Author’s Personal Note: I started writing this post about a week ago. When I did, I was full of hope about providing a resource to friends and teachers. Then, as it tends to do, self doubt and panic started to set in. As knowledgeable and experienced as I am about technology and education, I wondered if this post would truly provide the help and incentive that teachers and parents need right now. I decided to take some time and observe the Twitterverse to see what insight it could provide. I noticed that many teachers are already experienced in technological tools and websites, but there current concerns are thus; how do we help our students learn when the world seems to be falling apart? How do we help those who have limited access to technology? While there are giant, systemic issues that are beyond our control, such as State Testing mandates and access to basic needs, there are some things that teachers can do. We can be flexible, and we can have hope.
It’s no surprise to hear that school and office closures have led to some panic and confusion. Many teachers and professors are confused about the new requirements and requests to make their classes and content online, and many parents are left wondering how they are going to teach or entertain their children during these recent mandates. However, there are many fantastic teachers and schools that have shared their own tips and tricks for how they teach effectively online, and how you too can make learning effective, even through a computer screen.
The simplest way that one can teach online is with a camera. Using any kind of telecommunication or streaming service such as Skype, Zoom, GoToWebinar, or Google Hangouts/Meet can bridge the gap between staying at home and delivering content face to face. Even something as simple as a FaceTime session with an individual student can help. Test out the video service for yourself before using it in order to determine what bells and whistles come with the service. For example, GoToWebinar provides organizers and presenters with the ability to share their screen so that the other viewers can see content such as PowerPoint slides, videos, and web searches. Participants can click on a hand raising button to respectfully request to speak, and they can mute their microphones in order to minimize background noise. Make sure you do some test runs to ensure that any technological glitches that can be avoided are avoided.
If you have the means and the tools, this is also a good time to get creative! Some teachers who are experienced in gaming, such as The Tolkien Professor, are using and have used MMORPGs (Online role playing games) to host classes. Students can create a character in the game and can meet in large groups to have class. Students can chat with each other in-game using a microphone system or the chat feature, or teachers can host lectures in a predetermined location in-game with their microphones and field questions using Twitch, Discord, or another chat interface. If you can have fun, why not? For more on MMORPGs and teaching, click here.
Many schools are already partnered with educational tools and programs that teachers use to create content. The following is a list of tools that I have used in the classroom in order to boost participation and deliver content effectively:
However, you must be sure to have clear expectations for your students in order to make sure that they are using these tools effectively. And remember- they are tools, and they are only effective if they are planned for and implemented properly. They do not replace effective content and teaching. What do you want to do with the technology? How do you want students to interact with each other? What should your code of conduct be for polite, respectful conversations? Planning for these moments at the beginning will help your classes run smoothly.
Above all, this is the time to be flexible, not only with your students, but with yourself. Everyone is learning how to adapt at this time, and some teachers have different resources at hand than others. Use the tools that you do have, and don’t worry about completely reinventing your curriculum. Your students are transitioning as well, so now is the time to take a deep breath and evaluate how you can be flexible during this time. Perhaps instead of making daily or weekly assignments, this is the opportunity to do a long project. Ask your students to document their project on a daily or weekly basis in a journal (handwritten or online). What are they exploring? How are they exploring it? How are they testing out their hypotheses? What are their methods?
Many teachers are also exploring the option of creating “Pandemic Journals.” This is an activity that asserts that this COVID-19 pandemic is a “living history” moment, and as a result we can create primary source documents that historians can discover and research in the future. Let them use their daily experiences to inform their writing and ask questions. Use email or text messages to provide prompts to students if they need help thinking of what to write.
Most importantly, be kind and be flexible with yourself. You are learning too. Research ways that you can help your students if you don’t know the answer. Find support groups online that can give you ideas if you are having trouble thinking of one on your own. Take brain breaks and give yourself boundaries. You may not be in a brick and mortar environment, but just because technology is at your fingertips does not mean you have to ALWAYS be available. Create time for yourself, your families, and your health.
If you need additional resources and help through this process, this link is a good place to start. Signum University has many different resources at your disposal, including a new mentor program for teachers and organizations. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.