Inspired by the experts from various educational fields around the world (especially the silver lining for learning initiative), I invited a group of educators in Iran (including teachers and educational technology experts) to remotely collaborate and create a package in Farsi called “The first-aid kit for emergency remote teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic”—32 pages. In this post, I point out a sample of what we included in the package (including four main parts of key points, useful tools, useful videos, and checklists), and I discuss our group’s future goals.
- Key points: in this section (Figure 1), we included essential points about managing a remote class, keeping the human-to-human interaction going, developing effective e-content, designing engaging class activities, and formative and summative assessment in this unexpected situation.
Figure 1. The opening of section one about the Key Points.
- Class management: during these hard times, teachers need to adjust their expectations from students and their parents. Yes, we need to keep education going. However, families might be struggling with various other matters with higher priorities than dealing with the education of their children at the moment. Therefore, for example, expecting all the students to show up in a virtual class (depending on the tool that is being used) may not be reasonable. At the same time, having a virtual class without rules is not recommended. Instead, teachers need to be explicit about new expectations and rules while having some room for flexibility in these difficult times. Teachers need to have a specific information hub or a master virtual place (e.g., a blog) in which they specify the rules and new expectations for their class. This way, students can refer to the information hub at any time they need to remind themselves of class rules and expectations.
- Maintaining the Human-to-Human Interaction: It is highly important that students hear their teachers’ voices rather than reading a text message from them once in a while in a remote-teaching method. Alternatively, if possible, teachers should have at least one synchronous session per week using the available tools. Moreover, it is important that students communicate with each other through class discussions. Therefore, designing class activities that can enable such human interactions is crucial for learning during these times. Teachers and students are used to face-to-face teaching and learning, and a sudden stop in human interaction can be detrimental to your students’ learning. To help facilitate the human-to-human interaction continuity, we provided links to useful tools that teachers can use in Iran to communicate with their students using video conferencing or at least via voice messaging.
- Developing Effective e-Content: Based on what was going on during the first month of schools’ closer in Iran, creating instructional videos was a common way of teaching among teachers in Iran. Sometimes, they would use a whiteboard at home and record a video of themselves as they teach (just like when they teach in a classroom). While this was a great strategy, we saw a lot of room for improvement. Therefore, we included ten simple tips for creating a high-quality instructional video using the most ordinary equipment (e.g., mobile phones and home equipment). For example: plan to divide a long instructional video into smaller chunks under 10 minutes, have a consistent structure in your videos (e.g., objectives, content delivery, examples, and summary), stay toward the light source rather than turning your back toward the light source, and use a microphone. We also provided some details regarding how to keep the video file sizes low so students would not need a high-speed Internet or they do not have to pay more for a data plan.
- Designing Class Activities: in this new situation, teachers need to be creative and design activities that can engage students at home. For example, we suggested that teachers can create social media challenges. In these challenges, students can use the tools and objects at home to create something useful out of them (e.g., a useful object made of recycling materials). Then, students could post various images on social media, use a predefined hashtag, and let their peers know what they are doing to make that useful object. Another suggestion we made (and we saw the same suggestion in various places on the Internet) was to use the topic of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic as a source for learning. For example, teachers might ask students to think of ways that we can prevent the spread of the virus or lessons we learned during this pandemic. Such activities can be very engaging because students are constantly receiving information about this pandemic every day. Lastly, we recommended that teachers think of creative ideas to boost student’s motivation, sense of community, and generally their affective states. For example, one-on-one video or voice calls (to hear students’ concerns and give them energy), group exercise sessions, painting sessions, and group meditation sessions can of high value in these hard times.
- Assessment—Formative and Summative: In this section, we pointed out the importance of formative assessment (i.e., assessment for learning) and constructive feedback for students learning. We pointed out that timely, constructive, personalized feedback can help students get motivated, understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they need to do to work on their weaknesses to achieve their learning goals. We received a lot of questions regarding conducting summative assessments in the coronavirus era. Our response in the package was that we need to change the way we look at the summative assessment. It may not even be possible to conduct the type of summative assessment we are used to. Instead, we suggested that teachers could design various formative assessments throughout the semester or school year and then using those assessments as pieces of evidence for the summative assessment in their class. Or, designing projects that students can work on as their summative assessment. Alongside these points, we also provided links to tools that teachers could use to design formative assessments for their students.
- Useful tools: in this section, we included various tools that teachers can use to continue teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic (note: Iran’s educational system is top-down, concentrated, and managed by the ministry of education and most of the schools were used to traditional face-to-face learning and no learning management system was in place before the pandemic. Also, some tools such as Zoom are not providing services in Iran due to the sanctions. Therefore, we had a hard time providing online tools that were available in Iran). For example, we included tools for class management (e.g., Edmodo), human-to-human interaction (e.g., Skyroom), content development (e.g., Screen-O-Matic, Camtasia, Emaze), class activity design (e.g., Padlet, Trello), formative or summative assessment (e.g., Google Form,Quizizz), and supplementary teaching tools (e.g., PhET).
Figure 2. A screenshot from a first-grade class activity board created using Trello.
- Useful instructional videos: in this section, we included videos about how to use the tools we introduced in section two, and videos explaining basic key points about content development (e.g., videos about Mayer’s principles of multimedia design). Some of these videos (all in Farsi), were designed for the purpose of this package and some other videos were reused and were created before. We created a channel on an Iranian platform similar to YouTube called Aparat (Figure 3) and uploaded these videos there.
Figure 3. Our channel on the Aparat platform
- Checklists: In this section, we provided two checklists for teachers to help them do their best in following the best practices regarding the key points and content development (explained in section 1). These checklists allow the teachers to remember the important factors they need to perform and to self-assess their performance from time to time. Each item on these checklists could be rated from 1 (not applied at all) to 5 (strongly applied). For instance, in the first checklist, we included this item, “I created an information hub for my class where I post the crucial information about my class.” Or in the content development checklist (Figure 4), we included this item “The instructional videos I created are under 10 minutes.” The ratings for each item on the checklists can be treated individually, or teachers can sum up the scores they give themselves on each item and see how they are doing overall. Finally, teachers can revisit these checklists over a period of time and see if they made any improvements.
Figure 4. A part of the content development checklist.
So far, this package has been downloaded about 10 thousand times in Iran, and we received great feedback indicating the usefulness of this package for teachers, and in some cases, for university faculty members. We decided to create an online channel in the social media platform of Telegram (which is popular in Iran) and invite teachers to join. Since it is predicted that the next school year will also be held remotely (or at least partially remotely), we will use the remaining of this summer as an opportunity to help teachers prepare for the next school year by providing continuous support via the Telegram channel we created. We also are collecting data from the teachers to understand what issues they encountered regarding remote emergency teaching and what success stories they have to share with others. Our goal is to respond to the problems that teachers share with us and share their success stories with other teachers in the next few months. We have online meetings every other week, and all the efforts in this project are voluntary.
This pandemic has united us, educators, in ways we thought was not possible before. We are taking the time to prepare, meet, talk, collaborate, create, and share to help others without financial incentives. In the wake of this pandemic, we are shifting the education paradigm through our joint and harmonic efforts around the world—not in large conferences, but from our homes.
List of the people working on this project: Seyedahmad Rahimi, Mohsen Bagheri, Rouhollah Khodabandelou, Mohammadreza Farrokhnia, Mohammad Shahalizadeh, Sara Baniamerian, Parisa Naeimian Monfared, Mehran Mohammadi, Mohammad Mokhberiyan, Zahra Roudbarani, Reza Malmir, Maedeh Agharazi, Samaneh Zoulfaghar, and Samira Habibi.
Seyedahmad Rahimi (author of the post) is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University (FSU), in Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies program. His research interests are game-based assessment and support of 21st-century competencies (e.g., creativity, problem solving). He is currently working under the supervision of Dr. Valerie Shute in several of her projects at FSU funded by NSF and IES.