Steps to Building Your Online Classroom for K-12 Educators

By: Matt Rhoads, Ed.D

Dr. Matt Rhoads is a Tech and Instructional Leader and Innovator with hands in Adult Ed, K-12, and Higher Education. He is the author of several books and is the host of Navigating Education – The Podcast.

Building an online classroom in a matter of weeks may seem daunting. Many educators may argue that you are recreating the wheel; especially, moving from a face to face learning experience to an online one. However, with some judicious thought and planning, moving a class online in a matter of weeks does not have to as tumultuous as it sounds. I want to provide a few steps to ease any anxiety you may have as well as provide you a blueprint to successfully plan for a transition to online teaching. The goal here is to take you through my thought process of how it can be done as someone who is has a background in educational technology. My goal is to breakdown the steps I believe need to be taken to have a fully functional online class that you are comfortable teaching in. I have EIGHT total steps that will aid you in your thinking and planning of transition your class online. There may be steps that may harder than others as well as steps that require a wait and see approach due to awaiting directives from your district regarding how conceptually online instruction will look like for teachers. That’s okay; because, some of the major legwork and planning can take place as information comes from our district offices. Now, take a look at the steps and put yourself back in your face to face class. Think specifically about your classroom routines, grade book, and instructional strategies you provided your students. Each of these facets must be taken into consideration during this transition because they may manifest differently once your online class has been built. Note: Be sure to take a look at my YouTube page as I have several videos that relate to each of these steps; especially, steps 2, 3, and 5. Step 1: Review your District’s Directive/Vision of Online Learning  Understanding what the expectations are regarding online learning is huge. Some expectations may mean on one end of the spectrum an online class can be completely asynchronous, which means its module driven whereby a student goes at their own pace to learn the content provided by the teacher without much direct communication from the teacher. Or, in contrast, online classes can be more synchronous where instruction is live by a teacher going through the content, which means more time will be dedicated to actual ‘class time.’ Generally speaking, what I am seeing across the board is a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction expectations being provided. What this looks like is one or two hours a week per class of synchronous instruction along with dedicated office hours that are optional for students. Then, outside of the synchronous instruction, the remainder of the class is built in an asynchronous fashion. Above all, read the expectations and ask questions, if needed. At this point, there will be a little rigidity, but since it’s new territory for many districts, there will be flexibility to experiment and learn, which ultimately will be the best for your students. Consult your districts and stay proactive. As more information comes out, address it and move it into your thinking and development processes for your online class. Step 2: Get familiar with the District Supported Learning Management System and Edtech Tools Learning management systems are a centralized online infrastructure in which all content is created and posted by a teacher and then interacted with by both students and the teacher. Google Classroom, Blackboard, Canvas, Schoology, Powerschool, and Seesaw are all popular learning management systems being used in K-12 schools across the country. Either you as a teacher or as a student may have interacted with a learning management system before. Many of them have a learning curve, but that doesn’t mean they are not intuitive. What you need to do is focus on the following steps to get the most out of the learning management system, which includes:
  • Getting students to join your classroom.
  • Interconnecting content (i.e., Google Apps, Microsoft 365) as they are used to create content and assignments.
  • How to post assignments and ensure students have access to all of their materials
  • How to grade student work and transfer it to the grade book.
  • Student communication.
  • Content/assignment organization to create a userfriendly interface for your students.
For example, in Google Classroom, knowledge in Google Apps within G-Suite and how they interact amongst each is extremely important. If you know the basics of Docs, Slides, Draw, and Sheets, you should not have any problems creating content. It does not have to be extremely sophisticated to be effective content for your students. Then, once you have an idea of how to create content, Google Classroom allows you to post assignments and material under “classwork,” which allows students to get their own copy of the assignment or material to interact with. After creating an assignment, you see once a student turns in work, you can grade the assignment and leave comments within the grading interface. However, your grade book in your student information system is likely not interconnected, which means you will have to transfer the grades over from Google Classroom. Student communication is fairly intuitive as email addresses of all of your students are provided once they join your classroom (even parents can be invited to be auditing the class). Lastly and most importantly, Google Classroom allows you to organize it by providing tabs in which assignments and content material can be organized under. Ultimately, if students know where the assignments and content are, it will make much easier for them to navigate the interface. Step 3: Determine how your Online Classroom will Function This statement is ambiguous for a reason because all classes are different depending on their content, audience, and teacher. Let me provide an example of my math class that is transitioning to online. In the face to face version of the class, my co-teacher and I provide a gradual release model of instruction where we modeled how to complete math problems in a variety of different ways. Then, we allowed students to grapple with the content during either independent practice or student collaboration. Once we were able to monitor how the class was doing with the content, we made either individual adjustments or stopped the entire class to further provide modeling to help clarify with our students or address any conclusion. Formative assessment was conducted typically twice a week for us to see how our students were doing on content (generally in the middle and at the end of the week). This allowed us time to monitor and adjust instruction and help individual students with the content. Now, when planning and developing our online class, we decided to provide online math videos (YouTube and Khan Academy) and screencasts asynchronously to model math instruction. What we will be doing is frontloading the content with this and allowing them to independently practice the material. Then, using formative assessment more directly, we will post at least two formative assessments weekly for us to monitor individual and whole-class progress on the content (assessment data is easy to collect using edtech assessment tools). Assessments will be posted intermittently throughout the week using Quizizz, Formative, and Google Forms. We will use our office hours and synchronous instruction time to attend to confusion by modeling and providing more resources to our students to help seek to address discrepancies in their learning. Ultimately, the class is not entirely different. Each class is rather similar in structure but delivered differently. I believe many classes can be transformed in a similar manner as the fundamental structure of the classes may not be entirely changing. This is a good thing as your students will be accustomed to how the class is taught versus completely changing your class. Step 4: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Time What this comes down to is how much time are you going to spend delivering content and instruction live versus creating content for your students to do this on their own time. Depending on the type of teacher you are, one of these facets you are likely better than the other. Right now, as you get started with developing your online classroom, you will likely have to get better with creating content using a multitude of different edtech tools. Yet, the learning curve here is much less than successfully creating engaging live online synchronous sessions. Luckily, the synchronous learning sessions will likely only take once or twice a week in whole-class settings. Where most of the learning will take place during synchronous sessions will be during office hours and conferences times with your students. Here are two types of online class weekly schedules outlining days dedicated to synchronous vs. asynchronous learning. As you can see each schedule dedicates the same number of synchronous minutes, but allocated throughout the week differently. I tend to like the first schedule more as I tend to frontload content and then at the end of the week we provide closure to what we have learned to review and re-teach if needed. online class schedule 1 online class schedule 2 Overall, there is a multitude of different options relating to determining your weekly schedule. My hope is your district will give you some latitude of how much time you can dedicate to synchronous vs. asynchronous instructional time. Step 5: Build Content inside your Google Drive with G-Suite Applications and Organize it into Weekly Folders Building content can take time but if you build an organizational structure within the content creating edtech tools you have at your disposal, it can be done efficiently and effectively. Generally speaking, it will take the most time to build your organizational system and the initial content for your class to kick it off as you will be creating it for the first time. I am going to be using G-Suite as the example for this step as many school districts are using Google Classroom as their learning management system. Here are a number of things you need to build within your G-Suite Applications to create an infrastructure that is needed to develop an online class. folders google classroom
  1. A class folder on your Google Drive. Within the class folder (as seen above), create several other folders that include: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, etc., Assessments, and Resources.
  2. Create a Backwards Planner on a Google Doc and place it into your class folder. A backwards planner allows you to build your weeks worth of asynchronous and synchronous content. Backwards planners are organized by day, have an underlining standard (for the week), and have hyperlinks to the content/assignments you will be sharing with your students
  3. Within each “week” folder, you will need to create a Google Slides Hyperdoc, which is an informational slideshow that provides your student’s links to content (videos, articles, infographics, images, quizzes, etc.) and activities they will interact with throughout the week.
  4. Also, within each “week” folder, you will need to develop at least one to two assignments you will want to post on your learning management system. These assignments can be short at first. You will want to make sure you go with the approach LESS is MORE as you get started. Assignments can be created using Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Draw in G-Suite; all can be posted on Google Classroom.
  5. Create at least ONE formative assessment per week, which can be done using Google Forms. The assessment can be placed within your “assessments folder.”
  6. Within the “resources” folder, you will place your digital syllabus and addendum to your original syllabus (which will be talked about soon). Also, you will put any necessary documents from the district or your school site that must be shared with families on your learning management system.
Each of these steps within this step is critical to getting started using G-Suite. Being organized digitally is just as important as being organized with paper. Also, this helps you build an infrastructure you can then continually build over time as the weeks go by. Step 6: Select other Edtech Tools to Integrate into your LMS This is an important thought process you will have to go through as you build your online classroom. Do not add many other edtech tools outside of the content creation applications (i.e., G-Suite, Microsoft 365) you are using at first when building your learning management system infrastructure and content. However, as time progresses, you will want to add one to five additional edtech tools to integrate with your learning management system to help with student engagement, assessment, and collaboration.  Here is an extensive list of edtech tools along with their applications in learning you can choose from to add to integrate with your learning management system over the next few weeks. Remember, less is more right now; but, over time, add a few more tools as you go (likely on Week 3 or 4). When selecting these additional edtech tools to integrate into your online classroom, I want you to think about your audience, grade level, content, instructional strategies you have utilized in the past for face to face classes, and edtech tools you are already familiar with. These are all important variables to think about while making a decision. During the selection process, I recommend reading this past blogpost I authored to help with breaking down how to make these decisions regarding selecting the best tool that fits your online class. Step 7: Create an Addendum to your Syllabus and Send to Parents and Students Before launching your online class, you will need to develop an addendum to your syllabus to illustrate to parents and students the new expectations of your online classroom. Included in your expectations within the addendum, you should provide the following:
  1. A Weekly Schedule & Information About How the Class will Run
  2. Grading Policies (have they changed?)
  3. How to Communicate with you
  4. Attendance (districts will have to provide this information)
  5. Explanations regarding asynchronous and synchronous instruction
  6. Information on How to Join the Learning Management System for Students and Parents
  7. Any Other Information Provided by the District Parents Should Know
This list does not include any information your district may want you to add. Although, an addendum to your syllabus is key to provide in an email at least 3 to 5 days out of your online launch to prepare your students and parents with the new expectations. I would also post this addendum on your learning management system as well during the weekend before your online class launches. This will provide information upfront as to students and parents as to what to expect when the class begins. Step 8: Post the First Week’s Content and Assignments and Hit the Ground Running On the Sunday before your online class is about to begin, post all of your first week’s content and assignments on your learning management system. Have everything posted and ready to go so once Monday morning hits, your students will have everything they need for week one. Additionally, give yourself some time to test what you have built by accessing it via a “teacher made” (which is you making a student profile for your own learning management system and logging in as a student) student to test to ensure all of the content and assignments are accessible. Try to make sure all of the major bugs are worked out before your students arrive and join your learning management system. However, know that during the first few weeks, there will be hiccups, which is completely normal. You will be prepared to fix them appropriately; everyone, including your students and parents, will give you grace. Conclusion I hope this step by step process has helped you step up your online classroom. Try to give yourself some time to do this as it is a task that cannot happen effectively overnight. Also, I recommend seeking out help and looking at articles and tutorials online to help you learn the edtech tools you may need in order to successfully launch your online class. Remember, as with anything new you are learning, it will take practice. With practice, you will be a successful online teacher over the course we are called to be remote teachers. Lastly, I recommend going on Twitter and exploring various hashtags to help with your professional development and to keep up with edtech. Hashtags help organize various tweets made by users on Twitter, which allows users like you a way to search for them. I tend to follow #edtech, #education, #SPED, #educationaltechnology, #onlinelearning, #elearning, etc. Additionally, I also follow many prominent educators and educators who are experts in edtech that I learn from every day. On Twitter, I found a great article on moving to virtual learning that I also would like you to access. This is just one example of how powerful Twitter can be as you can find articles like this all of the time. I want to end on a positive note. This is doable if you give yourself some time and are strategic about how you develop your online classroom. You can do this. Keep learning and practice!

Published by Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D.

Innovator, EdTech Trainer and Leader, University Lecturer & Teacher Candidate Supervisor, Consultant, Author, and Podcaster

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