Over the course of the last month, schools throughout the Unites States and the world have found themselves in a situation never before seen in history. In the proverbial blink of an eye, educational institutions were forced to completely reimagine how to teach when students could no longer be physically present in the classroom. Almost overnight, “online learning” became the most widely searched-for educational buzzword, and administrators, teachers, students, and parents alike were left scrambling to find how to best make this new method of learning work.
Throughout these last weeks, and amidst the flurry of emails and social media posts containing lists of potential resources and remote learning tools, certain best practices began to emerge. Schools began to figure out what would work in their specific situations, and teachers started to learn new tools and strategies to provide learning experiences for their students far from the classroom. While each institution needs to adapt these strategies for the needs of its specific location and circumstance, the following best practices are a good starting place for schools moving to online learning both now and in the future.
1. Let’s start with the hard one. Administrators and teachers alike need to realize that online learning is not a full replication of the school day.
This is especially hard to internalize for those who have been forced to move quickly to this new model and who want to simply provide the same experience their students had previously. There are certain things that you cannot and should not replicate in an online learning platform, and—guess what?—that’s ok. Thus, it is important to determine from the very beginning what pieces of learning are nonnegotiable and essential when moving into online learning, and to share this with everyone involved so all are on the same page from the very beginning.
2. The internet and student devices matter.
When moving to online learning, schools need to set all of their assumptions aside regarding student access to devices and the internet at home. Sending out a survey to determine if students have access to the internet or devices at home is an important step, as it will impact the plan moving forward. If there are not devices at home or if the school is not 1:1 with student devices, can school devices be sent home as temporary loaners? What happens when students do not have access to the internet at home? How will this impact their online learning experience? A survey of families will help guide schools and teachers in answering these and other questions.
3. Don’t overplan the day.
Remember, one of the reasons why the traditional school model is beneficial to many students is that it is a stable and “controlled environment.” With the move to online learning, students who are now learning from home have been dumped into a world of distractions and challenges, such as other siblings and parents working from home. Thus, determining the best balance for students to have adequate learning experiences while still dealing with the challenges of “working from home” is important to recognize from the very beginning. In the lower grades, this manifests in the recognition that the “reinforcement of concepts” may be the focus instead of “learning” new topics and skills wherever possible. Also, it is essential for administrators to remember not to overplan the days of their teachers as well, as they are also balancing family and work from home with the added planning needed for the move to online learning.
4. The human connection is still needed.
Let me repeat that: the human connection is still needed. Even though learning is taking place through an online medium, it is essential that teachers find ways for students to connect with one another. Whether it is a weekly Zoom call with the entire class that talks about anything but schoolwork, or if it is a one-on-one Google Hangout so a teacher can help a student through a difficult learning experience, these personal touches are essential to the fabric of an online learning experience.
5. Make it fun.
Overall, students enjoy coming to school and interacting with teachers and their classmates. Online learning has the potential to remove some of this joy, and it is important not to lose it in the transition. Finding ways for students to use videos and pictures to share what they are doing will bring joy to them and others. Simply adding in unique challenges or learning experiences that they would not normally have now that they are working at home goes a long way in keeping the learning enjoyable.
Find free resources that help teach the faith with fun activities that can be done at home.