February 22

On Teaching Online, Part IV: The Power of the Pivot

GOA’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Eric Hudson, is teaching “Advocacy” this semester. Every week, he will blog about his experience designing and facilitating this online course for high school students. You can learn more about the course here. Read Part IPart II, and Part III. Follow Eric on Twitter @ericgoa.

A year ago, I attended a workshop led by the venture capitalist Steve Blank, who created the LeanLaunchPad approach to entrepreneurship. He writes and speaks frequently about the power of the pivot in business: if your customers aren’t engaging your product in the way you intend, then you need to change. To keep your customers engaged, pivots must happen quickly, and they must focus on sustaining or reenergizing that engagement.

This week in Advocacy, I had to pivot. My Week Three activities focused heavily on interaction and sharing of resources, and my class participation wasn’t strong. While most of my students were posting material, I did not see evidence that they were learning from each other’s posts. I looked for responses in discussion forums, I checked the page visit analytics in my LMS, and I sent out a few exploratory emails. All evidence suggested that my students were taking the time to show what they knew, but were not taking enough time to learn from each other.

So, instead of posting all new material in Week Four, I decided we would dedicate time to revisiting and exploiting the great material already archived in our course. I’ve been playing with PowToon lately, so I made them this message:

Then, in the Week Four module, I reposted the forums from the previous week, increased their point value to indicate I would be assessing my students’ revisits, and I added brief instructions and activities to guide them towards meaningful responses and feedback. Also, based on feedback I have been getting from weekly checkout surveys, I added a synchronous conversation because, almost unanimously, my students said they enjoyed them.


The results were excellent. This course is built on the notion that these future advocates already know and have access to interesting and useful resources for their peers. As I saw responses and feedback accumulate this week, I saw the students benefiting from and reflecting on what they had learned from what their peers had shared. I particularly liked the video responses to advocate interviews and the discussion of the week on audience engagement.

So much of what makes brick-and-mortar classrooms great is the learning catalyzed by spontaneous interaction and connections, by new questions and current events. Teachers learn quickly how to improvise, how to change a lesson when a news event occurs, how to adjust class time when students are confused. How do you do that online? This week, I learned that the simple act of watching my course closely and leaving time and space for a pivot reoriented my students to our shared learning objectives.