Online teaching CAN replace ‘the real thing’
- Advice for teachers working online under Coronavirus school closures
I read this article this morning, from a teacher in quarantine in Italy, teaching her students online and facing a set of common struggles. A lot of teachers are dealing with this unavoidable change at the moment, so here are some words of advice and encouragement to help you to adapt to online teaching:
1) Don’t view online teaching as second best
The first thing that got me thinking was the title of the article: to say ‘e-learning is no substitute for the real thing’ implies that ‘the real thing’ involves standing in front of the class, doing what you have always done. Let’s flip that assumption, and redefine ‘the real thing’ as ‘finding the best way to educate the students in your class’. Not all education involves doing only what you always do (think field trips, work placements, lab work…), so be ready to change what you do for the best of the students in their new study setting.
Idea: Take a step back, and think where your students are physically studying. Think about how they will be viewing / interacting with you and your teaching for the coming weeks. Think about your own environment and the time and resources you have to hand. Do some research into the different platforms and learning tools you can use, and match them to the preferred ways of doing things online.
2) Adapt to meet the new learning mode
Change how you approach your work - online education requires a whole different set of tools and approaches, so working with toilet rolls and jam jars may be effective in the live classroom, but perhaps not when students are working at a distance. I admire this teacher’s dedication, but a lot of time can be saved by rethinking how to present the topics she has been teaching for the online mode.
Remember, as an online teacher you have the entire internet at your disposal, so find online resources which can do the same job better for your learners via their tablets, computers or phones, design engaging tasks based on discovery of content and you will save yourself A LOT of time and stress (and gluey fingers!).
Idea: Rather than spending hours modelling and creating physical resources which will only get watched for a matter of minutes by your students, design a webquest where the learners have to find out the information for themselves. Direct them to videos, animations, infographics and other learning tools which they can research to piece together the topic you are presenting. This will give them something to bring to any face-to-face sessions you have, and engage them more in what they are doing.
3) Engage with your students’ parents
If you are teaching kids or pre-teens, get the message out to the parents about how you will be working with their kids. As the article suggests, most kids studying from home will also have parents or grandparents at home with them, so get them involved! Having a guardian there for face-to-face study time, and to help students with their asynchronous (independent) work will add motivation and reassure everyone that they are working in a good way.
Idea: Create a study calendar for the weeks you know will be spent studying online. Assign independent study time (with online / independent / collaborative tasks for students and parents) and follow this timetable up in every session face-to-face session that you lead.
4) Make the most of your students’ social media addictions!
If you are teaching older students or teens, the chances are that they will be dividing most of their ‘study time’ between your sessions, schoolwork and facebook/Tiktok/twitter/insta/whatsapp… (pick the platform of the week). Use this as a study tool, and build on it by introducing other platforms such as slack, padlet or many others. These apps enable learners to interact, post, share and collect items they find or create online, and can act as a private space for them to work in groups away from your prying eyes.
Idea: Ask learners to generate collections of images, videos and information based around the topic they are studying, or to answer questions you set, and present them to you in a face-to-face session, led by them. Develop their ideas with further questions or input, based on the curriculum you are using.
Overall, to make the most of your online work, take a step back and be prepared to adapt what you do. The resources are out there (usually for free) if you know where to find them, so rework your great ideas and think about how you can get your learners working online proactively, saving you time, headspace and stress along the way.
Good luck and stay strong - this situation will not last forever, but can be an opportunity for you to develop new methodologies which will last into your future teaching.
Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.