Most of my friends and colleagues who are working in international schools in China are dealing with long-term, indefinite school closures. And, here in Bangkok, schools are getting prepared for potential interruptions as well. But, of course, that doesn’t mean we stop teaching and learning.
Like many of my techie enthusiast colleagues around the world, I’ve been teaching in a blended learning environment (for students, teachers and parents) since the time when I had to create all my classroom websites with Dreamweaver (so glad those sites are looooong gone). Online learning isn’t new, but the scale of its implementation in schools consistently seems to be a struggle.
Most of the year, we’re content with posting assignments and resources on a learning management system and calling that “blended learning.” As long as parents and students have access to assignments and the resources to get them done, we feel like we’re doing our job. However, when we have big emergencies like this, schools begin to recognize that blended learning should be a part of everyday learning, so that when we need to go into online learning mode, it’s not totally new (and totally confusing for everyone).
As a teacher, I’ve been through this many times, most recently during the Great East Japan Earthquake that closed schools all around Japan for several weeks. As the CEO of Eduro Learning, I’m working in an online learning environment every single day. From the actual internal structure of our team meetings (since we are physically located in 4 separate countries across multiple contents and a distance of 15 hours by time zone), to the products we offer, online learning is in our DNA.
At Eduro, we have been developing, refining and improving the online learning experience for our participants for over 10 years. We create a personalized learning experience for each participant while still developing shared understandings and providing a variety of options to truly engage with and demonstrate learning. From COETAIL, to The Coach, to our shorter-duration online courses and MastermindEd, our goal is to create the best possible learning experience for our participants.
As teachers and school leaders who are now in crisis mode, I know you want the same for your students. So, I thought it would be worth sharing some key tips and strategies that make our online learning experiences so successful with our participants.
Here are a few things we always think about when we’re designing our online learning opportunities (and these are the always the areas that get positive feedback from our participants):
We like to use videos we create ourselves to pull together big themes and then link external resources (articles, websites, images, videos, podcasts, books, etc) that help enhance that content and allow participants to dig deeper. The key here is that not every student is going to prefer to access the content the same way, so the more avenues as you can provide “in” to the learning, the more likely they will connect with it. The video provides the personal connection, the pathway through the content, and the context that students need to make sense of what’s shared.
For every module of learning, we provide a variety of challenges and action tasks for participants to engage in their learning, and then demonstrate what they’ve learned. When we’re asking students to work “on their own time” (which I understand is likely technically during the normal school day, but it’s also competing with all their other, possibly more fun, interests right there in the home with them), the more opportunities they have to find a task that resonates with them, and the more likely they’ll take it seriously.
The hardest missing piece to recreate in an online learning environment is that feeling of being part of a learning community. When we’re in the classroom we can see everyone else, watch the reactions on their faces, and hear the murmur of students working. When students are sitting at home, alone, not only is it isolating, but they no longer have a yardstick to be able to measure their effort, attitude and attention to the task at hand. In our courses, we make sure to identify opportunities for participants to connect with each other, by expectations to responding to other participants work, or creating a shared hashtag for public posts, or holding real-time conversations so we can all check in and see each other.
When students are learning from home, we have the benefit of being “outside” the classroom. In some cases (particularly right now, for those who might be quarantined at home) they might not be able to actually leave the home, but many families might be traveling in an area that provides them lots of external interest. How can you create opportunities for (depending on age level) parents and their children to take advantage of this time together?
Given the state of the situation right now, your students are not the only ones going through this challenging time. Instead of keeping the audience for student work in a digital space that only others in this particular class will see, maybe now is a great time to connect with another class and build opportunities for some authentic virtual collaboration and sharing of learning over time.
Particularly for older students (and possibly for parents of younger students), make sure to have a specifically outlined time of day when you will be available online for any questions or concerns. If your school sets standardized office hours, that’s even better. The important part is that your learners know when they can get your support (and so do their parents).
The key is to think differently about how you teach, and what you now have access to. It’s likely a 45m video lecture is not going to be super successful (and even less promising would be an expectation that students sit at home watching teachers lecture in real time as if the school day were still in session). Now is the time to take advantage of everything that technology has to offer, to think about how you can create an engaging and empowering learning opportunity with all the tools your students have access to, right there in their homes. Check this ongoing list compiled by teachers in the region for great tools you can use!
If you’re still looking for more ideas, here are some other things to think about:
Even though this is a stressful time for many teachers in the Asia region, you’re not alone in learning how to engage students in an online environment. I know there are educators connecting on social media and sharing strategies. We’re hosting a #coachbetter podcast this week with a roundtable of teachers and coaches. And of course, there are educators around the world who have been doing this with their classes for a long time. Maybe now is a great time to reach out and connect with others. What a great way to demonstrate growth mindedness for your students and other colleagues, and take this as an opportunity for growth (rather than just a frustrating obstacle).
Feature Image Attribution: Wuhan New Corona Virus, public domain on Flickr
Post Image Attributions:
Less than a week until The Coach registration opens, by superkimbo, Creative Commons Licensed on Flickr