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5 Prep Questions for Teaching Online

Man reading a Power Point presentation
Teaching online with PowerPoint

What will you do this week to learn something new or to expand your knowledge base? You can make it a goal to read for thirty minutes every day. Taking a course on LinkedIn Learning or Coursera are also learning resources.

The Fall 2020 semester is right around the corner. I am taking careful daily steps to limit the chances of being underprepared for the challenges of remote learning lurking out of sight. My goal as a professor in a Caribbean medical school is to prepare students for their future roles as physicians.

To achieve my goal, I must invest time and other resources into activities that equip me to do my job. About a month ago, I enrolled in a course on teaching online. I finished the curriculum last week, and the final writing assignment served as a good primer to begin planning for the upcoming academic term.

Are you an educator who needs to adapt to online classroom delivery quickly? I am going to share with you five questions and my answers from a learning to teach online course. You will find these questions and responses helpful in creating lesson plans for teaching in the Fall semester.

Question #1: What’s special about the school where you work? Can you describe your plan for incorporating technology into your online learning? What types of activities will you use this semester?

I am at an institution with a unique mission of providing underrepresented populations in the medical field an opportunity to become a medical doctor. The school’s contributions of Black male doctors to hospitals in the US is a factor that I appreciate about the medical school where I work as an assistant professor in the education department. Given the school’s mission and student body, we have to consider access to technology and the special accommodations necessary to support learning online.

A combination of pre-recorded, asynchronous, and live, synchronous, options are on the education table to help students digest content.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I do not take my role for granted. I am responsible for teaching and advising students with intentions to practice medicine around the world. Some will graduate and work at US hospitals where the current demand is high, and others will choose global settings with unique environmental constraints and resources.

One of the online activities that I am planning to facilitate is a synchronous discussion using the Microsoft Teams platform. Students will receive an online calendar invitation with instructions to join meetings at set times throughout the semester. During the discussion sessions, students will get assigned breakout rooms to talk about different topics in smaller groups.

An online Zoom group call chat
Online Zoom class photo by Chris Montgomery

As the facilitator, I will provide a range of subjects for students to engage in conversation with each other during class. We will address content ranging from biochemistry to multiple-choice-question dissection strategies. The goal of each synchronous session is to get the students to analyze how they can improve their approaches to learning and applying their medical education.

A secondary but imperative purpose of the synchronous meetings is to foster community.

In an online environment, a meaningful connection between students and faculty is critical to the curriculum's success. Video and audio conferencing calls can help students and professors foster a supportive remote classroom that encourages teaching and learning. The Microsoft Teams' platform is the institutionally supported resource available for students and teachers at my university.

I will lead the implementation of technology into the classroom for the Fall 2020 semester for one of my department’s course offerings.

Students will receive an instruction manual before the start of classes that will help them to navigate the Microsoft Teams' platform. It will also be my responsibility to provide students with links to YouTube videos and other resources that explain the features of Teams to ease the learning curve. The Institution Technology (IT) department will also be available to answer students’ questions and concerns regarding technology.

A pre-class rehearsal is also an option to help students get familiar with Microsoft Teams.

The chatbox and live audio features of Microsoft Teams will enable students to receive questions related to the content. Some students will have the opportunity to use many of the social media skills gained via popular platforms to respond to discussion prompts and interactive quizzes. Pictures and videos will get posted throughout the semester’s discussion sessions; students will need to comment and interact on the material to receive attendance credit.

I am planning to break up our one-hour classes into three separate twenty-minute sessions. Most adults have about a twenty-minute attention span to learn at an intense level and adopt a new level of skill. The breakout rooms will allow participants to make comments and questions about the day's topics.

Question #2: How does your plan to use technology fit with the overall curriculum?

The discussions align with the curriculum of my course. My course provides learning and study strategies for students who have failed one semester of their medical education. Online discussions will help students connect with other students who have experienced similar challenges in adjusting from undergrad to medical school.

Each week we will cover a different topic aligned with proven learning strategies. Often, many of our students struggle with creating a study schedule and maintaining the discipline to follow it when the workload becomes overwhelming.

In my course, we begin with time management to foster the structure for academic success.

Eight colorful post it notes arranged as a to-do list
Post-it Time Management photo by Sarah Kilian

The synchronous discussions will enable students to share their study schedules and talk about their time-related challenges. Students will be able to post pictures in the discussion threads and listen to other students share approaches to creating priorities and maintaining focus for extended periods. I will monitor the discussions and provide insight from my professional and personal experiences.

In addition to discussions, I will provide asynchronous presentations for students to learn from in their own time. Each week, before the discussions, I will upload video content to our institutions learning management system, called Blackboard. These pre-recorded video presentations will complement the live discussions and reinforce the course’s learning objectives.

Question #3: What role will testing play in your course?

Assessments or knowledge checks are critical components of any course. Exams, essays, video submissions, Ebooks, and oral presentations are among the many options educators can use to determine if students can apply the curriculum’s learning objectives. Medical education uses a combination of application and multiple-choice examinations to test students’ comprehension.

My course focuses on the needs of first-semester repeating students. At this phase of their medical education journey, the primary assessment tool is multiple-choice exams. In theory, these tests assess critical thinking skills and recall abilities.

Through multiple-choice vignette questions, students receive the opportunity to test the ability to apply the curriculum in a potential clinical setting. Each question offers some background information about a patient's medical history and asks students to decide the best treatment option.

Computerized image of a compass
An online exam photo by National Cancer Center

Choices, "A, B, C, D, or E" may offer pharmaceutical or surgery remedies to address an ailment. The students must use their knowledge of the associated topic and select the best possible answer or answers, depending on the format of the question.

Another component of medical education assessment involves a mock interview with a hired actor playing the role of an ill patient. These tests require students to develop approaches to creating a positive doctor-patient relationship while synthesizing their education.

Empathy, in addition to knowledge application, is essential to earn a passing grade on these types of exams. With the COVID-19 pandemic, empathy and knowledge are valuable tools for doctors to use in attempting to fix the bodies of patients.

To provide students with an online assessment, I will use the Microsoft Forms’ feature available as part of the Office suite. Throughout the asynchronous presentations, I will interject quiz questions that reflect the content of their multiple-choice and mock interview exams. The quizzes in Microsoft Forms will also reflect learning and study strategies consistent with the course's learning objectives.

This combination of quiz questions that reflect multiple-choice and mock interview exams will help students to feel prepared in an online setting. The remote curriculum will use multiple-choice exams to assess students. Familiarity with multiple-choice questions is fundamental to their success.

One of the learning strategies that we emphasize is a daily practice with multiple-choice questions. Through consistent practice with answering multiple-choice questions, students can gain awareness of their strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum. Establishing a routine of doing self-assessments with multiple-choice questions can help remedy anxiety associated with high stakes exams. The disciplined practice of completing independent multiple choice practice exams can also foster the confidence necessary to teach other students the curriculum.

Taking ownership of the curriculum and teaching other people the content is one of the best strategies for developing deep comprehension of any given topic or skill.

Question #4: How will you know if what you are doing is working?

I have a plan for evaluating my students. Through the Microsoft Forms’ feature of the Office Suite, I will embed quizzes into my asynchronous videos. I will also pose questions in the synchronous live discussions to assess students’ comprehension of the topics addressed each week. These quizzes and discussion questions should give me a good idea of how to move forward with guiding the teaching and learning process.

The best forms of feedback in education derive from a combination of peer-based reviews and student responses.

Throughout the semester, I will also make surveys available for students to provide feedback. I am working with a team of educators in the education department responsible for teaching a similar course. We will meet regularly to discuss the survey results.

From the student and faculty feedback received, I will be equipped with the information to make adjustments throughout the course. The corrections will enable me to improve the delivery of the curriculum for the current and future semesters of students enrolled in my online course.

The number of students moving forward in the school's curriculum measures my overall teaching effectiveness. If students do well in my course but do not advance into the next semester, my efforts will have failed. The students must leave this semester feeling well served and prepared to learn; it is imperative that they feel equipped to apply the content in their journey to joining the medical profession.

Question #5: Why is your work important?

Given the US health disparities in communities of color with regards to the coronavirus and other health ailments, we need caring physicians of color who can connect with their patients. Among many people of color, there exists a distrust with the medical field. From the Tuskegee experiments to the current high infant mortality rates and coronavirus cases in the Black community, there is reason to believe that the quality of care in some health facilities is questionable.

For the Fall 2020 semester, it is my goal as a medical educator to impact the change needed to address health inequities. This goal is not an overnight process, but if I can prepare one student to earn an MD with social awareness, compassion, and the courage to challenge unjust practices, I will know that my hard work is not worthless.

Share this post with one educator planning to teach online for next semester and watch this video for some advice on creating pre-recorded lectures.



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