Tips to maintain excellence in online teaching while addressing learner challenges

When Covid-19 pandemic hit, many schools had to move their operations online for the educational continuity of students. Although e-learning was already prevalent in the industry, this type of online learning in school became a necessity rather than a choice for most students including those who were still too young to spend so much time in front of a laptop screen. 

This was also a challenge for parents who voiced concerns about too much exposure to screens. But, parents also wanted to ensure that their children were not missing out on learning during lockdown stages. 

Online studying can be both challenging and beneficial when done right. Many international schools around the world jumped on the online bandwagon to ensure students did not lose out. Of the international schools in Abu Dhabi, GIIS got permission from the government to run this initiative. 

Here are some steps schools take to keep up their excellence in teaching, as well as helping students learn what is going on in class:

1. Proper planning

Planning for an online class is a necessity. The duration of time spent by students in an online classroom can be long and dreary. It requires the school to become creative with the use of online space and stipulated time to keep the students engaged. Having lectures and break times properly segregated, with ample leeway to students to relax, is a good way to plan these classes.

2. Preparation and Learning the Technology

Teaching classes online requires a certain amount of prior technical knowledge. Most schools have trained their teachers in the use of online platforms and have also provided them with a good device, a stable wifi and trouble-shooting on the platform. An advanced knowledge of technological possibilities will help teachers keep the students engaged even when virtually connected, for better learning and teaching. 

3. Dedicated environment

Online classes can be challenging. It requires more self-discipline for both learners and teachers. Assigning a dedicated workspace within the home is a good way to start. The familiarity of the space usually grows on the students, who get more comfortable with the teachers’ ambience as the teacher is with the students. It is less of a distraction, and more of a strong anchor to keep everyone engaged. Avoiding other distractions - like family members, household chores, loud music, television - is also easier this way.

4. Communication

A classroom environment, whether online or offline, demands one hundred percent communication from teachers as well as students. Taking up and encouraging innovative and interesting discussions can help hold up the interest and morale of the class. Participation and involvement from students can be in the form of making them read out loud, assigning partners for online classroom discussions, and playing audio-visual elements for better engagement. This encourages students to participate more. Asking for their feedback would also help improve the classroom environment in the long run, by adapting newer methods of teaching. 

5. Ways to motivate learners

All students have different learning styles and speeds. The main focus of a teacher is to make sure the students get through the class without the physical reassurance that comes along with the presence of a teacher. Motivation is a key factor for these students. Maybe a few extra points or some time off can be awarded for punctual submissions and correct answers. Deadlines and a reward system both work brilliantly to push the unmotivated students forward. 

These methods can increase excellence in classroom teaching, but management of the learners will still be a different ball game altogether. There are many types of learners who will not make an online classroom a cakewalk. 

There are those who are totally engaged in the online activities by being an eager participant. Others will be shy, distracted or uninterested. For such learners, here are some ways to make the learning process interesting:

1. Consider what learners want

Not all students will be receptive to the concept of online learning. There will be many questions like will the teacher listen to me, will the teacher help me, will they allow me to talk in an online class etc. All these questions and doubts should be anticipated and dealt with by the teacher in every class. Making every student feel part of the whole is an important part of running a successful online classroom. It would help if the teacher looks past the initial struggles and is observant enough to learn from student behaviour to adapt to the circumstances. Only then will they be able to keep the learners engaged.

2. Adapt

Learning to translate the classroom teaching style to a virtual teaching style is important for any teacher. The requirements of an online classroom are very different from those of a physical classroom, where student reactions are quickly visible to the teacher in a single glance. This is not possible in an online classroom. The teacher needs to train themselves to adjust to the new realities and adapt their style to an online version, so that students stay as involved in the classroom activities as always. For eg: A whiteboard lesson may not have the same impact online, so the teacher can use an interactive whiteboard or audio/video elements to say the same thing in a different manner. Short videos go a long way in keeping students engaged. A short discussion on the video afterwards will also help in exchange of ideas. Students will learn and be involved in such activities better. 

3. Engage

Engaging with students who are challenging and vocal in the classroom, is a good way to keep the conversations going and keeping disruptions to a minimum. It will also allow the rest of the students to lose their inhibitions and participate in the classroom activities. Teachers can encourage vocal students to speak more. A debate will encourage other learners to voice their opinions, explore their own ideas and follow a thought process. Teachers can appreciate the engagement at the end of the class and call for more such sessions in the future. All the while, teachers should maintain calm, be caring and empathetic to the views and opinions expressed by the students and take pains to see that no one is discouraged or beaten down for having an opinion. 

4. Careful group communication

Group communication can be set up on multiple online platforms at predetermined times. This helps to provide support to students who are not comfortable speaking out in class, to address individual issues, and to hold parent-teacher conferences.

5. Student takeover

A teacher can allow the occasional student takeover for certain assignments in the class. This way one student, or a group of students, can be assigned a specific chapter or two. They have to carefully read up on it, research it, and understand it. Then they take over for that part of the subject and explain it to the class, teaching them everything necessary, and fielding doubts and questions.

It can also be done in the form of putting up a few questions, then letting the students answer them, explain them to each other, and maybe even hold a debate or discussion amongst themselves for that class.

Teachers can conduct a few classroom activities to encourage the students to participate. Subject-related games are always fun for learners. The classroom can also be split into groups so the students can work together and enjoy themselves while they’re trying to get to a solution.

All these methods, combined with a proper use of available resources like clips, videos, photos, presentations and other information, can keep the online class vibrant and dynamic. There is more output to be gathered from such a class and more excellence to be gained through such education. 

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