In spring 2020, teachers all over the world had to go fully online in a matter of days. Some of them had no prior experience with online courses and had to experiment on the fly. Science instructors faced even more difficulties, what with lab activities and practice. The sudden shift from in-person to online learning uncovered struggles with tech platforms, course material digitalization, and student engagement.
In the early days of the pandemic, Educause Review urged colleges and universities to distinguish between the emergency remote teaching offered in response to the health crisis and online learning. Online learning means more than “just getting it online” and takes full advantage of the affordances and possibilities of the latest technological advances such as augmented or virtual reality.
Online learning means more than “just getting it online”
The online learning effectiveness further depends on careful instructional design and planning and a systematic approach. The most recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) compared student performance in the pre-pandemic and pandemic semesters, using the standard deviation (SD) formula. In statistics, the standard deviation is used to tell how spread out your data is in relation to the mean.
For example, a lower SD means that data are clustered around the mean, while a higher SD points to more dispersed data. What the NBER researchers did was to find evidence that the instructor’s online teaching experience was key in determining how well students performed online. When the instructor had prior online teaching experience, student scores were much higher overall and for the remote material (0.611+ SD and 0.625+ SD respectively).
This article discusses the top 5 insights that science instructors have gained in 2020 and will transfer to their online STEM classes next year.
1. Embrace technology
To use or not to use virtual learning technologies is no longer a matter of the individual teacher’s taste. What was previously done face to face must now be brought into an online environment, no matter where you or your students stand in the technology-adoption journey.
The EU’s open public consultation reveals that the COVID crisis marks a point of no return for how technology is used in education and training. This means remote teaching is here to stay. You should expect more online learning technology and anticipate the adoption of:
● desktop and mobile learning apps
● online and cloud-based platforms
● curriculum management software
● communications platforms for learners and instructors
● online program management software
● learning management systems
● digital content delivery systems
● digital practice (virtual labs).
2. Reinvent your program
How do you arrange for curiosity, observation, and discovery online? Take advantage of virtual labs. Lean on deliberate practice in a safe environment to transfer practical skills and shape conceptual understanding in a safe environment. Education for Chemical Engineering reports that using virtual lab experiments and simulations enables students to better understand the relationships between the variables and their potential impact on operations.
3. Tap Active Learning
Maintaining student engagement is another remote learning pain point. To mitigate possible remote learning pitfalls, the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests using Active Learning, a teaching approach that encourages active student engagement through interaction and group work, problem-solving challenges, and hands-on practice. According to its research article by Freeman et al., Active Learning boosts student performance in STEM disciplines by 18% and increases course completion rates by 55%.
Active Learning boosts student performance in STEM disciplines by 18% and increases course completion rates by 55%
SIT Alemira enables you to deliver Active Learning content, practice, and assessments, engaging learners in polls, simulations, and interaction. The innovative solution features real-time feedback, chatbots, and learning analytics to support both learners and instructors through the challenges of remote learning.
4. Author faster
The pandemic forced STEM instructors to come up with new digital content, which in some cases meant rehearsing and recording a non-customizable instructional video. What would have been a fun 5-min demonstration face-to-face suddenly turned into a daunting task.
Luckily, with the right authoring tools like that of SIT Alemira, you can spend as much time recording the lab as it takes to perform it. With the right tech, you can always mix and match pre-created templates, enact learner participation scenes, or ask for help from a synthesized virtual instructor.
Investing in swift authoring tools goes beyond responding to the current crisis. It is a means to future proof your course materials for a hybrid instructional environment to come in a post-COVID world.
5. Reduce knowledge gaps
Every year higher education STEM instructors have to level the knowledge of the students, coming from all types of schools. Remote learning can help you fill in the gaps without spending time on recaps. Virtual labs, in particular, leverage the principle of mastery learning, in which students can access and go through the simulations as many times as they need to fully grasp the new material. For a more active learning experience, you can flip not only your classes but also labs. In a flipped lab, you expose your students to the simulation before coming to class and free up class time for discussion and analysis.
Teaching science remotely doesn’t have to hold learning back. You can still foster curiosity, observation, and discovery by using the current technologies. Some digital tools, like virtual labs, have already been shown to boost learning and deliver high student engagement no matter the setting. Incorporating new technology into your instruction is challenging. Yet, it is also an exciting opportunity to reinvent your teaching style and groom STEM higher education for a post-pandemic hybrid future.