With schools closed around the country, our means of delivering content has moved to online. We are fortunate to live in a century where we have the tools to make distance learning a reality otherwise the impact on learning could have been catastrophic.
Learning platforms such as ours exist to facilitate learning online, and for those schools who don't have online teaching software, everyday tools exist that make the possibility of distance learning a reality.
Even though distance learning has become much more widely used,, the concept does pose some challenges, especially as most schools won’t have had experience with this way of learning, nor will they have had a sufficient amount of time to prepare for this as a contingency plan.
To help you get the most out of distance learning, we’re going to share advice on how to effectively engage students and adapt your existing content and delivery for the online world.
Ensure You Have the Tools to Teach Online
Logistically, you need to be prepared to support your students online and this means having the right set of tools to deliver lessons online. If you use an online learning platform that would include:
- Ensuring you have the correct logins
- Your students are able to access the site
- All parties who use the platform know how to contact the support team and they can access user videos online (especially if you have implemented a distance learning tool as a response to school closures).
Providing online teaching from home also relies on more pragmatic tools such as:
- Laptop and or desktop computer
- Wifi connection
- Speakers (either built in to your computer or external)
- HDMI cable
Hopefully, you’ll have much of this equipment at home, where possible, source what you don’t have from school and if this isn’t possible sites like Amazon can offer cheap rates and quick delivery.
Communicate with Students
Communication is vital during a school closure, it’s paramount that you and your classes are able to contact each other so that you’re able to offer support and students can ask for help. Additionally, in order for distance learning to be as effective as possible, you need to be able to provide feedback, praise and grades online, where necessary.
If you use a learning platform like Satchel One, you’ll be able to achieve all of this from one login, however, if you don’t use an online learning platform that doesn’t mean you can’t still communicate this information with students. In order the facilitate communication outside of a learning platform ensure:
- You have students’ email addresses
- Students know your email address (as well as their other teachers)
- Students are able to access their email
Try and maintain as much routine as possible when it comes to communicating with pupils so there is structure to your days. For example, continue to observe ‘office hours’, allocated time in your day where you are willing to reply to students or allow them to book in meetings with you (if necessary).
If you’re going to be discussing ideas with students one-to-one via video tools such as Skype, it’s best to check with SLT ahead of time to see if there are any safeguarding issues surrounding this type of contact eg: does your parent consent form cover this or do you need to issue a notification/survey to parents before you start communicating with pupils online one-to-one?
Whatever the outcome, school email contact should still be fine, so if this is your main means of communication, use it.
Here’s a list of all possible communication methods you can use to contact students whilst distance learning:
- School email
- School communication system
- Online learning platform
- School social media accounts
Adapt Your Content for Online Delivery
Good content is at the core of a successful distance learning experience. Once you’re set up with the right equipment and have decided how online learning is going to work for your school and how to get in contact with your class, the next step is to ensure your content is appropriate for online learning.
There are some things to consider based on your school’s approach to learning:
If you’re delivering online lessons via video
- Consider your workspace - what does it look like to students? Even when teaching remotely impressions count (it’s also good for productivity and your mental health to have a dedicated workspace when working from home).
- Are you able to share your screen with multiple students?
- Do you need to send resources ahead of lesson time?
- Consider your restrictions of only having a small screen to share with your students eg. inability to walk around, keeping gestures within the space of the screen etc.
If you’re distributing lesson content via email/learning platform
- Is there enough information for students to complete this task to a standard you expect, consider attaching a video of yourself explaining the task? - this could help replicate the classroom experience.
- If you don’t use a video is there a detailed enough description so that students know what is expected of them?
- Have you provided the resources students need to complete this work?
- Do students know where to submit work?
- Will this work be graded?
- Will there be a test on the content covered or will there be homework to consolidate information covered?
Remember, communication is key! Provide your students with as much information as possible so you are preparing them for success.
Make tasks engaging
Consider the new environment in which your pupils are now learning in and the challenges it poses for them. There are new distractions which weren’t present in the classroom - they may be sharing a workspace with their parents and siblings or they may not even have a dedicated workspace - yet in spite of this, they have to motivate themselves to continue with schoolwork.
With this in mind, it’s important that the tasks we are setting are not only well communicated with sufficient information, but we also consider their attention span and make tasks engaging and enjoyable - this will include adapting some of our current activities so that they’re distance learning friendly. Consider the following:
The amount of time students will have to wait for feedback:
If work is going to be graded let students know and give them a realistic timeframe. Also consider using applications that provide instant feedback such as online tests and quizzes, Satchel’s homework app, Show My Homework enables teachers to set auto-graded Quizzes and Spelling Tests so students receive instant feedback - this can be a real motivation booster for pupils!
How do you know if pupils are doing work?
It’s one thing setting students engaging work, but how do you know if they’re actually completing it? Satchel One allows teachers to see who in their class has viewed assigned tasks. Another way you can achieve this sort of visibility is by asking students to turn work into you, even if it isn’t graded, to show they’ve been working on something. Alternatively, you could have post lesson catch ups with your class to discuss work, or, assign homework on topics you’ve covered to gauge understanding.
Issue a variety of task types
Variety is the spice of life and that also applies to distance learning! Be sure to mix up the tasks you give your students so they don’t get bored during their time at home. Now’s also the time to explore tasks that you haven’t tried before to aid the distance learning experience - consider using video, games and tests to complement the work you’re setting students. Also, think of creative ways to engage students and assess their learning - can students send video clips of themselves discussing findings from a research based task? Or can they create a PowerPoint and present this to the class via Skype or Zoom?
It’s important for us to remember that we’re probably not going to get this right on a first attempt - distance learning isn’t something we, as face to face educators, have experience in. However, so long as we prepare, evaluate, are willing to adapt and do our best, we’ll be able to continue delivering top quality content to our students to help them engage and learn even when we can’t be in school.