- Distance Learning
This blog is from one of COBIS' Supporting Associates
Written by Amanda Wilkinson, Dr Karan Vickers-Hulse and Dr Verity Jones, Senior lecturers in Initial Teacher Education at UWE Bristol
The last 18 months have assimilated the terms ‘digital learning’ and ‘remote learning’ into all of our vocabularies. Whilst pivoting to online teaching and learning was borne out of necessity, it has given teachers, trainee teachers, learning support assistants and parents the opportunity to discover what pedagogies work best when teaching and learning online. Some of these pedagogies are explored below.
Whilst children may be able to happily spend hours on screens watching their favourite television programmes or playing games on electronic devices it is not as easy when trying to encourage engagement in online learning activities. Lockdown has taught us that extended time in front of a computer screen is not conducive to learning and teachers noted quickly that they needed to adopt different strategies when engaging remotely. Chunking the content of lessons is an effective pedagogical approach that can be utilised both off and online.
Balancing online and offline activities: Having shorter input sessions online, ranging from 10-30 minutes depending on the age of the learner, allows children to retain focus and concentration. Following up on-screen time with off-screen tasks ensures that children are able to retain motivation and enthusiasm. It can also be a good way to engage with others in their environment (parent/carer/sibling/pets) to make learning less solitary.
Mixing up the content: Digital tools can be used in many ways to ensure that on-screen learning is an active experience. Using video, polls, games, breakout rooms, whiteboards and reaction buttons allow the teacher to monitor the engagement of the children and adapt their sessions accordingly. Mixing up your approaches, rather than just presenting to camera, also provides a more inclusive environment for the learners.
Now children are returning to the classroom, teachers are seeing pupils who find collaborative learning more challenging than prior to lockdowns. Sharing, taking turns and listening to peers have been utilised less frequently when learning outside of the classroom so how can these skills be embedded in online learning? Finding ways to practice and consolidate collaboration in online learning is essential to ensure that these skills are not lost.
Taking turns: Group singing or performance poetry with children is a great way to develop listening and speaking in turn. Practice as a group and then assign words / lines / stanza to individuals.
Listening: Every subject can benefit from a game of who (or what) am I? Either a child or teacher gives clues as to who or what they are describing with children having to listen carefully and respond either verbally or through the chat.
Working together and responding appropriately: Synchronous sessions are not always possible for everyone. Having daily discussion questions uploaded onto a platform such as Padlet or Jam Board can invite children to think and respond either synchronously or asynchronously. Pupils can add photos, links and text with an ability to comment on another learners input.
Creating a two-way relationship
During school closures, learning support assistants and trainee teachers had a unique perspective on remote learning as they were often asked to take on the role of supporting vulnerable children in school to access the online content that had been provided by the class teacher who was working from home and had prepared material for all children to be able to access, whether they were at home or at school. From this perspective, trainees and support staff noticed that pre-recorded and commercial content had limited impact on children’s learning as the content was not personalised for their needs and the teacher could not adapt to the emerging needs of the children. Ensuring that remote learning meets the individual needs of the children is key to maintain pupil progress.
Work synchronously wherever possible: This allows the teacher, learning support assistant or trainee teacher to react and adapt to the needs of the learners.
Plan opportunities for feedback: Plan synchronous provision carefully to ensure that there are regular opportunities to get feedback from learners. This creates a two-way relationship with the learners that begins to reflect that of a face to face learning situation. Learners in isolation are less able to check-in with a teacher or a peer to ask for support so this needs to be carefully planned in and an ethos for this developed.
Reduce the amount of content in your provision: There is a temptation to ‘fill the void’ when working online, however this reduces the two-way relationship as it pushes the teacher into a more didactic approach. Don’t be afraid of quiet moments, these are giving your learners time to think and process. This time and space, coupled with regular opportunities for communication and feedback from learners, will help create the two-way relationship needed for bespoke, adaptive and impactful provision.
What is evident is that, although teachers and school staff are keen to return to face to face teaching, the unexpected situation that we found ourselves in has been a learning experience that could and should inform future practice and pedagogies for schools.
Find out more about our online postgraduate programmes in Education here or join our upcoming online webinar on Tuesday 27th July at 11 am – 12 pm BST here for a summary of practice-focused professional development courses delivered fully online.