Teaching with technology: lessons learned from total immersion

by | 18 June 2020

As we face changes, disruptions, and uncertainty in every part of our lives, one thing that has emerged from the last three months with absolute clarity is the importance of teaching online. For many teachers, the shift has been a challenging one. Practically overnight, they were asked to switch from classroom teaching to purely online classes — and often without any training or assistance. That’s total immersion. Since it appears that online teaching and distance learning is here to stay for the foreseeable future, we thought it would be helpful to share practical ideas from teachers and students in different teaching and learning contexts around the world.

Learn the technology thoroughly

Ms S. Li, Primary teacher at Stratford Hall, Canada
“When we first moved to online teaching, we were using two platforms and lots of different tools. About three weeks in, we realised that it was much too complicated. 

“Our kids were getting confused, parents were getting confused. We were getting confused! At this point, we decided to adopt one main platform and use two or three additional tools/apps/websites. Once we had chosen the platform, we invested time into getting to know how it worked and finding out about all the features available. We also made or shared short videos so that students and parents would be familiar with the features that we would be using regularly. 

“It took a while to get there, but our online classes are now much more enjoyable and accessible. I know that it can be overwhelming to start with as there are so many great tools and resources out there to help you teach online, but once you know what fits your needs best, I think it’s really important to jump in and commit!” 

Keep it simple

Mrs G. Gade, Spanish teacher at Southbank International School, UK

“It’s been a sudden and difficult transition for everyone — teachers and students alike. I think it’s really important at this time to be understanding of each other. For a lot of teachers our first instinct was to try and create a sense of normalcy by keeping our classes the same as they were before. However, busy PowerPoints, numerous objectives and full lesson plans aren’t effective when teaching online. Instead of helping the students, they were discouraging them. I recommend setting just one objective for your class and posting it somewhere all your students can see or refer back. No objectives (or too many objectives) leads to uncertainty and students don’t know why we are doing what we are doing.

“Another thing I try to do is to give students an activity to do on paper or a notebook that they can take a picture of and upload later — just to take them away from their screens a little!”

You can’t recreate the classroom — but do encourage meaningful interactions

Nils G., student in Germany
“I’m taking a course in Sustainable Finance online and although I’m enjoying the course, I’m finding that it’s difficult to instigate interactions and discussions with other students on the course. My observation is that this will not happen by itself and has to be built in and facilitated by the course or system. It would be good to have interactive tasks and the opportunity to discuss what we are learning with others in our class.”

Clara V. student at IE University, Spain
“One thing in particular that has been fun in my online classes is the ‘breakout rooms’ during our lessons. That means separating the class to smaller groups and going into ‘rooms’, where we discuss the questions our teacher gives us amongst ourselves. The teacher can jump in and out of our rooms to check on us — to make sure we understand the task or that we’re on the right track. It’s nice to be able to speak and participate in class — especially in a smaller group that you’re more comfortable with!” (See below for more info on breakout rooms.)

Vary interactions with information

Mr J. Catti, Deputy Head of the Foreign Language Department at Victory Primary, Secondary and High School, Vietnam

“A great way to keep students engaged and motivated online is to change the focus of the interaction. If possible, a hybrid learning model that mixes elements of synchronous and asynchronous learning is the best for keeping students engaged and avoiding online fatigue. 

“Here’s a possible lesson plan that I like to use:

  1. Introduce your students to the class objective in a lecture format
  2. Give them a task and send them into breakout rooms of 3-4
  3. Bring students back for plenary session to discuss task and findings
  4. Assign ClarityEnglish programs as homework or use them as quiz tools outside of the classroom to check understanding

“Now the lesson has been transformed! Instead of staring at a screen all day, passively learning, the students are engaging with the new information in a variety of different ways as they would do in a normal class setting.”

A practical idea to try out today

A great thing that you could do straight away is to prepare your space. Most teachers normally spend a lot of the day on their feet and aren’t used to spending all day in front of a laptop. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself as well as preparing thoroughly for your online classes. You should have: 

  • a fully charged device (laptop, desktop, tablet)
  • good quality headphones (with microphone)
  • a clean and professional backdrop
  • a comfortable chair
  • consider purchasing a stand so that your laptop/desktop is raised to eye-level and you aren’t hunched down and straining your neck — or that your students aren’t looking up your nose! Also make sure you test out your equipment and software before your lesson. 

As we enter the fourth month of lockdown and start discussing the possibility of opening up schools, there’s been a lot of criticism of online learning. Certainly it’s been an abrupt and challenging transition that many educators were ill-equipped for, leaving students and teachers feeling isolated and unsupported. However, let’s not dismiss it before considering the advantages: flexibility, convenience, the ability to continue operating in a pandemic, and, perhaps most interestingly, the ability to offer more individual content and attention. Through online teaching, students could have more appropriate materials assigned to them instead of being taught generally, as part of a mixed-level class. As it appears to be here for the long-haul, perhaps this is the perfect time to fully explore the advantages that online teaching has to offer?

Further reading
This post
tells you about breakout rooms. It includes a video from Zoom. The presenter powers through the topic, but I found that even if you don’t understand it all, it’s useful in getting you going.

Read about some different ways of setting up your Clarity subscriptions so that your students can access them off-site.

Elinor Stokes, Online English Specialist, Atlas English

Elinor Stokes, Online English Specialist, Atlas English