Take a step back and ask: what really matters most? 

The challenge to teach online may seem daunting. But looking afresh at our course syllabi and schedules might be an opportunity to reframe our objectives around the most important questions.

What is the point of our course? What purpose (or whom) does it truly serve? How might we convey that to students?

Might there be new questions that have come from recent events that might be asked through the lens of the Christian faith?

Are there new opportunities to ask students about the reality of suffering and healing and the fragility of human life? Or about justice, mercy, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation? Might there be opportunities to reflect upon trust and hope in God, especially in times of distress?

Be clear and ask good questions.

Online education requires us to become even clearer when we explain from a distance our course goals, expectations, and details of course material. Our care to communicate clearly also gives us the chance to grow in the art of asking our students good questions, maybe better than we did when we taught in a classroom.

When we reflect upon the teaching ministry of Jesus, we realize that he asked questions that went to the heart of the matter. Sometimes his questions were direct, other times not. But his questions always sought to bring greater understanding in those who heard them. Asking questions sometimes serves the task of learning far more powerfully than simply asserting an answer.

Think about opportunities to cultivate virtue “virtually.”

Is character formation of students possible in online contexts? Character formation is challenging in any context, but it need not be impossible online. We must try.

Might we cultivate attentiveness as we carefully read a difficult text or try to understand the results of a laboratory experiment?

Might we express the virtue of hospitality as we teach and learn online?  

Might we cultivate a learning community through online collaborative assignments and projects? Message boards or other collaborative assignments, for example, might be ways for students to appreciate how their own learning truly depends on others. In so doing, we might be helping our students to appreciate the gift of friendship especially in the midst of difficulty.

Might we extend charity to one another as we realize that our own learning (and indeed well-being) depends upon the common good?

Might we cultivate the virtue of discernment, to help students better navigate a virtual world? For an excellent discussion of intellectual virtue formation, see Jason Baehr’s “Educating for Intellectual Virtues.”