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How to Make Remote Learning Easier, Less Stressful, and Less Risky

As students return to the classroom this fall – either virtually or in a hybrid environment combining in-person and remote learning — teachers and administrators have grappled with the challenges of adapting lessons, units, instructional delivery, teacher/student/parent communication, and basic “classroom” organization to the recommendations of health authorities and education leaders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Though many of these challenges came to light during school shutdowns and instructional modifications implemented last spring, with a summer break to reflect and plan, educators have come up with tips to make the online components run more smoothly.

Challenges during remote instruction

Consider a few scenarios:

  • A teacher shares his or her screen in a virtual classroom setting. In the teacher’s bookmark bar or on the desktop, personal, potentially controversial, or even inappropriate web links are visible to students.
  • Inadequate bandwidth or some other unforeseen technical glitch causes the virtual class meeting to crash.
  • Class procedures or lesson activity instructions are too complex or unclear. Student-submitted questions seeking clarity come fast and furious, and an organized class structure becomes disorganized quickly.

Teachers and online instruction experts have spent the past few months working to solve these challenges and others. We’ve reviewed their personal recommendations and compiled a set of categorized tips to help educators become more comfortable with online instruction and help ensure that their experiences with remote teaching and learning are successful.

Virtual classroom procedures

  • Just as with face-to-face instruction, set up the virtual instructional space and prepare virtual lesson plans well in advance.
  • Consider the home office setting an extension of the classroom. Think about lighting, surroundings, and what types of things will be visible to students via the webcam.
  • Review the browser home screen and remove any links, files, or visuals that might cause a distraction or be inappropriate in a classroom setting.
  • Turn off pop-up notifications prior to screen sharing.
  • Be conscious of personal appearance and dress as one would for a normal face-to-face class. Adhere to district dress codes and guidance.
  • Become thoroughly familiar with class meeting and instructional software, such as Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, etc. Learn how its features will enhance lesson presentation, allow for collaboration, and integrate with your monitoring platform.
  • Advise students about the need to review their own home screens and remove any distracting or inappropriate links, files, or visuals prior to screen sharing.
  • Create a set of class guidelines and communicate them to students regularly. If your district provides for teacher web sites or home pages, post the guidelines there for students and parents. Remind students of this resource in each class session and save it to your LMS.
  • Log on for each virtual class session early to troubleshoot any technical difficulties, prepare your screen and resources, and greet students as they log on.
  • Determine specific rules and signals for virtual hand raising, submitting questions, discussions, screen sharing, camera usage, muting, staying on task, etc. Some of these, such as agreeing on hand raising signals and question formatting, can be developed collaboratively with students. This will help invest them in the virtual learning experience.
  • Pre-assign students to small groups for activities and assignment and provide tools for small group collaboration, such as Zoom breakout rooms. This will enable all students to leverage the expertise of others regarding technology and overcoming procedural issues.
  • Set virtual office hours for student-teacher 1-on-1 meetings and parent conferences. Clearly and frequently communicate these in writing.
  • Assign less work than you think students can actually accomplish in the allotted time. This will help build in flexibility for technical issues, procedural changes, or any other unforeseen developments. Remember, students are trying to familiarize themselves with the demands of remote learning just as teachers are. Be flexible with due dates.
  • Give students choices regarding activities and assignments. Just as with in-person instruction, try to keep in mind varying learning and expression styles among students.
  • Keep activity and assignment instructions clear and concise. Anticipate questions and try to answer them up front by providing directions through your LMS or class meeting software.
  • Use screen monitoring software to ensure students remain on task during virtual class meetings and close any tabs that may be distracting students from instruction and activities.
  • Anticipate issues, problems, and excuses, e.g…. The teacher is still in charge of the class. Remote learning is still “being in school.”
  • Have a backup plan. If online lessons involve PowerPoint decks, Prezi, or utilize some other type of presentation software, have a PDF version ready before class for distribution via email, on the teacher web page, or on your LMS in case technology issues interrupt real-time instruction.

Social/emotional/affective condsiderations

  • Remember, even in a remote learning scenario, teach the student, not the subject. Each member of the class will have a unique combination of strengths, weaknesses, talents, and vulnerabilities. Keep this in mind by providing positive feedback and encouraging a growth mindset.
  • Don’t expect introverted students or students with social inhibitions to reach out for help – even to members of their study/collaboration groups. They likely won’t. Keep tabs on them and be available for them.
  • Flexibility should be the watchword. Students will likely be sharing workspaces and possibly devices with siblings and even parents. Be sure to consider students who may be unable to attend virtual sessions or need additional support.
  • Consider appropriate use of humor to humanize the remote learning experience with memes, gifs, music, etc. But take care, just as in a live classroom setting, not to let things get out of hand. Few things relieve anxiety like laughter.
  • Remain conscious of the toll the virus has taken on society at large and possibly on students and their families. Invite students to share their experiences within a safe space and what they are thinking. This could be through chat, a shared virtual board, a class blog, etc. Encourage optimism.

The role of technology

  • Digital Native is a myth. Spend at least the first class meeting reviewing your district’s virtual learning technology and students’ familiarity and facility with it. Don’t assume students will be prepared for online learning or understand the technology or procedures… Answer questions. Time spent early on covering technical questions will pay off down the line. Consider a student/family guide and sharing prior to the first class.
  • Test video meeting/instructional software in advance of each class if possible.
  • Check shared links to make sure they work.
  • For those teachers and students who are “tech geeks” and find the prospect of remote learning exciting, use caution. Don’t lose the other students by making instruction too technically based.

These tips cover many fundamentals of distance learning and virtual classroom procedures to help ensure a successful remote or hybrid experience for students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. For more resources to help your staff members tackle the pandemic successfully, see our Remote Learning Toolkit.

To guard against the inadvertent display of inappropriate links, files, or content, and to help ensure that students remain on task during online sessions, consider employing districtwide online monitoring software, such as that offered by Lightspeed Systems®.