like video? Record an audio clip of yourself (try the EZ Audio Cut) or find a reliable source to explain the concept (an article or short video that summarizes the key points).

Don’t skip discussion or question/answer sessions.
Just about every learning management system (LMS) out there has a discussion post option and you can easily search for tutorials for LMS like Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard on how to set one up. You can chat in Teams in Office 365, or hold Zoom hours online.

Pro tip: Most schools are doing their due diligence to provide excellent resources and tutorials. Schools like Penn State University are offering step-by-step and in-person training to help with this transition. Find what resources your school offers to help or look at the resources other schools are offering.

But my classes CAN’T be converted to online.
Yes, they can. Teach art? Teach music? Public speaking? Exercise science? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. The tools above (and oodles of others) make it easier than ever to convert your material online. Start simple, start small, and keep open communication with your students.

How are we going to do all of this without disrupting the educational experience? We’re not, but that’s okay. Our students are looking to us for guidance. In many cases, we’re the first line of communication for our students’ questions and concerns. This is not the time to panic and give up, it’s a time for you to tap into your creativity and critical thinking in order to overcome an obstacle. It’s a time for us to demonstrate the resiliency and grit we so desperately want to see in our students and our future generations.

Bio: Aurora D. Bonner is a writer and educator who helps others think creatively and mindfully. She has worked in higher ed for 14 years, teaching and promoting student success. Find her at