Girl sits at laptop for online learning and rests her pen on her chin

Making the shift to online teaching and learning

Malcolm Hewlett

In the last few weeks all secondary teachers have made the shift from face to face or blended teaching, to teaching full time online. You have probably known your students for a few months, if they have just started secondary school, or longer, if they are in their final year of schooling. Although they have been in your classes, you will now realise you know some better than others. Up until now you may have designed learning in a linear fashion, working through a unit of work or an inquiry and finishing with an assessment, that everybody completed in class together at more or less the same time. You could see who was keeping up and who was slipping behind. Or could you?

As you have shifted to full time online teaching you have had an opportunity to reflect on what works for learners in a different environment or context and “keeping up” may look very different. These changes have forced teachers to act quickly to support not only students but their whānau as they have suddenly become support “teachers”.

Learners in Charge

The dynamics have changed not only for teachers but also for learners. Many learners have realised that they have much more control and, in many instances, more agency over their learning lives. There’s no detention if they are late to a scheduled meet up or don’t turn up at all! Some students are just difficult to find and connect with, no matter what techniques and methodologies you use. So, learning online is just as different for students as it is for their teachers. Now learners can decide how many hours they may spend on school work and when they spend those hours. They decide where to put their effort. And they don’t necessarily treat each subject with the same allocation of time as they have to when their day is controlled by the school timetable.

The role of the teacher in online teaching and learning

There are many similarities of effective pedagogy in online teaching as there are in face to face. Just as the features of a classroom don’t guarantee that learning is effective or engaging, the same applies to online platforms. Teaching online means you should think about what strategies you use face to face that convert easily to an online setting and what different approaches you might now use.

One of the key considerations is how you and your students can interact, with you, with each other and with the content and context you are asking them to engage in. This is very different in an online environment. Covid-19 has given teachers an opportunity to innovate with different ways of connecting with students. Some of these innovations may be useful when you return to teaching face to face. Many of our young people are already adept at interacting online and this crisis has given them an opportunity to teach teachers and introduce them to a world in which they are confident participants.

Platforms for online teaching and communication

There are a multitude of interactive web platforms to engage students but the most common ones being used by Aotearoa / New Zealand teachers are:

  • Microsoft Teams
  • Zoom
  • Google Hangouts Meet

There is lots of advice on the web by New Zealand educators on how to use these platforms effectively. How you use live webinars will often elicit particular responses by participants. In Zoom you have the option of putting students into breakout rooms; all allow you to have a chat function running as you connect. A future blog will focus on effective live interactive engagement.

As well as platforms for maintaining communication with your learners like the ones above, One of the things that can help make shifting to online learning a lot easier, is the use of a learning management platform which can help with developing both student agency and clear communication with students. Using LearnWell Digital resources means you can organise content so learners can progress at their own pace. You can see exactly where each student is at, and give them instant feedback on their work.

Equity – access for all to learning

Not all students will find learning online straightforward. So what have you been able to do to work with those students? What is going on in these young peoples’ lives that may be a barrier to their engagement? A recent research project: School-led learning at home: The voices of parents of Maori and Pasifika students reports on a survey that sought the views of whānau/parents of Māori and Pasifika students on their experiences of the first week of school-led learning at home. As a teacher you may have to build into your programme consideration of equity and access so all students in your care have opportunities to succeed.

What do you want your learners to achieve?

As you think about what you want your students to achieve there are some key things to think about:

  • What are your expectations of your learners?  Is it the same for year 9 and 10 as it is for years 11,12 and 13?
  • Remember, you are not with them and therefore cannot assume full adult support.
  • How independent are your students in their learning? (What assumptions are you making as you answer this question?)
  • What resources do they have access to at home?
  • Consuming is easy, how do you get students creating?

If you are not confident at planning online LearnWell Digital resources may give you ready made content that is designed for online learning and is based on the New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA. Shifting to online teaching gives you the opportunity to rethink what resources you can access for your students while working from home, but that can also be continued in a blended way when you return to face to face teaching and learning or a mixture of both.

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