Delivering lessons online has become an integral part of teaching, and it doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. As with any teaching, it is important that we take time to stop and reflect on our practice. We need to consider what worked well and what didn’t work so well, and what we have learned from our experiences over the last two years.
As practitioners, it is essential that we pay particular attention to the engagement of our learners. And so, the question must be asked: “What can we do to ensure that our students are as engaged when learning remotely, as when we teach face-to-face?”
As I have reflected on this question, I want to leave you with five areas to consider. These are by no means an exhaustive list, and you may have your own to add too!
- Relationships are everything
Be present with your students. Developing a “social presence” is essential. Make sure that they know how to contact you and that you are able to give a timely response. Ensure that they have access to all the learning resources that they need, and that their technical devices are working! If they don’t respond to your emails, try another means. Pick up the phone and make a call, if you have to. If you are working in a hybrid setting, maximise the time spent in person to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. Don’t underestimate the importance of creating an environment where it is safe to explore, make mistakes and learn. When teaching remotely, it is essential that you encourage your students to interact with each other. Create meaningful tasks which require them to collaborate and work together.
2. Educational technology is your friend
Bring everyday discussions into your learning and allow your students to experience a range of technologies. Remember, when it comes to digital technologies, it’s not a one size fits all, and it’s more important to choose the right tool for the right task. Allow opportunities to use digital to present learning and allow students to be creative. Create opportunities for students to use ICT to transform their learning experiences and use these skills to help construct new knowledge. Remember to make effective use of technology to aid you with your planning and monitoring of student progress. Don’t be scared to let students know that you are learning with them, and don’t assume that you know everything! Remember that for many, digital will be their ‘world’ and perhaps they will have ideas on tools to use and ways to present their learning. And when it all goes wrong, have a back-up plan!
3. Share knowledge through good design
Use both synchronous and asynchronous discussions to develop learning opportunities. Where appropriate, allow students to alter the path of learning. Remember, skill development is just as important as the memorisation of facts. Creating problem-solving tasks where students need to apply knowledge rather than memorising and regurgitating facts is a must! So, think creatively. Consider how they can use their learning to find solutions to problems. Think about how you provide opportunities for your students to organise, monitor, evaluate and become autonomous in their learning.
4. Communicate and collaborate
With clever lesson planning, you can have your students engaged and participating through collaborative practices such as shared documents, live polls, message boards and team presentations. Where possible, it’s a good idea to encourage video participation – keeping cameras on and using signals to show when someone wants to speak. To keep students engaged, plan questions ahead of time and ask them to make use of the chat function. Use the information shared here to keep your lesson relevant, stimulate discussions, and address misconceptions during lessons. Remember, give students ownership for their learning and provide them with choices that will create collaborative student-centred learning experiences – which have been proven to improve student engagement and achievement.
5. Find the fun
Introduce quizzes and games. These are great to consolidate learning, highlight misconceptions in understanding, guide your planning, and bring a playfulness to learning. Think about using gamification to add an element of fun and competitiveness to your lessons. Where results are collected, these can be used to help you assess learning and stimulate further discussions. Remember to personalise your lessons. This way, your students know that you value them and their contributions. Personalisation also means that your lessons become more dynamic, relatable and ultimately enjoyable.
Over to you. What are your key lessons learned from online teaching?
Chiu, T., 2021. Student engagement in K-12 online learning amid COVID-19: A qualitative approach from a self-determination theory perspective. Interactive Learning Environments, pp.1-14.
Evans-Amalu, K., & Claravall, E. (2021). Inclusive Online Teaching and Digital Learning: Lessons Learned in the Time of Pandemic and Beyond. Journal Of Curriculum Studies Research, 3(1), i-iii.
Thornburg, A., Ceglie, R. and Abernathy, D., 2021. Handbook of research on lessons learned from transitioning to virtual classrooms during a pandemic. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, pp.61-83.