You’re drowning in real work and keeping track of messages from your students, their parents, and your co-workers. To top it all off, some companies are calling to sell you “the perfect product for these challenging times.” This note is none of those. We’ve compiled some resources to help you navigate remote learning, regardless of the resources you or your students have.
Assess your students’ connectivity
No one knows your students as well as you do. The first thing you must find out is, what kinds of devices and connectivity your students have at home. It is possible that some of your students only have a parent’s cell phone or mobile device with a limited data package, and you must provide instruction for all.
Here are some things we can do to provide remote learning for all.
Identify what your school has approved
Your school or district may have already purchased an app that can facilitate communication and tasks, or an LMS with a robust mobile app that your students can access on a small device. You should use an approved product. Others in your school will be using the same ones, and you can support each other.
Keep it simple
The focus should be on accomplishing tasks in the simplest possible ways. In her blog ‘Online Teaching‘, Thailand IB educator Alison Yang lists pedagogically sound, student-centered strategies to support remote learning. I have added some information based on my experience as a remote and blended learning instructor:
Asynchronous learning provides flexible pacing opportunities. Your students may not be able to be online all day. Give your students work that requires limited online time and offers a chance to work independently.
Less is more. Without frequent contact with teachers, assignments will take longer to complete at home. Manage your expectations.
Identify lesson objectives. Use grade-level appropriate language to describe the Learning Objectives and specify formative and summative evaluation criteria.
Give explicit instructions and expectations. Specify the procedure and the length of time the activity is likely to take. Provide specific requirements. (Is it a half a page, single-spaced answer? A two-minute audio recording?)
Balance. Don’t overload students with work. Encourage them to balance online and offline time and help them connect.
Use a consistent channel of communication and with regular frequency.
Synchronous: Provide specific online “office hours” to answer questions and clarify concepts.
Encourage student feedback: Ask them about the workload, their emotional state, learning preferences, and pace. Ask them, what helped you learn? What didn’t?
Boost attention: Multimedia and interactive lessons are engaging but consider other methods if you have students with small data packages or low bandwidth. In the absence of reliable connectivity, you can ask students to apply their knowledge through paper and ink reflection, encourage creation and production such as catalogs, graphic organizers, or small projects, and ask them to send you digital photos of their creations.
Examples and Suggestions
A pre-K teacher who had never used technology was planning to send photo-copied packages to all the parents by mail. Instead of this costly and labor-intensive solution, she opted to send a daily email to the parents. Alternatively, she thought, a weekly email with a daily calendar, with links and suggestions, might be better for planning. In either case, parents could ask clarifying questions via the same connection.
While she contemplated the use of email, our teacher found out that her school had an approved application she could use. She has partnered and is collaborating with colleagues who are teaching the same grade level. This collaboration is saving them time and allowing them to share ideas. Because the students are young, the connection is with the parents and guardians.
Caution: Non-vetted Free Apps
Free applications collect and share users’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII), geo-location, and user output, including photos. If your students are under 13, ask the parents to get the license under their name. This practice prevents the collection of students’ PII and serves as a reminder to parents that the supervision of their children’s activities and work is necessary. If your students are between 13 and 17, share the list of resources and obtain parental consent.
Focus on student productivity
We know that one of the best ways to assess learning is through student products. It is best to use district-purchased and -approved education productivity platforms, for example, Office 365. GoogleForEducation is free and safe to use because Google is a Student Privacy Pledge signatory. Stay clear of additional Google apps, no matter how cool they are. They are neither private nor secure.
If your school does not have a safe cloud service in place, students can keep a paper and pencil journal, with options to paste images or to create other tangible products with materials available at home. Your students or their parents can take a snapshot of their daily output and email it back to you for feedback, Q&A, and evaluation.
Synchronous and Asynchronous
Video and interactive tools may be fantastic, but they are also bandwidth hogs. When using conferencing tools, consider eliminating the video component. You can start with the video on to say hello and introduce participants, then turn all cameras off. Use the audio to facilitate dialogue and share the screen to demonstrate without taxing the connection. If you have participants with visual disabilities, the person speaking should have the camera on. Ask your school leaders the age at which they require that parents or guardians join meetings based on students’ ages and needs. Asynchronous lessons are flexible lessons! Your students can do much of the work asynchronously. A good practice might be to connect with students or parents once a day to make important announcements, provide critical information, and answer questions.
For more information, including a list of Open Educational Resources (OERs), please see the full version of this blog post.
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