Virtual Learning 101: Rules for Remote Learning
With such a rapid shift to online school, there are bound to be some mishaps … and lessons learned. I’m here to share my experiences and insights so that you will not hit the ground. Here are my favourite rules of teaching online:
- Be prepared. Make sure you have good lighting so your students can see your face clearly; face an open window or put a lamp next to your laptop. Check your background for anything you don’t want to be visible in the video, or blur it if possible. Have a practice child who will log in and check links to make sure they work. You can send your students some activities to print in advance so they can make reference to during your lesson. Make sure you clear your web browser before you do a screen share video. Start your meeting with everyone muted and ask them to sign into the chat box by answering an opening question (like a drill and you can take attendance this way also).
If you can record your sessions, do so. Remember to tell the students and parents their session is being recorded, too. This will help them refer back to the video if they forget what you reviewed in the lesson with them.
- Don’t Overwhelm Your students. Assign way less work than you think you should. Students are going to take much longer to complete it due to tech issues, stress, and the challenge of having to learn mostly on their own. Give them less than a normal in-class day. They’re going to be relearning how to schedule and manage their time so they’ll be overwhelmed. Using the chat box can be helpful for students to type ‘Q’ if they have a question rather than raising a visual hand.
- Collaborate. By openly accepting others to share their opinions in your space, you’re showing a level of tolerance that not everyone doing what you do is willing to show. Let’s say you collaborate with someone on a series of Social Studies videos.
By openly sharing a mixture of teaching styles that you and said other person inevitably have, you’re actually helping your students. They may not fully understand something until they see one of those explanation videos with things explained and demonstrated in a slightly different way by the person you collaborate with. Your students will thank you for it.
It’s much better to connect with people rather than “compete” with them from afar.
- Don’t Make assumptions. We have to take into account that a lot of kids have other responsibilities when they’re at home: other classwork, chores, helping with siblings, etc. It’s not like when they’re in our class and we have them for that allotted amount of time. Understand that some students haven’t found their feet when it comes to online learning…even their parents.
- Build community. Give your students social time before class starts so that they can catch up with friends, loosen up and get comfortable for the lesson…ask them how their day went, what they had for breakfast or lunch and what exciting thing they did that day…
Then introduce your lesson with a question that is meaningful to your students so you can start conversations. Discussions and building relationships should be a big thing in the classroom. Use Reflection Questions – Get students thinking more critically about their writing assignments by asking questions, such as:
In what ways, if any, did writing this paper change your views about the topic?
What did you find most challenging about writing about this topic?
What do you still want to know about this topic?
What did you enjoy most about writing this paper?
What did you discover about this topic that surprised you?
- Don’t Expect perfection. Be patient as your students try and figure out this form of learning. Remember that connections do break, especially if you’re trying to remain online for an extended period of time, like an hour or more. Don’t be surprised when it happens, but just take it as being a normal drawback of teaching online, like having a pigeon fly into the classroom.
- Give some grace. Allow yourself (and of course your students) plenty of grace. Many students have taken on additional responsibilities to help out at home. Many of us teachers have, too. Be mindful!
Our students are under a lot of stress just like we are. Just like this isn’t a vacation for us, it’s not a vacation for them. They are scared.
- Do NOT Refuse to Answer Students’ Questions. Okay, so you’ve designed your course, and the students have signed up, and you think you have all the elements in place that the students need to get through your class, and then you get an email asking about something you think is clearly visible in the syllabi you uploaded to your classroom! It makes you want to gnash your teeth. I know: It’s frustrating. But should you growl at them and send them back to your classroom to figure it out for themselves? Well, no.
The best thing to do is just take a deep breath and help the student out. Imagine what a bond can be formed between you and your students by pointing them patiently to the link where the information is hiding. Imagine how much better your classroom relationships would be if you just tell them what they need to know and then point them to the link so they can explore further the info you embedded there.
Infinite patience not only breeds well-being in your classroom community, it can also make you feel better in the long run. Instead of giving into your frustration, you helped them when they needed you. That’s a pretty great.
- Do NOT Ignore Feedback on Your Performance. This can be a killer. Getting a course evaluation from your students is key to improvement. Make sure your students are asked specific questions about the structure and design of the course, your attention to detail, your teaching techniques, the depth and breadth of the content you provided, the assessments you built in, what they liked and what they did not like. You can encourage your students to give feedback anonymously. Not getting feedback on your course will seriously hamper your ability to improve the course the next time you teach it.
- Do not Assume Your Content Knowledge Needs No Refreshing. Similarly make sure you’re plugged into the subject matter area that you’re teaching and get out there and see what’s new. Sometimes that’s as easy as taking somebody else’s course on the subject, or spending a couple of days reading around in your library or watching YouTube videos from colleagues and experts to make sure you’ve got a handle on how things changed while you were teaching.
- Do NOT Assume You Have Nothing to Learn from Some More Teacher Training. As for making sure that you are also honing your craft as a teacher: Taking professional development courses is a wonderful way to maintain your own enthusiasm for what you are doing. Not only are you exposed to new technologies and techniques, or perhaps to new learning theory, but finding yourself in a learning community of your peers can help renew your commitment to what you’re doing. You can learn so much by just talking to folks even if what they’re doing is not quite the same as what you’re doing. There’s a lot of creativity out there.
And if you work to renew your commitment to your topic and your method after every class, you will find that your mastery of online teaching best practices will increase. Keep in mind that you will have bad students, and you will have times you look back and say, wow…I did a horrible job teaching that class. Instead of dreading it, learn from it! Nobody starts as a pro, and even after 2 years, I make mistakes quite often.
All these Do’s and Don’ts are quite common sense, so don’t overthink them. Just be your natural self and you will figure everything out with time. And remember…what works for one teacher doesn’t always work for every teacher.