The Initial Challenges of my E-Learning Course

This year I am taking on a new adventure, teaching online grade 11 computer science.  My first thoughts were excitement on the new opportunity, but also went towards fear of how to connect with students when all I would see is their text based questions and responses to problems.  Some of my other fears about taking on an elearning course were the ideas of tracking down students effectively, providing timely feedback, creating a sense of belonging for all students (even ones who went at their own pace), and keeping students engaged (since they were at their own home).

I found that the troubles I feared were ones I focused on and worked at so that they did not hinder the progress of my students and did not effect my teaching practice.  I tried to mark the weekly assignments within 4 days so that the students could use the descriptive feedback for the next assignments.

It was hard to see if the students were engaged as I could not look at their screens and know if they were present (an area I am looking at working on).  Students were able to interact in lessons using a chat feature and were able to share their screens (at the request of the host).  I was also unaware of the number of no-shows that would happen in the live classes as I assumed it would be mandatory like physical school classes.

Throughout the term I looked at some new ways to engage them (short snippets of code, google form exit cards) but was still finding not a lot of participation from the students who I feared were not there and for the ones that watched later.  My big question is to those who have/are online teachers, how do you check for understanding in formative ways?  Also how do you gauge the level of understanding without using a test or assignment through the content modules?

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