As we head towards the end of the Easter break and into the new term and for a lot of schools, a period of remote learning, I thought I would share my thoughts and tips on remote learning.
The first point I would make is that there is no one solution to remote learning. It depends on your context including the age of your students, previous experience using technology and online learning platforms, individual subject requirements, teachers confidence with platforms and their own personal experience of those that are available and the equipment available to teachers and students, to name just a few factors.
- Seek feedback from students: Be clear and open with students, for most the use of technology in this way is new, and for all the current pandemic is new. As a result, things may not be perfect and issues/challenges will be experienced however if we accept this we can then all work together to review, revise and improve, and to get to the best possible use of technology. It is therefore important to seek feedback from students often in order to then revise how remote learning is delivered.
- Use video conferencing to regularly check in with students learning: A key part of teaching and learning is the interactions between teachers and students. Video conferencing is a key method to achieve this however we should not simply seek to substitute classroom teaching with video conferencing sessions of the same length as traditional classroom-based lessons. We should however ensure that at the minimum there are regular check in opportunities for teacher and students to interact, discuss and share by video conferencing however this could be at the start of each lesson, once daily, at the start of a short unit of work, etc. We need to experiment to identify which works best for the teacher and each class taught.
- Set clear expectations for video conferencing: Video conferencing presents challenges in relation to background noise, interruptions, talking over each other, etc. This can clearly be seen simply by watching the use of video conferencing technology within BBC news broadcasts. For teachers this is no different from working in a classroom, albeit the challenges when interacting virtually via video conferencing are different to those which occur in the traditional classroom where working with students face to face. Like in the classroom it is therefore important to establish clear expectations as to how students should behaviour while on a conference call as part of the class. It is also important to review these expectations via feedback from students, especially in the early use of video conferencing to support remote learning, to ensure all, students and teachers, share ownership of these expectations and that they meet the needs of the teacher and learners alike.
- Set personal boundaries for responding to students: Remote learning, the use of video conferencing, email and other online platforms can lead to teachers feeling they are always working, and even more so in international schools where students may live and therefore interact with the teacher from different time zones. This is not good for teacher wellbeing. Boundaries need to be set as to during what times a teacher will interact, how quickly responses can be expected, etc. I find a useful technique to address this is to have a dedicated workspace meaning the rest of the house means I am not working. It is also important to consider what devices emails and other platforms are installed on plus how notifications are presented on devices. On my phone, for example, I have do not disturb enabled for the evenings to stop me from instinctively responding to emails simply by suppressing the notifications outside normal working hours.
- Find your balance in lesson delivery: Learning can be delivered in a variety of ways both in real life and via remote learning. In remote Learning you may choose to create video content in advance similar to flipped learning, or you may do live video sessions. You may provide students presentations to work through, or links to videos online or even worksheets or workbooks for more self-study style learning. You may ask students to work collaboratively in groups using video conferences or you may ask them to complete questions where you can provide remote live feedback, such as via OneNote. I do not believe any single of the above approaches to be correct as each has strengths and drawbacks with some requiring significant prep time. You need to experiment and seek a blend of these and also other approaches I have not listed. A point that I have seen multiple teachers state is that this is a “marathon not a sprint” so we need to be careful to not burn ourselves out by creating lots of content and exciting learning experiences in the short term, only to find this quickly used up in lessons.
The five points above are the key suggestions I would make in relation to remote learning. You will notice they are inter-related in a number of ways. They are purposely not over specific, as given the different contexts of teachers across a single school never mind across the globe, I don’t believe it is possible to be specific and precise without either ruling out some learning opportunities that would work or proposing approaches which in some contexts may detract or damage learning.
To all engaging in remote learning, good luck, and please do share your thoughts, successes and what hasnt worked as together we can get through this, and together we can learn a lot from this experience which may help us start to reshape the educational experiences of the students yet to grace our classrooms.