As the current situation continues, many of us are coming to the realization that online face-to-face teaching, or rather remote teaching, might well be the new normal for, at least, the coming months. Normally, when institutes move to online or blended programs six to nine months of preparation have gone into designing appropriate learning systems (Hodges et. al, 2020) and enabling teachers with online teaching skills. Now, most of us were thrown into online teaching overnight, and herein lies the danger. Even though it’s fantastic to see much advice is being shared about Apps and tools for online teaching, we should avoid falling into the trap that using a plethora of apps and tools will ‘develop’ our online teaching skills.
By all means, lean into the chance to get some new technology and tools under your belt, but remember it’s not the technology that makes learning happen; it’s key principles of effective practice that enhance learning and should drive your use of technology. Most of our learners might well be more digitally literate than we will ever be, so focus on your strengths of having sound pedagogical knowledge and understanding and transfer this to the best of your abilities to your online lessons.
Know your Learners – Get to know them, get to know about their home situation, their interests, their dreams, their culture. Knowing more than just their name (or student number) enables you to connect with your learners and create a learning community. Get to know their context: where are they joining you from; a busy living room, a quiet study? What devices have they got access to and when? How much time do they have for learning as they might have other roles to play at home during this crisis. If you want to create optimal conditions for learning and create a learning zone for your learners, you will need to get to know them and their context. Gaining insight into their strengths and lesser strengths with regards to your subject as well as their learning profile helps you better meet their needs; does discovering grammar rules by themselves appeal most or would they like you to guide them through the concept? Also, check which devices they use for class, as not all Apps are as effective on mobile devices!
Engage your Learners- When learners are emotionally engaged their academic performance improves which in itself can help to improve learner motivation. Getting to know more about your learners can help gain some insight into what might engage them. Engagement depends on learners’ interests, age, context as well as their learning preferences, however, who doesn’t like to be actively involved during lessons? Get learners to contribute to your lessons by asking them to provide a short video with write 5 questions (and answers). Getting them to contribute enhances task authenticity, connects life in and outside the classroom and provides learners with a chance to feel in control over their learning. In times of isolation – and even at the best of times- collaborative activities are key to enhancing engagement. Project-based tasks or even simple jig-saw tasks provide opportunities for interaction which again is so important in times when f2f interaction is limited. Do consider the level of cognitive challenge of tasks and technology as they can easily hinder engagement: cognitively or linguistically demanding tasks/ topics can lead to learners getting frustrated or even overwhelmed! I’m not saying we should lower our expectations, but we should be realistic about what they can cope with as there’s enough happening in their lives already…
Your Role- Whilst online learning, online shopping, online catch-ups are becoming the norm, for the time being, and a lot of our learners are starting to realize that mobile devices and technology used to connect us are also the ones that isolate us. Even though these technological aids support online learning and connecting with others, they are in fact poor substitutes for real, face-to-face social interaction in the classroom. Our role during these challenging times is to make sure our learners feel connected within your learning community. Creating opportunities for collaboration, contributing and taking control over some of the learning content will enable them to feel empowered in a situation where many events are outside their control. Empower them by letting them select how to demonstrate their learning of the week; they can simply record their voice (vocaroo.com), create a flyer (smore.com) or write a blogpost (wordpress).
Setting them up for Success- There are so many factors that are key in enabling our learners to succeed, however, at the moment it might well be simply being there to support them. Most of us have moved to an online learning environment with very little time to adapt, but don’t forget that our learners have experienced the same overwhelming process and honestly, studying might not be their highest priority right now! Accept it. Paramount is that our learners feel safe and feel a sense of belonging in your online classroom, only then their brain can move into learning mode. Revisit familiar content and connect new learning to this prior knowledge. Allow learners to ‘test’ or remember what they have already learned, discuss the bigger picture at the start of your lessons before zooming into new concepts and details. Even though these stressful times might impact their learning progress, a learning journey is not set in stone. Be flexible and supportive. Assisting them in finding a study schedule and reframing goals so that things work for them an invaluable learning experience. Remember, the current situation won’t last forever, but the skills we allow them to acquire during this time might serve them a lifetime.