One size does not fit all in online teaching and learning

One size does not fit all in online teaching and learning

Alex MacCreadie

In the wake of the COVID-19 lock down in New Zealand, teachers are being given the enormous task of preparing online content for students. But it is the change in pedagogy that will be the bigger challenge.

I thought it might be helpful to offer some thoughts for teachers as they prepare to get over the initial emergency response and think about more purposeful online teaching and learning.

Plan, plan, plan

Your students haven’t changed their personalities while being at home. The needy ‘look at me’ student will be the same online as they were in class. The ‘motivate me’ student will still need motivating. You need to manage your students accordingly: Who needs to be contacted only every couple of days? Who needs constant attention? Start by making a contact plan for groups of students. This will help you make sense of your workload, as well as who you give personal attention to and when. Remember that these are stressful times, so keep asking your students how they are and whether they are getting what they need.

Be visible

Being in the course is essential. Be visible and express your personality with pictures and messages that give a sense of your personality. (Keep it appropriate, though – don’t lose your judgement!). Your students need you and need to know you are there. Read their messages and make sure you respond. This has a huge influence on motivation for students to learn. You don’t have to respond immediately, but do respond.

It can be easy to spend all your time responding to students’ messages and not get anything else done. One way to manage this is to set a daily time for responding to messages.

One size does not fit all!

Every home is different

All online experiences are not equal. You might have considered who has a computer and the internet at home, but a number of factors will influence students’ ability to learn. I’ll list some examples to get you thinking:

  • I have a device, but mum and dad want to limit my screen time.
  • I have a device, but I have to share with my brother, who is also studying.
  • I have a device, but our modem is old, and mum and dad are also online working. This affects when and how well I can access material online.
  • I have a device, but nowhere quiet to work.
  • Education just isn’t a priority at the moment.

When the lockdown happened, teachers and schools lost the consistent 6 hours per day of learning in a place where every student had the same opportunity. Now students are at home, they don’t have these dedicated hours, and this is often out of their control. Make sure your expectations match your students’ reality. Be realistic and limit the amount of work you set students. They may be able to do more, but for many, more than a couple of hours will be a challenge, and some will be anxious about falling behind. It’s important to try and keep the class together at a consistent pace. Think about how you will tie it all together when schools open again.

Make video conferencing work for everyone

You may be deciding to use Teams or Zoom and set up a video conference for your class, but I guarantee not all students will be able to attend. You need to consider what effect this will have on them. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing. If a student is already anxious about their learning and they miss the meeting, this may cause more anxiety and stress in the household. People’s different internet connections (including your own!) will also affect your ability to have everyone in a video conference. Please understand that classroom timetables are a nonsense when teaching online.

Rather than thinking you will continue as you always have, but using video conferences, you could try recording a video for students to watch in their own time or scheduling small group conferences. Alternatively, the meeting could be a social time to stay connected rather than about learning.

Assessment still rules

Not the big summative assessments, but lots of little formatives ones. Assessment is a great tool for maintaining motivation and showing you value your students’ effort. Providing feedback on small tasks will break up the learning and keep it more manageable. These small tasks provide markers for students to see their progress, which is especially important when students are missing the conversations with you and their peers. Online education can be lonely, and making sure students know how they are going is even more important than in a face-to-face context.  


Try and think about your students’ whole environments. Not everything has to be done on a computer. Think about what students have at home and how can this be used for learning. Here are some ideas:

  • Teach statistics through a game of hopscotch.
  • Use baking as a science experiment.
  • Talk to a whānau member about a character in a book from home.
  • Make a play using characters from a book at home.
  • Write about an experience while at home.
  • Map neighbourhood teddy bears in windows for patterns in geography.

Look after yourself

Lastly, remember you have a life too. You can only do your best and this is a crisis. Taking a breath and giving yourself a break will be the most important things you can do. This will pass and you will get back to school. The goal is keeping your class together, providing support for students, and maybe learning some new skills. Keep your sense of humour – it will make a difference for you and your students’ sanity.

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