Moving education into the virtual world presented many unexpected challenges for schools – and teachers deserve a large portion of the credit for guiding Australian learners through the last 14 months.
According to research from the University of Newcastle, there was a comparatively marginal difference in student achievement from 2019 to 2020, with laureate Professor Jenny Gore (Director of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre) stating students “did not go backward or experience ‘learning loss’.”
With the school year now well underway and classrooms again filled with enthusiastic students, attention turns to merging physical and digital classrooms, and converting short-term fixes into permanent, blended learning experiences for all learners.
The study reveals that despite misconceptions around online learning, remote education works when done right.
So how can teachers, and school leaders more broadly, cohesively combine a digital experience with that of the classroom? Here’s what to consider when blending the learning experience for your students:
1. Engagement in the digital realm
Whether in primary or high school, students rely on recurring discussion with an ‘ever-present’ teacher and their peers.
Text and video feedback offer methods for engaging learners proactively (and before their wellbeing or performance has suffered) as they move through their learning journey, and can supplement or transform existing assessment and testing models.
Students will be more engaged and better motivated to interact with course content if their teacher is asking their opinion as they deliver a curriculum – provoking conversations and challenging their contributions to foster deeper discussions.
Online learning can also extend this feedback loop into peer collaboration groups, allowing learners to progressively review and help each otherwhile at the same time developing various soft skills.
For example, learning materials should be provided in multiple formats – from labs to video to text – to provide alternative learning paths and increased accessibility to tailor for the individual needs of each student.
2. Be available, present, and persistent
It is imperative that students remain well-informed about when you are available for both synchronous virtual office hours, as well as asynchronous engagements beyond the typical school day. Similarly, teachers can take on an increasingly impactful role by staying active within the course and frequently checking message boards, grading, moderating discussions, and providing feedback.
While emails provide a useful means for basic communication with teachers and among students outside the classroom, it’s important to create a digital community so that engagement isn’t limited or inherently prohibitive. Learners should be encouraged to share their perspective and information with each other on a consistent basis within discussion forums and activity feeds.
Social media offers an additional layer of engagement for older and more mature students, while including their critical voices to issues-based conversations.
3. Consistent assessment, consistent progress
While assessments are historically associated with the completion of curriculum, online learning provides an inroad to establish closer monitoring of course work on an ongoing basis.
Unlike paper-based marking, advances in technologies – such as learning management systems (LMS) – offer educators the ability to set conditions for content so that learners are required to complete certain tasks before accessing additional content or progressing through a program.
Rather than waiting for end-of-term, teachers gain the opportunity to send encouragement for exceptional work and intervene very early with advice for improvement to those who might be beginning to fall behind. Technology is there to help teachers provide intervention and extension activities to increase online student engagement in a more timely and personalised manner.
4. Celebrate greatness and accomplishments
Virtual classrooms are predominately informal locations – learning occurs anywhere and offers a mesh of planned and sporadic experiences. While providing flexibility, some students may feel lost in the broader group, or as though their contributions and progress are going unnoticed.
It’s important to validate learning, no matter what shape or form it might take. For example, recognising a student watching and responding to a TED Talk, and linking a relevant news source or YouTube video to drive deeper involvement across the board.
The more involved a teacher becomes in the online activities of students, the more these students will feel validated for the learning they are demonstrating.