In May, it really did seem realistic that, come fall semester, schools could safely be back together, perhaps with a mask protocol. Shutdown measures were working to flatten the curve in most places, and people seemed truly invested in preventing the pandemic.
May, of course, was about two decades ago, and that is not the world we live in now. It’s now blatantly obvious that, at least in the U.S. where I’m stuck (I have a passport, but what good is that right now?), the complete lack of leadership and sheer idiocy of a large part of the population has made any unified, effective response to the pandemic impossible. (Yeah, I’m a little angry)
At the same time, too many schools, my own included, are continuing to insist that they’re having face-to-face classes in the fall. Sure, we might have “hyflex” and other methods to minimize face-to-face time and keep things in small groups, but we teachers need to be prepared for the almost inevitable “pivot” to online again.
Which means we need to address another truth about the difference between online and in-person classes: online classes take more prep.
And that fact has a corollary: it’s easier to move an online class to face-to-face than to move a face-to-face class online.
Which leads me to the only conclusion that makes sense right now: Prepare for online first.
What does this mean? As you set your policies, lessons, assignments, etc, prepare first as if your class is entirely online. Then, start moving things into in-person work as appropriate and as your school’s policies dictate. Keep all that online prep, because when the fall spike hits (and I do believe it’s when, not if), you’ll be ready for the second “pivot.”
As I’ve discussed before, one of the most important things right now is to strip your curriculum down to its essentials. Articulate for yourself the goal of the class, what students should be able to do (skills) when they finish the class, etc. Do this also for each individual lesson plan. This is not the time for trying fancy bells and whistles. This is the time for fundamentals and bare essentials.
Then, build an online skeleton and flesh it out. The key to online stuff is in careful prep. Whatever tools you use, plan in detail. Make assignments clear and provide examples wherever possible. With an online class, you can’t rely on improvisation or listening skills to carry you over patches you didn’t plan as well. I’m used to letting my students’ energy and questions propel me in the classroom, but that doesn’t work as well online where students explore the space first and ask questions maybe if you’re lucky. Your assignments need to be specific and small enough to be achievable. Stack them, sure, but make sure everything is in clear, discrete pieces. Think of it like setting SMART goals.
What preparing the online first, and thinking of it in terms of fundamentals and specificity, can do for you this semester is help you approach your planning with intention. You can be intentional about what you include in your curriculum and why. You can be clear about where the branching paths are in your class and what their criteria are. But, most importantly for our present moment, planning online first gives you flexibility to move online at a moment’s notice. Online teaching isn’t easy; it takes intentionality, planning, and specificity in a more demanding way than the F2F classroom. But if you plan for online teaching first and then move things to F2F models, you’ve got the hardest work done already.