Tips for Setting up eLearning Assignments for Your Students
Millions of teachers and students have been forced to jump quickly to online learning in the wake of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Lots of schools already utilize Google Classroom, but using it in a face-to-face classroom and using it solely for eLearning are two different things. Today I’m sharing my tips for using Google Classroom for eLearning days, as well as some best practices for setting up activities and assignments in a way that makes it easier for your students to access and use.
Organizing Materials and Assignments for eLearning Days
Here are some considerations for organizing your classroom for eLearning. I’ll share what I do in a face-to-face environment as well as what I do for full-on eLearning.
Google Classroom for eLearning Days Video
Check out the video below for a narrated walk-through of a few of these tips in a Google Classroom environment.
Google Classroom has a “Stream,” which is the default view students (and teachers) see when logging in. Think of the Stream as a running flow of announcements. You can post an announcement for your students in the Stream, and any assignment or activity you post will be automatically announced in the stream as well to notify students of its presence.
- Face to Face Learning: For in person learning, I post a preview of the week’s activities every Monday morning.
- eLearning Days: On eLearning days, I post a weekly preview of the week’s activities on Monday morning, and then each weekday morning I post an announcement reminding students what they should be working on that day. More timely communication is necessary during eLearning to assure the students they’re working on what they need to.
The Classwork view/tab in Google Classroom is where you can organize information into Topics. Topics can be populated with assignments, questions, quizzes, materials, etc. Putting your assignments and activities into Topics helps students find them easily and know what to do with them.
- Face to Face Learning: For in person learning, I organize Topics by unit or project. Each unit’s activities and assignments are grouped together under one topic.
- eLearning Days: On eLearning days, it is more helpful for students if you organize Topics by DATE. I prefer to set up a topic for each week in cases like the Covid-19 situation when students will be off for a week or longer. If it is a single eLearning day, like in a snow day, I would still set up a Topic for that single eLearning day. This way students know exactly what they need to access/view/do for the time while they are away from school.
Organizing Assignments within a TOPIC
- Face to Face Learning: For in-person learning, the items within a Topic are frequently additional resources, copies of notes and handouts, and assignment instructions. They are usually posted as we go through a unit.
- eLearning Days: On eLearning days, the weekly (or daily) eLearning Topic looks much different. I like to post an eLearning Overview at the top of the topic for the students to read first. This Overview is a Google Doc (posted with the Google Classroom Material tool) where I spell out everything the student needs to do during the eLearning period. I also like to include a checklist for students who like to cross things off as they go. Finally, I have a statement telling students what to do if they need help or have questions. Then, all assignments for the eLearning period covered by that Topic are posted below, in order. *Be sure to always refer to assignments and materials with the exact same name any place where they’re referenced (Stream Announcement, eLearning Overview, Assignment or Material item, etc.). It’s especially important to be clear when referencing materials online.
UPDATE: After a few weeks I updated my eLearning Overview format from a more paragraphed style to a table format. Same concept, but easier to view visually. Here’s an example.
Assignments/Activities for eLearning Days
Most of the things you would do in the face-to-face classroom can be repurposed for online use. Things that can’t be repurposed can often be changed or modified so the same skills are being addressed. The tools available in the CLASSWORK tab of Google Classroom can be used in different ways depending on what you want to accomplish.
- If you post a document for students, you can either set it for students to View it if you want them to have it for reference (like instructions or notes) or Make a Copy for Each Student if it’s something you want them to be able to type directly into (like a template).
- Besides asking students a question to hear their answer, the Question item type can be used to facilitate discussion. If you check the Students can reply to each other box, students will be able to view each other’s comments/questions and reply directly to them. Here’s a quick video tutorial I made showing how to use the Question tool to facilitate asynchronous student-to-student discussion.
- If you want students to be able to post a Google Doc or Slides presentation, you can use the Question tool for this as well. Set the Question so students can reply to each other, and instruct students to post a link to their document or slide presentation. *Be sure to have students set their docs/slides to Anyone with the link can view to facilitate this.
- In addition to the Question creation tool, you can also create and post gradable Quizzes, Forms, and Assignments, and you can post Materials as well.
There are a whole slew of best practices for eLearning in general, but occasional eLearning days and emergency eLearning weeks interrupting a traditional K-12 school setting are a whole other animal. All groups involved, teachers, students, and parents alike, have to jump quickly into a situation they’re not fully prepared for. In many cases, you’ll have less than 24 hours to set up eLearning activities and lessons for your students, who may have little to no experience learning online. The age of your students is going to impact what you plan, and you also need to make modifications for individual and class differences. For instance, I know I need to break tasks down into smaller steps and provide more instructions for my remedial freshman readers than I would for my junior and senior English students. In general, though, here are some guiding principles for planning eLearning days (or weeks).
- Keep it simple. Even if you’re a Google Classroom pro, chances are, you, and even more likely, your students, are not used to self-directed independent learning. Scale back activities to address the major skills you working on, and modify activities that require complex and numerous instructions.
- Be clear. Try not to be too wordy with your instructions. Clear and simple. Refer to documents, activities, and materials using the EXACT title you gave them so students know what’s what.
- Be flexible. Not all students are the best at following directions in the best of times. Expect there to be a few omissions or mix ups, and be proactive about giving students reminders and follow-up instructions. I also find that no matter how careful I think I’m being, I occasionally have an incorrect setting or I’ve forgotten to post something students need to complete a task. I let my students know that we’re all on unfamiliar ground and we just need to communicate with each other to make it work.
- It’ll take more time than you think. It seems logical that it would take less time to teach and learn online, but in my years as an online instructor in several university and high school programs, as well as my experience as an online instructional design contractor for the past 20 years, that’s absolutely not true. Good online learning usually takes more time for instructors to prepare and takes more time for students to engage.
- Support your IEP and 504 students. Just because the work has temporarily moved online doesn’t mean accommodations are out the window. Keep in mind accommodations such as extended time and alternate testing situations when planning activities.
Seriously, though, keep it simple. The importance of simplicity can’t be overstated. Simplicity makes the difference between students spending their time learning and doing the assigned activities vs. spending time making sense of assignment instructions and feeling frustrated.
Weeks or months of emergency eLearning days will (hopefully) not become common; however, more and more schools are using eLearning days in lieu of taking days off for the occasional snow day and other emergencies. With a little organization and a healthy dose of good communication, the inevitable disruption to your students’ learning can minimized as much as possible.
If you want to learn even more ways to make the best use of Google Classroom, both for face-to-face learning and eLearning, consider becoming a Google Certified Educator. I’m a Level 2 Certified Educator, and I’m currently completing the application process to become a Google Certified Trainer. I’ve found the certification process very informative and rewarding, and it’s been a huge asset to my teaching and impact on my students’ learning.
Finally, visit the Google Teacher Resource Center for ways to use all of Google’s education suite tools in your classroom. If you’re new to Google Classroom or want to know more about its tools and features and how you can use them, visit the Google for Education Teacher’s Lounge.