The Emergency Pivot to Online Teaching and Learning

Dave MulderInnovation, The CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment


Here we are.

This is a fascinating time.

It seems to me, based on what I’m reading online, that most colleges and universities in the US, and many (most?) K-12 schools have either already made the decision to suspend face-to-face meetings, or will very soon.

You might think, given my field (Educational Technology) and my particular interests in that field (Online Teaching and Learning, Social Presence Theory, Technology Integration, and Social Media for Learning) that I would be cheering for this whole scenario.

Honest answer: I’m a little worried about how this is going to go.

I say this because I know how much work it takes to teach online. It’s not less work in any way than teaching face-to-face. And especially at the beginning, when you’re first learning how to teach online, it might very well be more work–perhaps substantially more work.

And I also recognize that I’m biased in all of this, because I actually really like teaching online, and for folks who aren’t already on-board, it’s going to be even more challenging.


How are we going to do this, folks?

Well, this post is just a place where I figured I’d share a few initial thoughts and resources. This is just my take on things, and a few ideas I’ve gleaned from other places and Twitterfriends. But if you’re suddenly thrust into teaching online, and find any of this helpful, please feel free to run with it, okay?

We had a faculty meeting last week to talk about our institution’s pivot to online, to share our concerns, to discuss supports our campus has in place, and to get ideas for resources for moving forward. At the encouragement of our administration, I wound up standing up in the meeting to say a bit about my take on this whole situation. The short version: let’s not judge “online learning” based on this experience, because this is a triage situation: we’re making the best learning experience we can for our students, while also recognizing that this quick pivot to online is probably the least worst option we have at this point. A friend happened to pull out his phone (thanks, Brandon!) and get most of my impromptu comments on video, which you can watch here, if you’re interested: (less than 3 minutes)

I think the main thing I want instructors suddenly teaching online to take away is that we need to set reasonable expectations for what we can do in the short term as we are pivoting to online instruction.

Here are a couple of resources I’ve seen shared on Twitter in the past couple of days that I’ll pass along here for any colleagues who are suddenly teaching online. I think there’s some good advice in here for setting reasonable expectations:

  • Please Do a Bad Job of Putting Your Courses Online – I think the name says it all, but the main idea here is that we are doing this shift in a big hurry, and the reality is that this version of online teaching is not typical. We should be able to lower the pressure on ourselves.
  • Help! I Have to Suddenly Teach Online! What Should I Do? – Again, the title probably is descriptive enough to give you an idea of what’s in here. (Please pardon the language, okay?) Some straightforward advice here for getting your expectations–and your students’ expectations–appropriately in line with our current situation.
  • Joint Response Regarding COVID-19 and Advice on Transitioning Face-to-Face Courses Online – This one is a joint statement by four of the leading online education organizations in the US, and it provides some helpful guidance for understand what this emergency pivot to online learning is and is not.
  • So You Want to Temporarily Teach Online – A piece from Inside Higher Education written by two colleagues from a professional organization of which I am a member. Really good, practical advice for teaching online when you weren’t planning to do so.

Overall, I think the thing I’m going to do for my own courses is not break my head over this. (Probably easier for me to say this than colleagues who have never taught online, yeah? Just naming it…) But here’s what I mean: I’m going to really do two things in the short term: 

  1. I’m going to remember that my students are real, whole persons, and that their sudden pivot to online learning is likely to be at least as stressful as it is for faculty members.
  2. I’m going to focus on meeting the instructional goals I’ve already laid out on the syllabus for each of my courses, and think creatively about how to ensure I meet those goals, even if it means changing up what I had planned to do.

How will this take shape? I got a great idea from one of my Twitterfriends, Jesse Stommel about the way he structures his online courses all the time. (He embraces open learning and open pedagogy, and you can see this in one of his courses that he recently shared on Twitter.) I’m twisting Jesse’s idea just a bit, but the basic strategy I’m going to use week-by-week for this online learning adventure is this:

  1. Read some stuff. Each week of the course, students will have several things to read or watch (I’m likely to make short, not more than 5-minute, mini-lectures to introduce topics) which will help set the context for what we’re working on this week.
  2. Do some stuff. Each week, after reading, students will do something to work with the ideas for this week. I’m likely to have several suggestions for different things they might do, and I’m going to try to encourage them to have some non-screen time in the work that they are doing–things like conversations, hands-on playing around with stuff, getting outdoors (while remaining social distanced), etc.
  3. Write some stuff. Each week, I’m planning that we’ll take some time to make sense of what we are learning through some writing. I love that John Dewey (an eminent philosopher of education that many of Education Professor-types like to reference) emphasized experiential learning. But adamant as he was about experience as part of the learning process, he once wrote, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on our experiences.” And that is the key, to me: I want students to take some time to process what they are learning through writing. The writing will probably take on different forms–sometimes it will happen in small group discussion forums, sometimes in individual reflections shared just with me, and probably in more formal writing sometimes too.

Anyway, that’s where my head is at today. Time for me to get back to work on planning and preparing materials for my suddenly-online courses! I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about if you suddenly pivoting online as well.

[This originally appeared on Dave Mulder’s blog.]


  • Dave Mulder

    Dave taught in Christian schools for 14 years before joining the Education department at Dordt University in 2012. He has experience working with learners at every level from Kindergarten through graduate school, but spent much of his career teaching a variety of subjects for grades 5-8. He loves curriculum and instruction, has a mild obsession with educational technology, and is always excited to discuss reflective practice, school culture, and faith formation. Dave blogs at

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