Going the Distance: Creating Engaging Educational Experiences in the Age of COVID-19

Technology in education has come a long way since when I was the first student at my elementary school district to use a laptop in class. While I certainly cannot wait to get into a real classroom and teach in person, I believe the online teaching environment of COVID-19 is an excellent opportunity to experiment with a variety of technology-based adaptations, strategies, and rituals to create a more engaging experience!

Rituals:

Teachers and students are both dealing with difficult times right now and allowing for more genuine human interactions to take place could help students feel more ready to learn and engage in classroom conversations. Sitting in front of a computer all day in an online classroom format can be isolating. As Jennifer Gonzalez states in Distance Learning: A Gently Curated Collection of Resources for Teachersnot every minute of the day needs to be set aside for instruction. Start every day with a community-building ritual, which could be as simple as encouraging them to write a journal, playing a game, share poetry, or even just leave sometime in the day to encourage storytelling, laughter, and venting. Teachers should be creative and try adding new rituals and activities into online classes that might be more difficult to pull off in person.

Embrace asynchronous learning and flexible deadlines:

An unfortunate reality of the current remote teaching scenario is that not everyone has equitable access to the same internet connection, personal computer, or quiet place to participate in educational tasks. Some students may have additional responsibilities at home, which could impact their ability to participate as much as they otherwise could due to these circumstances. Creating short videos, chat tools like Gmail chat or Slack, and utilizing tools such as Google Docs or Voice Thread to embrace an asynchronous learning style could help create a collaborative environment.

Additionally, teachers should create a more flexible deadline policy for their classes, and communicate these policies with students early on. It could be helpful to provide students an anonymous way to communicate particular concerns that could impact their participation and ability to meet deadlines at the beginning of class. This could be completed by asking students to complete an ungraded ‘getting to know you’ survey or quiz during the first class through Google Docs, or Poll Everywhere. Establishing expectations early on will help avoid misunderstandings and create a clear process for students to reach for extension requests or help when needed.

Encourage students to take ownership of their learning:

In the age of COVID-19, teachers should be careful that their instruction doesn’t become little more than a low-budget MasterClass video. Students should be encouraged to take ownership of their education, and teachers should differentiate assessment to encourage experimentation and creativity. This can be accomplished through a choice menu that offers learning targets, resources and options for assessment for students to choose how they would like to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular subject. Rather only presenting students with the option of writing a paper on the overall causes of the Cold War, students could create a presentation and narrate over it with Voice Thread, make a podcast or video on the topic, create an interactive map with Google Tour Builder or an interactive book with Book Creator. Each of these options presents engaging ways for students to share their mastery of concepts with the class either synchronously or asynchronously.

Conclusion:

Most teachers and students will be happy to be back in a physical classroom once it is safe to do so. However, rather than viewing online teaching inherently bad, I believe this period is an excellent opportunity to experiment with new ways to make instruction and content more engaging. Methods we develop for effective online instruction could help uncover better strategies for engaging in-person instruction as well.

4 Replies to “Going the Distance: Creating Engaging Educational Experiences in the Age of COVID-19”

  1. I LOVE the point that Gonzalez makes about not every minute being for instruction. I think if students feel supported and like they still have a community then they will feel empowered to take a hold of their own learning. I appreciate how simple these community building activities can be and in one of my university classes, a professor had us each find a few items to represent ourselves and we explained the connections to the class. While this may take up a lot of time give the sizes of classes, item numbers, and students talking, I think these kinds of moments are extremely valuable to the online classroom! Great points!

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to enhance the asynchronous aspect of this course. I had always flipped lots of content and included many how to images and videos.

    Additionally, having my students teach lessons to their peers was always a big part of this class. We would take part as students then offer our critiques. The past few years I’ve only had 6 students so that was easy to do. Now with 10, it may take twice as long.

    Which brings us back to asynchronous – maybe that how you teach each other? Need to think about the logistics of that. Should all of you take part in 9 other asynchronous lessons? Or maybe divide up into small groups? With me being part of all of them.

    We need to figure this out. But that’s not solely my problem. It’s our challenge and I look forward to collaborating on new approaches. I get tired of teaching the same stuff, anyway.

  3. Nicolas, very thoughtful reflection on the issues of virtual instruction. I especially liked the points you made asynchronous learning. Obviously students learn at different paces regardless of whether they study online, at home, or at school. Unfortunately, our current predicament only highlights this issue. As educators we must embrace that virtual instruction requires great flexibility and resilience. As students this summer, we experienced first hand the drastically different work paces which were unique to our learning styles and abilities. As student teachers in the fall and spring, we must then respect and anticipate the asynchronous learning speeds which manifest themselves in this virtual reality of ours.

  4. Thanks for these thoughts Nicholas. I appreciate the positive outlook on remote teaching in your conclusion. And I especially like the idea of providing a way for students to anonymously tell us about their remote learning situation and any barriers they might have to completing assignments or engaging in the class. Home life can look like a lot of different things these days so it will be very important to understand where our students are at. Love the encouragement to provide varied ways for students to show their mastery of concepts and content. With remote learning, it seems like the option is always there to just send out a video lecture and a simple multiple choice assignment but I agree with you that teachers should make sure that their teaching goes a lot further than that. Offering a choice on how to present an assignment will definitely help promote engagement at a time when engagement will be hard to come by!

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