Uncertain Times: 3 Tips for a Flexible Classroom

Flexible classroom policies and course materials are particularly important in uncertain times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a host of unforeseen challenges for all industries. For many, our homes have become our entire worlds—replacing our offices, restaurants, gyms, and yes, our schools. Education has already been one of the most impacted areas of society, and the effects of the pandemic aren’t disappearing anytime soon.Back in March, students and teachers were sent home with little advance notice, and classrooms of all grades pivoted to remote learning. Educators from college professors to kindergarten teachers had to create effective educational experiences with limited resources. Everything from PTO fundraisers to standardized tests had to move online without missing a beat.

The suddenness of this change is now far behind us, but the unique circumstances and safety concerns caused by COVID-19 still persist. Some institutions are online, some are hybrid, and some are in-person with social distancing guidelines, but all are unified by the constant awareness that things could change with the blink of an eye. Educators must step up to the challenge of creating flexible plans for these uncertain times.

At Skyepack, we help college and K-12 instructors create stronger academic experiences through our custom digital course materials. In working with institutions across the country, we’ve watched instructors handle obstacles with grace and ingenuity even before the word “coronavirus” was in anyone’s vocabulary. 

Based on these experiences, we’ve compiled some useful strategies for facilitating a flexible and effective learning experience through the crisis and beyond, including: 

  • Choose the right course materials.
  • Upgrade your remote learning technology.
  • Embrace student feedback to enhance learning.
  • Consider an iterative approach to course planning.

With these tips in mind, your classroom will be well-equipped to handle anything the world might throw at you. 

Choosing the right course materials is an important aspect of a flexible course plan.

1. Choose the right course materials.

Whether in a remote learning or traditional classroom environment, students deserve access to current, high-quality course materials that align with what their instructors are covering each day.

But as you probably know, this is more an idealistic scenario than a common reality. Traditional textbooks are too expensive to update frequently, so information may become dated after a few years. Plus, it’s difficult to find course materials that cover the exact same topics you plan to explore in class.

A flexible option to consider that works well for both in-person and virtual learning is a set of digital course materials. 

According to Skyepack’s explainer on the subject, digital course materials offer benefits such as:

  • Convenience. Carrying around a heavy physical book can be cumbersome. Digital course materials are usually accessible via a cloud-based platform, so students can easily access educational content either from their homes or from the classroom.
  • Affordability. With the more accessible price point of digital course materials compared to books from traditional publishers, you can save the PTA fundraiser proceeds for another cause.
  • Effectiveness. Because digital options can include multimedia content and interactive elements, required reading and other assignments can become a more engaging and effective activity. Especially with the many distractions in an at-home classroom environment, content that can keep students’ attention is key.
  • Flexibility. If you need to make a change in your course plan due to a change in environment or curriculum overhaul, digital materials are much easier to adapt than a physical book.

Of course, it’s important to recognize the wide variety of quality and price when considering digital course materials. In fact, many traditional publishers make e-textbooks with access codes that cost every penny as much as the physical book. And free materials like open educational resources (OERs) often lack quality, peer-reviewed content. 

If you want to start implementing digital course materials without investing a lot of time into the switch, you may want to consider working with a curation service that handles the creation process.

High production quality can improve the remote learning experience.

2. Upgrade your remote teaching technology.

When we think about virtual learning technology, the focus is often on how students will interact with one another and engage with the materials. These elements are a critical part of your flexible classroom strategy, but they aren’t the only interaction that is occurring. You’ll also want to consider how to improve your communication with students, specifically over video.

Production quality may not be the first thing on your mind when you’re considering your remote teaching strategy, but it can make a huge difference in how students experience your lessons. Consider the difference between a grainy, poorly-lit home video and an HD one. It doesn’t take much thought to realize your students will react better to the latter!

To improve the video and audio quality of your lectures, try incorporating these tips:

  • Improve video quality with a USB camera instead of your built-in webcam
  • Reduce background noise with a professional microphone
  • Provide increased accessibility with automatic captioning 
  • We’re aware that the acquisition of these items can be a little pricey. If your institution doesn’t have the budget for these items, it’s worth exploring avenues to make it happen. Raising funds to help your teachers get the equipment they need during these difficult times is a challenge that you’re not alone in. However, raising the funds is possible, even with an online semester. Consider these social distancing-friendly school fundraising ideas to get started:
  • Hold a virtual event to engage the community. Like this article says, virtual events are less expensive to execute than in-person ones, so your school will be able to direct more funding towards course materials and learning tech.
  • Create awareness for matching gift eligibility. According to Double the Donation, organizations miss out on $4-7 billion in unclaimed matching gift revenue every year. Make sure to promote these opportunities so your school isn’t leaving money on the table!

These ideas and other virtual fundraising opportunities will help ensure you have the financial capability to invest in the necessary resources required to create high-quality virtual lessons.

An iterative approach to course planning can improve flexibility.

3. Consider an iterative approach to course planning.

A rigid course structure that stays the same year after year misses key opportunities for growth and improvement in any environment, but this is especially true in the era of COVID-19.

A truly flexible classroom requires resilience, adaptability, and a plan for when things don’t go as planned—which, as we’ve learned this year, can happen more quickly than you might think!

If you build in flexibility for alterations as you develop your course, you’ll be well-positioned to pivot when things (inevitably) change. 

An iterative approach to course planning allows you to take into account the feedback and performance of your students as well as any changes to your circumstances.

Here at Skyepack, we use an iterative approach based on Agile methodology to build course materials for instructors that enable flexibility and continuous improvements. Our process is designed to be cyclical in nature, allowing for flexibility and continued improvements, as you can see below.

Skyepack's design process is an iterative cycle that allows for continued improvements.

This design process could also be applied to your own course development as follows:

  • Analyze. Assess the needs you are trying to meet, including the unique needs of your students and the curriculum requirements set forth by your school, district, or state.
  • Research. Explore resources and topics that could be integrated into your plan.
  • Design. Determine the most appropriate sequence of your course to create an engaging and clear flow of content.
  • Curate. Gather the most useful materials and resources available that meet the needs of your classroom.
  • Build. Bring everything together to create a cohesive plan for the course.
  • Launch. Start teaching your redesigned course to students, making sure to collect feedback on their engagement and performance. 
  • Analyze again. Based on what works well and what needs to be tweaked, revise your course for the next school year, semester, or content unit.

These steps can help you ensure you’re teaching a course that effectively meets the learning needs of your students no matter what the circumstances are.

With these strategies in mind, you’ll have the tools and methods you need to adapt your classroom in this time of uncertainty. And even once things are back to “normal,” a flexible approach will always serve you well.

About the Author

Brady Kalb, CEO, Skyepack

Brady is a “reformed engineer turned entrepreneur”. After engineering gigs at two Fortune 100 companies, Brady left the corporate world to pursue a business degree and seek out new challenges. Brady’s passion for education stems from his desire to “always be learning” and find innovative solutions to difficult problems. Brady enjoys family outings to the park, explaining the answers of “Life, the Universe, and Everything” to his daughters, and reading just about anything (favorites are classics, popular fiction, and biographies).