The privacy of the students, the planning of the classes or the choice of the tools to use are some of the aspects to take into account so that distance training is a success. The professor, trainer and researcher brings together a set of advice for teachers and educational centers that have been forced to implement distance learning and online classes in record time as a result of COVID-19.
Over the last few years I have been able to experience distance education from various roles: as an ICT coordinator, as an online teacher and with the delivery of various online distance training courses for teachers. I have also experienced ‘online learning’ from the other side, as a master’s student and, finally, I have participated in a multitude of connections with my students, encompassed in the Skype in the Classroom initiative. However, we have never experienced a situation similar to the current one, in which we have had to adapt face-to-face education to the virtual environment in record time.
The response of schools
The situation caused by COVID-19 has exposed many educational institutions without an emergency protocol for the continuity of online teaching. And, therefore, it has demonstrated the lack of digital competence both on the part of teachers (not all), and of students. It has been found that the majority of students are digitally competent but, in many cases, only with the tools they use in their day-to-day lives. On the other hand, some of them do not master tasks as common as sending emails with a certain formality, participating in discussion forums or preparing documents in word processors.
We have seen that different strategies have been implemented in the face of the suspension of face-to-face classes, depending on the decisions made by the administrations and the means available to each educational center. From schools offering Highschool Tutoring Etobicoke sessions at all stages of education to educational centers where teachers prepare assignments and family managers return them to them, once they have been completed, by email or instant messaging services.
How to prepare and carry out online classes
With the extension of the suspension of classes, many teachers will have to join the online teaching. To do it successfully, this involves several steps to follow:
- Analysis and prior pedagogical planning.
- Provision of infrastructure and materials (networks, hardware and software).
- Training of teachers, students and families.
- Creation of material adapted to the online model.
- Pilot tests to test the project.
- Analysis of improvement aspects.
- Introducing improvements and retesting.
And all this must be done in a loop, since it is a continuous process of improvement.
But in this unexpected situation, is it feasible to follow all the previous steps? It seems quite complicated. Even so, it would be necessary to try to skip only the necessary ones, derived from this extreme situation.
Strategy of the educational center for online teaching
I am going to put together some general tips to keep in mind, before launching into teaching online classes:
Regarding the educational administration on which the teacher depends: if he belongs to a publicly owned center, he must follow the instructions set by the administration since, depending on the autonomous community, the relevant Ministry will have made some tools available to the teaching staff or others.
Regarding the faculty of the educational center: choice of available tools depending on the specific context, according to students, available media, educational levels, digital competence of both the teachers and the students and families. On the other hand, we must agree on the educational strategies to implement, teacher training needs, planning of tasks to be carried out by students to avoid excess homework, communication with families, adaptation of evaluation criteria, etc.
Regarding the privacy of students: seek a balance between not harming our students at an educational level but also not doing it at the level of data privacy. We must review digital tools before introducing them into the classroom. It is very important that we check the privacy policies and, in addition, we can use the Common Sense search engine that shows the privacy evaluations that have been made of many educational apps. Another interesting option is, whenever we can, use apps through the option of users without registration, through a link or guest code. Let’s not forget that despite the exceptional state in which we live today,
Virtual classes for each teacher
Once we have established the strategies to follow at a collective level and with the choice of tools to be used already specified, we can move on to focus on the aspects to take into account so that our distance classes are successful:
- Plan the session in advance, having a clear structure to follow during it.
- Mute student microphones by default. They will only open them during their specific interventions.
- Recording the session, on the one hand, to offer the possibility of viewing to students who may have suffered technical or other problems and, on the other hand, because there may be students who need to review some point of the session to understand it better.
- Take advantage of the option to share screen, which will allow us to show what we are seeing during the explanations, do tutorials, correct tasks, project videos or even allow students to make exhibitions by sharing their own screen.
- Varied participation of the students, placing them in different roles: listening, reading, looking, speaking, playing and working, sometimes individually and others collaboratively. In this way, we will get them to maintain their attention during most of the session.
- It is very positive to generate debate, yes, establishing well the speaking turns.
- The materials used must ensure the active participation of the students.
- Feedback is particularly relevant, whether it is interactive, intervening during the session or post active, generally through open forums or via instant messaging / email for individual cases.
- Adapt the evaluation to the particular and realistic context in which we live, this is a magnificent opportunity to put into practice authentic evaluation, which rewards the process and the acquisition of skills.
It should be noted that, on the one hand, we must continue to use classroom management tools to ensure their proper development, and on the other, as teachers, our work of accompanying students and families is more important than ever.
Finally, I would like to add that there are a multitude of digital tools that can help us in distance teaching, but they will be effective depending on the specific context in which we find ourselves. What works in one center may not be successful in another, due to the means available, the digital competence of members of the educational community, previous experience, etc. Administrations should work in the short or medium term future to try to guarantee that in future situations similar to the current one, no one is left behind.