The world has changed over the past few years and our schools have been at the center of much of the recent upheaval. As the pandemic played out, administrators, teachers, and students were forced to adapt in ways they could never have anticipated. Now that much of the country has returned to in-person or blended classrooms, we can reflect on what we’ve learned about the move to online learning.
For some teachers, shifting to virtual classrooms presents a challenge. How can they ensure their students are keeping up with the required work if they can’t see them? What changes do they need to make to their lesson plans? And how can teachers and students access the support services they need?
As a lifelong educator with over 20 years of blended teaching experience, here are the five most common mistakes I’ve seen when teachers pivot to online learning:
1. Not implementing with intention
Perhaps the most important factor when moving to online instruction is making sure teachers understand how to effectively incorporate new technology, tools, and instructional models into their lesson plans. To do that, they need thoughtfully planned professional development and appropriate resources.
One of the major benefits of online learning is that it allows teachers to tailor lessons to the pace and learning style of each student. But teachers need guidance to effectively introduce digital material to their students, leverage the monitoring tools available, and set expectations. Though it may be tempting to jump right in with new technology tools, the smarter approach is to hold educator training sessions, create resource guides, and develop a support network that will help teachers get the most out of this new approach.
2. Using the same curriculum you used in your regular classroom
A common mistake teachers make when moving instruction online is assuming they can just teach the curriculum as they always have. This can often put too much of the burden on students to absorb the material remotely, leading to a loss of focus, and eventually frustration, if they feel they are not able to keep up.
Be sure you have an interactive online platform in place that is easy to access and allows for student participation and enhanced collaboration. Use systems that provide real-time data and analytics, so both the teacher and the students can easily see the level of understanding and engagement as it happens.
3. Lack of preparation for virtual classroom management
Teachers are used to managing busy classrooms with students sitting together, but keeping them focused and engaged virtually is very different.
Once again, planning is the key to avoiding problems. Be sure to set the rules from the beginning. Just as phones or toys are usually banned in physical classrooms, let students know they also shouldn’t be visible in their remote workspaces. Decide on a dress code, which can be as simple as “no pajamas,” and be sure to address any discipline issues quickly. Think through how you want to handle questions and establish visible clues for other situations, such as when a student needs to go off camera for any reason. And incorporate engaging activities so that students feel personally involved in their learning.
4. Making assumptions about why students turn their cameras off
Be careful about assuming a turned off camera equals a tuned-out student. For many students and their families, this isn’t a laziness issue.
Students may not be in a situation where they can find a quiet, personal space to work. Some may not want their peers to see their home environment – it could be noisy or messy, they may be afraid their siblings or pets will embarrass them, or they may be logging in from temporary housing or a relative’s home. When you set the rules for your virtual classroom, make sure you also establish feedback channels with students, to potentially head off issues from the start. If the student is still turning off their camera, reach out privately to determine what the issues are and help them find a solution they are comfortable with.
5. Not taking advantage of all communication modes
Online learning opens up a variety of ways to communicate that simply are not found in a traditional classroom. Familiarize yourself with all the options, and take advantage of them.
In a traditional classroom, students usually raise their hands if they have questions. In an online setting, they have the option to speak up or send a message privately. This may be a benefit for students who are reluctant to speak in front of their peers, as well as for those who take longer to process information. There are many resources available for individualized communication such as chats, polls, and quizzes, that can be a way to assess progress or simply a fun way for teachers to present new material and for students to interact with each other.
In many cases, teachers find they build stronger relationships with their students with online learning than they did in the traditional classroom setting. The right technology can allow teachers to focus more on the individual student, and it can provide more real-time data for teachers to track progress and ensure that content is being reviewed and absorbed.
Be aware of these common pitfalls, and don’t try to force traditional classroom methods into online or blended learning environments. As you transition to online learning, be sure to take advantage of the many resources available to make the most of it.
Dr. Lisa Collins is a lifelong educator who has taught K-12 and higher education classes in brick-and-mortar and online schools. Her areas of expertise include creating solutions that improve student outcomes and increase career readiness, as well as developing professional development programs for teachers. To learn more visit www.stridelearning.com/learning-solutions.html.