Over the last three weeks there has been a lot of confusion about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the shutdowns introduced by the federal government, and the role schools play in all this. To stay open or not to stay open, that has been the question (apologies to Shakespeare for that one). However, as the data we made public last week has shown, schools across Australia have seen a massive rise in absences, reflecting an attitude shift among parents and carers throughout the country: you might not close, but our kids aren’t going in.
In these extraordinary circumstances, having a plan for teaching remotely in place is sensible, regardless of the current status regarding school closures in your state or territory. We’re immensely proud to have helped many of our schools get set up with our Learning Tasks module for remotely distributing educational content through Compass. We've also done a lot of work to ensure our schools are skilled up on using Compass alongside a range of video conferencing tools including Zoom, Google Hangouts and Webex. Smoothing out those tricky techy things is essential to having that plan in place.
The technical side is only half of the picture though, the other half is making online teaching actually work. With that in mind, we’ve put together our top three do’s and don'ts for getting your online classroom up and running.
As we all know, times are really tough right now and adjusting to online learning is going to be a challenge for even your best behaved students. Learning at home will bring a whole new set of distractions they wouldn’t otherwise have in the classroom, so it’s important to remember to ease your students into this new state of affairs. In practice, this means setting a reasonable amount of work to begin with and constantly checking in on how your students are handling it. It also means ensuring students are able to connect with one another, so that they’re not just sitting behind screens working (or not) on tasks every minute of the day.
This should be obvious but you’d be surprised, so to be clear: just because you aren’t in the office or the classroom, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working ‘office hours’. If a student (or parent or carer) needs to ask a question about some work you’ve assigned, or even needs to talk to you about a wellbeing issue (this won’t end outside the school gates), and it’s during a time they would be able to talk to you during an ‘ordinary’ school day, you should be there for them. Arguably now more than ever.
Be clear about learning objectives
Perhaps one of the biggest pedagogical challenges posed by teaching online is ensuring students still have a bigger picture available to them. Simply assigning work and waiting for them to submit it is going to result in burnout, especially if closures last for an extended period of time: your students won’t really understand why they’re working on what they’re working on, and distractions will become even more common. By clearly identifying objectives and outcomes, and updating students on their performance, they know that they’re working towards something with an eventual goal.
Use technology you’re unfamiliar with
Yes, during this time we’re all trying out new apps and programs - even grandparents are hopping on to Zoom or Houseparty. But your online classroom is not the place to suddenly try out some new tech you’ve just heard about, no matter how useful it sounds. If you do find something that you think your students will benefit from, discuss it with your colleagues and school leadership before actually trying it out. You’ll thank us later.
Work outside of your usual hours (within reason)
We’re stating the obvious here, but of course as a teacher you’re used to working far more than your ‘usual hours’. And yes, we’ve said you should be accessible to students and parents and carers. But it’s also really important that you set up a boundary between ‘work’ and ‘home’ when you’re working from home. This doesn’t mean slacking off, it just means if you receive a non-urgent email at 8.30pm you shouldn’t feel the need to rush to respond to it. Remember, time for self-care is vital right now!
Let the students take control
In order to make this process work, it’s going to be really important that you’re checking in with your students and getting their feedback: how are they feeling, how’s the work going, could they do with any additional help? Your leadership and direction is still needed however: your classroom might be remote, but this isn’t self-directed learning. Giving students too much input into how things are operated will eventually lead them to lose sight of the learning objectives you should be putting front and centre.