I can’t say I’ve ever aimed to “put courses online.”

The focus of my un-illustrious edtech career has been helping people find creative ways to leverage technology, media, practices, especially on the internet, into their endeavors, especially teaching.

Since the early 1990s, most of the uptake has been by theft left side of “the chasm”.

From 7 Storytelling Reasons Why Innovation Fails; Google search says it's licensed from reuse, I cant find license.
From 7 Storytelling Reasons Why Innovation Fails; Google search says it’s licensed from reuse, I cant find license.

From something as minute as a virus, now we are seeing the whole darned curve behind shoved over the line.

It will be, in the curse type of interesting times, a huge experiment, though hardly of the kind cast by The Chronicle.

Now twitter, blogs, are rippling with threads, shared docs and lists, and lists of lists, and lists of threads of suggestions, advice for that whole curve, on how to teach when they close down campuses.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a bright side to twitter.

Yet I’m not sure how all this flood of resources is going to help educators facing this “experiment.”

I don’t think we should at all be talking about “putting courses online.” What we are really faced with is coming up with some quick alternative modes for students to complete course work without showing up on campus. This does not call for apps and vendor solutions, but what the best teachers always do- improvise, change up on the fly when things change.

You know what should do? The best we can. Yeah, that sound cliché.

Things will fail. Badly. Tech has a way of sooner or later and often repeatedly letting you down. I often started workshops with my expectation that the technology will fail on us. “If it does fail, we have met the expectation; if it does not, we have exceeded it.”

Yeah, more cliché.

Despite Terry Greene’s overly kind tweets, I don’t have magic answers.

But really, if I was helping folks, my suggestion an strategy would be… do as little as possible online. Use online for communicating, caring, attending to people’s needs, but not really for being the “course.” Flip that stuff outside.

This is why I cringe when what I seem to hear is “Zoom! Zoom! Can we have 30 students in zoom?” Everything you try to do online is going to call on for jumping unfair levels of barriers- access, technology, experience. I’d say recast your activities in ways students can do as much without going online- reading, writing, thinking, practicing, doing stuff away from the screen.

I’m not convinced we need to do so much synchronous “stuff”. The most important things to me are quickly establishing, and having backup modes, for students to be in touch with you, and you with them. As individuals. It might be direct messaging, email, texting. It could be but need not be something Slack-like.

I’d really go simplest (email), as Tannis Morgan hinted at:

A lot of online teaching is really about communicating clearly and well (even if it feels like you are stating the obvious) and establishing and managing expectations. The good news is that you can do most of that by email. Early online teaching was focussed on good organization and structure, because there simply weren’t a lot of tech options to distract us.


There’s so much you can do being dexterous in Google Docs- not just collaborative document, but use the comment/notification schemes available in all the tools. Learn how to manage content in Drive, set up shared folders, drop boxes. Use forms to collect data, check in with students. Get going with web annotation tools.

We need not have just talking sessions for use of video. Think about drop in hours with Whereby (the new appear.in) – it lacks a need for logins and downloads, and works on mobile.

There’s so much I learned about seat of the pants teaching in DS106; that was the same approach in teaching in-person and online versions. That all fed the kind of connected learning approach we do in Networked Narratives currently the NetMirror version. This never was, and is not, even this week as Kean University closes, an “online” course. We just use the web in as many useful ways as possible.

This experiment is going to… well I bet, go bad in a lot of ways. I don’t know what we can expect of un-experienced teachers and unprepared students, who on top of all the concerns they carry and we rarely see, now have to ponder where they might live and sustain income to live on.

It will be interesting… but it need not be awful nor a disaster, if we go about it as all stuck in the situation.

That’s what when I saw yesterday at the University of Regina campus parking lot, that little figure of a Stick Man in Peril. Yes, COVID-19 is the exclamation mark, but let’s do all we can to avoid Stick Teacher and Stick Student from getting bonked by untenable ideas of “moving courses online”.

This experiment will be as “interesting” as possible.

Blog Post Postscript

Just to be clear, my internal emphasis in the title is on this be the “Greatest” experiment. There are no realistic options, it has to happen. The “Flawed” is not that we are doing this, but the thinking that the pivots and pirouettes and transitions are something that can be compared like “online learning” vs “face to face”, as ever, a useless dichotomy.

Featured Image:

Warning! Mass Experiment in Online Learning
Warning! Mass Experiment in Online Learning flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Yes, at Lane Community College, we are in the midst of all you mention above. I’m glad to report that the guidelines being offered by the Academic Technology Center are very much in line with the reasonable, minimalist approach you outline above.

    We have an institutional Zoom account, and it integrates beautifully with Moodle.

    I love that chart you open with–it really summarizes the situation at our school.

    But like it or not–everybody has to board the online Ark…

    I see that as a Canadian, you have adopted the period or comma outside the quote marks. You really have gone native…

  2. The babble about “BUT THIS IS NOT THE BEST POSSIBLE ONLINE PEDAGOGY I’VE BEEN DOING THIS WITH A WORDPRESS BLOG AND A STICK OF BUBBLEGUM FOR YEARS WHY DON’T PEOPLE JUST DO THAT” is maddening. This is an emergency response so students aren’t left holding the bag at the end of the semester. If classes are cancelled, students wouldn’t be able to complete courses. Which means they may have to select different courses for the next semester because they lack prereqs. which means they may lose funding. which means they may lose student travel visas and have to fly home. except they can’t do that because travel will be difficult. etc. etc. etc.

    We will pull together to support students and instructors through a stressful time, figure out a way to complete their courses, and then regroup and figure out how to learn from this and help instructors design better online courses next time.

      1. Absolutely not. Yikes. I wasn’t trying to imply that. I’ve seen think pieces by thought leaders saying that people are doing it wrong. That’s not the point. You’re a model of starting from a place of care and support rather than turf protection and judgement.

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