Physical classrooms and face to face teaching time have irreplaceable value. But with strange times come extreme measures. To protect our public health and safety we need to get a bit more creative about education access.
Whether you are in the midst of a school shutdown or preparing for a hybrid environment, online learning can facilitate continued education for everyone. Fortunately in the age of abundant web technology, remote learning is not just possible, it can also provide a creative, thoughtful and fun learning experience for your whole class.
But there remains a lot of organization to ensure that the ensuing online learning system is not just functional, but will also allow your students to thrive in a dramatically new learning environment.
In this article, we will explore:
- How can you prepare students and staff for the switch to remote learning?
- Successful remote learning strategies for teachers.
- Essential edtech tools for online learning.
This is our guide to getting started with remote learning:
How to prepare for remote learning and school shutdown
Remote learning is an exercise in efficient communication and quality edtech applications. Here is how you can prepare your school to make the best of both:
Assess the tech resources students can access at home
In a remote learning situation, each of your students will need access to a reliable, wifi-enabled device. In a perfect world, you already run a 1:1 device program, so this is accounted for. However, in the likely event that this is not the case, it’s important to work out how you can provide device access for everyone.
Do you have enough portable devices at school to loan out to students? If not then you can investigate whether some students may have laptops or computers at home which could function as their online access point. If you have the time it may be best to get this information from parents rather than students themselves, to ensure that personal computers are in working order and won’t be needed for something else (such as parents working from home).
Once devices have been allocated you can also look into providing other necessary equipment such as a mouse, headphones and keyboards. If you are loaning out devices make sure that they each have the correct charging cables and are in good working order.
Don’t forget to also investigate student internet access. There may be some students unable to access an internet connection at home and will need alternative strategies if online working will be difficult for them.
Across the 🌎 school districts and their teachers have been battling to maintain #educationalaccess in the face of unprecedented circumstances. 🎓 We caught up with Tom Gavin of Colonial District to learn all about their #remotelearning plan: https://t.co/ukRdZc2LBi
— Kami (@usekamiapp) July 14, 2020
Make sure teaching staff have everything they need
In a similar vein, teachers will also need to have reliable technology at their disposal. If there is time, getting the IT department to give all teacher laptops a once over to ensure they are in good working order could help mitigate any issues during remote learning.
On top of technology, ensure staff have access to all the resources and any content they will need to conduct their lessons. It’s best to think as long term as is feasible here in case shutdown is longer than expected.
Set up an online learning hub
Remote learning means no more physical classroom for students to go to and receive content, instruction and work – so there needs to be an online equivalent.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Google Classroom or Schoology are a game-changer in this regard. Easy to set up and to use, they provide a central online location where basic content such as calendars and course guides can be stored. Furthermore, each teacher has their own class section from which they can distribute work and assignments. This means students can easily keep track of their assigned school work and have a quick and easy way to turn in assignments. For teachers, it provides much-needed visibility over who has completed what and a central place to conduct grading.
Get everybody set up on a chosen LMS as soon as possible. If there is time, dedicate some lesson sections to having students and teachers get acquainted with the functionality so they will be comfortable with the format once at home.
Get to grips with your edtech applications
Unless you intend to have students simply read ebooks at home (which we don’t recommend) you’re going to need some online methods to deliver lessons and bring the content to life. In the age of edtech apps this is not just possible, it can also be a great opportunity to get creative with technology. (We will look at some recommended apps a bit later).
Once you have decided on the key app selection, get everybody set up with logins and or installation ASAP. A speedy way to do this could be to have students bring their devices to school and have everybody set up their app access together. This gives teachers or IT staff some time to troubleshoot, and it can also be a good way to do some initial briefings on the apps and how they will be used.
It’s an obvious one but also the most essential – communicate clearly and as much as possible. Teachers, parents, and students all need to understand what the remote learning goals and expectations are and how they can best achieve them. Patience and a good dollop of empathy are required here to help everyone get comfortable with the new regime and manage any challenges along the way.
6 remote learning strategies
Once you have your preparation done, or as done as it can be, what strategies can educators put in place to actually run their remote learning environment?
1.Organize everyone’s time
Structure is important when it comes to education. Without school bells and clear lesson times, students at home are going to need some guidance to organize their time. Providing weekly and daily plans will guide students through their online learning and also give parents an idea of what should be happening throughout the day. Creating a simple timetable detailing assignments, deadlines and time estimates for completion are a great way to display this information. Once made you can also post it into your LMS so it is accessible all the time and cannot be lost in an email chain.
There are a few things to be aware of here. Firstly, don’t feel too tied to your school timetable for making remote learning plans. It may be a good guideline, especially for high school students who are taught by many different teachers. However, receiving daily work and deadlines for many different subjects, each with their own applications and hand in requirements, can easily get overwhelming. Instead, it could be easier to create simpler subject divisions such as assigning a day of the week to each school subject. This organization is something that will likely be different for each school and even every classroom. But it’s important to find a structure that works for your particular situation, so don’t be afraid to mix things up and change plans as you go – there is no right or wrong way to do this!
Secondly, it can be tempting to try and make up for the lack of face-to-face time by ramping up the volume of work. But more work is often just that: more work and can actually prevent students from digging into subjects of interest or stopping to fully understand aspects they find difficult. Try to be mindful of pacing and emphasize quality thinking tasks that allow students to get creative or really delve into topics. This is a great opportunity to teach students how to self-motivate and take charge of their own learning- use it.
2. Get face to face time where possible
Remote learning offers lots of time for quiet study, but it’s still important to build in social time where possible. Video calls can be a great way to check-in with your class as a whole and continue to nurture student support relationships. If you are all on the same time zone, try allotting a time for a whole class check in once a day. If the internet connection allows, try to get everyone’s camera on so you can communicate face to face and relay news, issues or thoughts about learning for that day.
Video calls can also be a good way to communicate with students individually. Emails and instant messages are useful quick communication channels but sometimes there is just no beating a face-to-face chat – even if it is virtual.
3. Feedback and checking in
The secret to a good remote learning environment is communication. Without being able to physically interact with your students you are going to have to be present in as many other ways as possible. Instant messaging can be a good way to field questions as they come in and check in on how individuals are doing. Thorough grading and providing personal feedback on completed work will also be an essential part of facilitating learning. Some apps such as Kami or Google Docs also give you the ability to check in on students’ progress as they are completing work. You can add comments and have them reply within the file to prompt for more information or simply share some positivity.
Interacting with students individually may actually give you more insight into how each one learns and create an even better working relationship with your class. That being said, remember that you cannot monitor every single student all the time. Regularly check-in but also make it clear that you trust them to take responsibility for their own progress. You are a support and a guide, not a surveillance service.
4. Collaboration not isolation
Remote learning can be isolating, something which may impact motivation and concentration. If you are used to working in a classroom environment with group activities and discussions, solitary study is going to be a big change.
In order to minimize any feelings of isolation and also maintain the all-important student support relationships, consider setting projects that involve collaboration. This could be small group projects where pairs of students create a piece of work together, peer grading, or having pupils share presentations to the class via video recordings. Such activities can be facilitated by video chat and collaborative files like Kami, where multiple people can interact together in one file.
New on the Blog: ✨We caught up with JR Renna of @ParklandSchools to learn about his district’s remote learning journey and the future of e-learning.
— Kami (@usekamiapp) August 6, 2020
5. Keep parents in the loop
Parents are an important part of the remote learning puzzle. They are the chief supporters of their children’s online learning, but also need to understand how to fit their child’s education around the needs of the family.
Keep them informed and in the loop as much as possible, but also make your interactions simple and actionable. Maintain the channels of connection that you have previously used (e.g email) to prevent any confusion.
6. Be flexible and ready to adapt
Everyone is learning and there is no ‘right way’ when it comes to shifting your whole school to a remote learning environment. Don’t expect to get everything perfect straight away, instead be diligent about collecting feedback from your students and be prepared to adapt your plan to suit their needs.
Setting up feedback channels with questions such as ‘what is working for you and what is not?’ can help you to see if there are any common challenges and come up with solutions quickly.
Essential remote teaching tools
So what do you need in your tool kit to enable remote learning? Here are our top picks:
Learning Management Systems:
Your online hub is the center of your remote learning strategy so it’s one you need to select carefully.
- Google Classroom: Though technically not an LMS, it does almost everything you will want and more. It’s very easy to learn interface and has the advantage of integrating with many apps and websites.
- Schoology: A top tier LMS that provides flexible options for both assigning and assessing work. It includes features to help time management, teacher feedback and track student progress.
Creating a digital classroom:
To deliver the meat of your lessons and allow students to complete work, collaborate with each other and engage with their lessons, you need to create a digital or virtual classroom environment. These are the key apps that will help:
- Kami: Allows you to take any existing document, including scanned PDFs, and write, draw, type, annotate, comment, augment, enhance, and otherwise bring it to life – all within your browser. Share your document and embed images, comments, audio or video clips to instruct, coach, give feedback and encourage your students as if you were right there in the room.
- Edpuzzle: An intuitive video editor that gives teachers and students the ability to add voice-overs, comments, resources, and quizzes to existing online videos. It makes virtual lesson content engaging and can be paired with questions and comments to empower critical thinking.
For both face to face calls and instant messaging you need some reliable tools to check in and make sure everyone is on track.
- Zoom: Super easy to use and reliable video conferencing software. Students can join by simply clicking a link.
- Google Hangouts: Versatile and simple instant messenger app which works well on all devices.
Gathering student feedback:
Tracking how your online process is working is the best way to perfect the remote learning environment. Setting up tools to collect learner feedback can help synthesize what is working and lead to fast improvements.
- Google Forms: Connected to your Google account, you can create a variety of questions from multiple choice to free typed. It’s easy to check responses, and results can be synthesized into a Google sheet.
- Kami: You can use the full array of Kami PDF editing tools as part of the grading process either after submission, or to collaborate and assist students as they work. Connects to Google Classroom’s grading view.
👋 Learn more
At Kami we see it as our duty to support schools, teachers, and students during this tough shutdown period, and beyond. To learn more about how Kami could help you with remote learning check out our resources here.