COVID-19: Essential resources for educators to bring your science class online fast

As coronavirus fears push educational institutions towards closures and shifting learning online, some educators might be rushing to develop contingency plans on how to continue teaching and learning through online means.

With nearly 300 million students around the world set to miss school at the time of writing, how can educators handle such a global educational upheaval?

Though all universities and some schools use online learning management systems (LMS) and video-conferencing technology to some degree, there are no official standards for online education. The result: varying degrees and quality of how digitized a course is, and staff who are unfamiliar with distance or blended learning.

As more educators and students begin to work and learn remotely in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, we want to do our part to help you move your classes online rapidly.

In this article, you’ll find essential resources and best practices to help get started with successfully transitioning to remote online teaching. Read through the whole article or jump to a specific section below:

If you have any suggestions for further helpful resources, please reach out to us at alia@labster.com. We would love to hear your stories or contributions on how you have handled emergency remote learning and share them with the educator community.

Who is Labster, and how can we help?

As an EdTech company, we have always highlighted the importance of accessible, high-quality education for all, and in the face of public health crises such as COVID-19, the need for great online education is bigger now than ever.

Read more about who we are and Labster’s mission, or watch the video below to learn what we offer.

Labster can help you move science courses online quickly in the event that your school has to close or students decide to stay home. As an extraordinary measure to help you deal with the ongoing situation, Labster can provide discounted pricing for the next several months and online training, so that you can take advantage of virtual labs right now.

Reach out to us here for more information, or register for our upcoming webinar to hear from Michael Bodekaer, CEO & co-founder of Labster, what we are doing to help.

Of course, we are not the only company to provide remote learning tools in the face of COVID-19. To find other EdTech tools or industry supporters who offer free or reduced products for your educational needs, find the list below.

Official guidelines and advice from governing bodies and public health officials

1. Advice from the World Health Organization

This guide provides information on basic protective measures against the new coronavirus and includes videos and articles on when and how to use masks, myth-busters, travel advice as well as guidance on how to cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak.

2. Advice from the Centers for Disease Control

This interim guidance is intended to help administrators of public and private childcare programs and K-12 schools prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff.

3. Advice from Public Health England and the Department for Education

This guidance will assist schools and other educational settings in providing advice for pupils, students, staff and parents or carers.

Helpful resources to take your teaching online

Below, find helpful resources that we’ve gathered to help bring your teaching online – from educational guides, to how you can use different digital learning tools in practice. In this section, you can also find words of advice straight from the educator community and recounts of educators’ personal experience of handling emergency school closures.

Educational guides

Find out what remote learning entails, and explore best practices in these educational guides.

Digital learning tools

In this section, we have compiled a mini-toolkit of online learning resources to help put together your remote teaching plan. These tools can help facilitate communication with students and conduct classes online. 

Some tools have special offers for eligible institutions facing closures due to the Coronavirus, whereas others have been long-standing recommendations from established online educators. This list is by no means exhaustive; feel free to reach out to us and suggest additional resources, or share this article with your network to help spread the word.

1. Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard: Leverage your LMS and consolidate teaching materials online

If you’re already a super user of the various learning management systems, feel free to skip this one. We’d still like to highlight the importance of consolidating all your materials on a single place online, so as to avoid misplacing materials in various places and risk having students miss an important document. LMS’s are also a great way to keep you and your students connected. For example, use them to post urgent announcements and hold forums for asynchronous discussions and collect student feedback.

View help for instructors for Canvas, Docebo, Moodle, and an online learning webinar from Blackboard.

2. Google for Education

Recently, Google announced that they are rolling out free access to their advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally. This means that educators will be able to put up to 250 people on a Hangouts Meet call (an entire class can join a lesson simultaneously); live-stream for up to 100,000 viewers (great for virtual school assemblies or streaming a lecture); plus, record meetings and save them to Google Drive so students can access the content later. Read more about these features, which will be available through July 1, 2020.

Holding classes on these services have been widely adopted by hundreds of thousands of students in Hong Kong and Vietnam, where schools have been closed for some time. In some schools in Hong Kong, teachers have students work together in small groups over Google Hangouts to help combat cabin fever.

For those who have limited experience with these tools, Google for Education has a variety of resources in their Teacher Center, as well as free online training, to help educators best leverage these tools for remote learning.

Watch Google for Education’s recent webinar, “Enabling Distance Learning with G Suite and Chrome”, hosted by Jennie Magiera, Global Head of Education Impact at Google.

3. Online Learning Consortium’s resources for continuity planning and emergency preparedness

The Online Learning Consortium, a collaborative community of higher education leaders and innovators, have put together a list of tools and resources to help institutions prepare for and develop emergency contingency plans in the event of temporary campus closures such as the COVID-19 outbreak. They provide links to webinars, videos, professional development courses, articles and other resources, such as this article from the OLC’s own library of content.

4. CourseSource: peer-reviewed teaching materials for biosciences

CourseSource is an open-access journal of peer-reviewed teaching resources for undergraduate biological sciences. They publish articles organized around courses in biological disciplines and aligned with learning goals established by professional societies representing those disciplines. Some of their most popular articles include ‘Why Meiosis Matters‘, ‘Cell Signaling Pathways‘, and ‘A Close-Up Look at PCR‘.

5. Screencastify: easily record, edit and share videos

With a premium option available for free for teachers, students and staff from any educational institution, Screencastify has been recommended by educators as a handy video instruction tool. Here’s a helpful course on how to master the screencast.

Another option for recording screencasts is Loom.

6. Zoom: alternative video-conferencing tech

Another option for video conferencing technology is Zoom. Similar to Google Hangouts, Zoom can be used to hold virtual lessons or get students together for group work. Its use is particularly popular in the US, where educators have used Zoom for its high video quality and options for interactivity.

7. Voice Thread: create collaborative spaces with video, voice and text commenting

With Voice Thread, educators can upload, share and discuss documents, presentations, images, audio files and videos, with various interactive commenting tools. Voice Thread is available for free for schools affected by COVID-19 by contacting George Haines at ghaines@voicethread.net.

8. EdPuzzle: give interactive video feedback

EdPuzzle allows you to create or upload interactive video lessons to help engage students. Educators say that this tool is especially helpful to give a more personalized feel to the videos, akin to traditional face-to-face lessons. EdPuzzle is free to use for teachers and students with their basic plans, with more affordable pricing plans for whole schools or districts.

9. Microsoft Teams for Education

Similar to Google’s Classroom, Microsoft’s Teams for Education helps bring the classroom online, with features such as Assignments, Gradebook and Notebooks. Find Microsoft’s Teams training courses for beginners, or find a guide to setting up Teams for learning from real-life teacher and Teams expert, James Rong from Guangzhou International School.

10. Free tools for schools facing closures due to COVID-19

This crowd-sourced document, Free Tools for Schools Dealing with Coronavirus, contains a detailed list of free tools being offered to educators or schools dealing with school closures due to COVID-19.

11. Labster

With courses moving online, where does that leave your science lab practicals? With virtual labs, you can give students access to a realistic lab experience that will let them perform experiments and practice their skills anytime and anywhere. We have already been used by a number of fully online courses (see: Dr. Mike Angiletta’s first fully online biology degree with a VR component, or Dr. Kamesh Narasimhan’s completely online chemistry course).

As an extraordinary measure to help you deal with the ongoing (potential) crisis, Labster can provide discounted per-institution pricing for the next several months, example course mapping, and online training, so that you can take advantage of virtual labs right now. Reach out to us here for more information, or register for our upcoming webinar to hear from Michael Bodekaer, CEO & co-founder of Labster, on what we are doing to help.

Advice from the educator community

From managing workloads and screen time to keeping aware of emotional health, read stories from teachers at the frontline who have dealt with continuing education outside of the classroom. Find like-minded communities to get support and advice from remote teachers around the world.

1. University of Washington: Teaching and grading during the coronavirus outbreak

The University of Washington recently announced that it would cancel all in-person classes and move them online for at least the next few weeks. They have posted a number of resources to help instructors conduct classes and/or exams remotely. 

Here are their suggestions for best practices to keep student up to date with changes in instructional plans:

  • Don’t assume students are on email all the time—or at all. Explicitly establish a shared expectation about when and where students should check for announcements or other communications.
  • Post announcements on your LMS to communicate with the whole class.
  • Communicate with students via LMS messages or bulletin boards instead of email so that important messages don’t get lost among other emails.

2. Collating useful resources in a public access Google Folder

Some teachers in heavily-affected areas began compiling helpful resources in publicly accessible Google Folders.

This one, created by a school principal called Kate McKenna, aimed to share virtual learning plans from primarily international schools and contains contributions from Kyoto International School, the American School in Japan, and the International School of Beijing. Some useful documents include the ‘Guide to a Flipped Classroom in a VLE’ and an advice sheet to digital wellbeing at home from UWC Singapore.

3. Facebook community groups: find support from other educators

Another educator, Kirsten Duward, began a detailed list on a Google Doc to collect shared resources for virtual learning in emergency school closures. Besides recommendations of digital learning tools, the document also includes a list of Facebook community groups for educators needing direct support.

4. From the teachers’ blogs

With many educators looking to move their courses online, many are already sharing their experience and resources they find useful in their own personal blog posts. Here are some of our favorites.

In this blog post by Nadine Bailey, a faculty member of the Western Academy of Beijing in China, read about her experience of her school’s closure and her advice to other faculty staff facing the same issue. Besides recommending some great resources and how she created a learning forum to help facilitate communication within her school, she also touches on some personal advice for teachers struggling to deal with remote work.

Martin Weller, is a Professor of Educational Technology and learning expert. In his blog post, ‘The COVID-19 Online Pivot’, he highlights the importance of EdTech in online learning and how they can be used in our current situation. He also pulls together some thoughts from his own experience of distance learning, including:

  • In discussion forums, you may find that people who don’t speak up in class, have more to say.
  • Structure different types of activity and engagement. “Read this for two hours and then watch this for an hour” is hard going.

5. The University of Windsor Open Page

In the Open Page, created by the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor, you can find a collection of CC-licensed open videos where educators review a range of EdTech tools available. Find all you need to know about new EdTech tools, student data and differentiated learning possibilities.

6. Advice on remote work

Struggling with the idea of working remotely? Here are some quick tips and tricks from people around the world on how to avoid cabin fever and stay productive at home.

General tips on handling distance learning

It can be tough for lots of educators to teach online if they have little or no experience of it. With little time and support to prepare for these online pivots, it’s likely to be frustrating and full of potential errors that might make both students and educators feel vulnerable. Here are some useful tips to help facilitate the shift to teaching online.

1. Keep students engaged while they’re at home

Virtual learning can be isolating and disengaging for some students. Sitting in front of a screen for hours watching videos may compel a student to fast forward or even skip a lesson altogether. To keep them engaged, you can bring students together and open up virtual discussions about what they’re learning, for example through group tutorials on Zoom or Google Hangouts.

2. Frequently assess student learning

Formative assessments help make sure students are continuing to progress while away from school. Check for understanding during group instruction by asking a poll question in the middle of a lesson and showing the results in real-time. This can also help you “take attendance” in a virtual setting.

3. Continue to connect with video-conferencing and recording.

When students’ routines are disrupted, many realize how much they actually miss the structure of school, and learning with their teacher. It’s important to maintain that feeling of comfort and safety during a time of uncertainty.

Holding classrooms virtually through video-conferencing can be very effective in giving the feel of being back in the classroom, and you can use these different platforms to create video discussion sections for students to engage with one another and support their peers who might be struggling with concepts. With some platforms such as Hangouts Meet, you can even turn on live captions to help students focus, as well as improve accessibility for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Scheduling is another challenge that may arise. Encourage students to schedule and coordinate meetings 1:1 or in small groups for those who need extra help. Plus, not all students may be able to join a virtual classroom at the same time. Your instruction will likely be a mixture of live video and sharing recordings of your lessons for students who couldn’t make it. 

4. Think beyond the clock

With remote learning, you don’t have to worry about the time constraints of the normal school day. Students can take more time on some activities and breeze through lessons that come naturally to them. Take advantage of this opportunity and design your lessons to include more “choose your own adventure” activities rather than a fixed schedule of lectures and lessons.

5. Be flexible and explore more approaches to distance learning

Not all students will be used to the idea of distance learning, and don’t assume all students will be on their email at all times. As everyone gets adjusted to the online pivot, it’s best to stay flexible. Though online classes won’t fully replicate lecture courses, consider what the new medium affords you: asynchronous discussion, different resources (or OERs) you can draw upon, a range of tools – the possibilities are endless.

Reach out to us

Are you facing, or preparing for, school closures in light of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak? Labster can help bring your science class online with our virtual labs.

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University of Florida

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