COVID-19 is driving everything online, be it work, work-outs or social events so it was only a matter of time before Australia's education system also transitioned to an online medium. Having been a distance education student myself, and now a distance education teacher with Australian Christian College, the transition to online education was very natural for me.
I recognise, though, that I may be the exception. I have seen multiple reports of teachers and educators feeling nervous or facing difficulties with the transition. These top-notch teachers have quickly realised that delivering education online is not the same as in-person. A different approach is required. Below are some tips on how teachers and educators can succeed when teaching online.
Just like you would have an orientation day when students first arrive at school, I recommend hosting an online orientation to take students through the new processes and structures your school has put in place. Facilitate training with students on general academic expectations during this period, including how interacting online for school is different from interacting online socially. If you can, it is beneficial to also briefly train parents on strategies to help students to succeed and tools for online safety.
For many students, online learning will be a very new experience and may feel isolating and unproductive at first. A way to counteract this is to assign a supervisory or buddy teacher to each year level or homeroom class. The role of the supervisory teacher is to keep an eye on the student and ensure they are working to the best of their ability, validating the change and offering solutions for moving forward. If students don’t feel they have an organised workspace or structured timetable then they quickly become unaccountable for their work, so having a supervisory teacher to check in with the student will help them become more productive on days where they may be lacking motivation.
A key to delivering education online is to have a universal structure. When each lesson has the same format there is no room for confusion for students. This ensures the expectations of the students are set clearly and followed consistently with each lesson. Instructional teaching is absolutely vital to online teaching success, and lesson structure plays a big role in that. Having a universal structure will also help the students to model this behaviour for their own time management.
A common format I use for lessons is:
- Outline the goal of the lesson
- Then show a video of the main concept/idea the lesson will address, which attempts to connect personally through an anecdote or humour as well as contextualise the lesson
- Then assign a learning tasks to the students and optional extension tasks
- Finish the lesson with a small test that reviews the content just learnt - autograded where possible - or some system of ‘checking in’ that encourages accountability (and lets you track progress!)
One vital part of teaching online is the use of video rather than text. Text can be overwhelming for students and they can often feel quite lost when presented with large bodies of it, especially if they are new to online learning. I strongly recommend using video to connect with students and make the learning interaction more personal. Video can also help reduce marking load, as you can make generic ones that provide students comments and encourage them to refer to the video for further advice.
Build support networks, reach out to teaching associations, use the myriad of tools made available free of charge. If you’re teaching in an area with little funding, or in differentiated learning, see if you can buddy with a teacher or head of school to share the load. Aside from state administrative teams and websites like TeachStarter (primary) or textbook companies, there’s lots out there. This list of resources might fit some opening activities as you build a more detailed curriculum.
Just because you cannot interact in person doesn't mean you can’t keep your lessons interactive. Make use of the various online resources available to you that promote students engaging in lessons. A personal favourite of mine is Kahoot, which I often use at the beginning of lessons to promote students logging into webinars on time.
While there is a difference between how we teach when in the classroom and online, at the end of the day our fundamental role as teachers and educators never changes. In many ways this cultural reset for education is a good time for teachers to think about the heart of their subjects, whether it be English where we’re teaching how to communicate, interpret and express; or Science where we’re working with students to investigate the world and test observations.
Take this time where we are teaching online as a chance to rediscover the privilege of education, away from some of the stereotypes and the stresses of being in the classroom. Let it be a time to engage different senses, for example measuring small outside shadows with pythagoras, or interviewing a relative (by phone) to connect in a real way with historical context. Education is a privilege. Sometimes our classroom students forget this in the press of social anxiety, rushed schedules, and bells that interrupt practicals. May we use this time to reignite a passion for learning that sees our students come back brimming with enthusiasm over the things they’ve learned - while using technology to minimise our own burnout.
Rachel Law is a distance education teacher at Australian Christian College.