Virtual Back to School Season

From my perspective as a student, I think that is really important to provide variety and choice with virtual instruction. While there should be consistency in communication and where information is located, students lose interest quickly when you are sitting on a Zoom for hours on end. In my opinion, the best practice is to provide multiple ways for students to interact with each other and you. Maybe they watch a pre-recorded video of you explaining a new topic, then get to discuss that with their peers in a forum before meeting for a debrief Zoom discussion. While synchronous instruction is important, I think we need to remember that students are going to be as burnt out as we are with constantly videoconferencing and staring at a screen.

I think that an opportunity that will come with online instruction is the chance for students to get creative. For me I can see this applying to assessment in particular. A lot of methods of testing that we are used to are not going to be possible this semester, so it is the perfect opportunity to lean into project style assessments where students have the flexibility to choose how they want to demonstrate their knowledge, whether that be a podcast, video, virtual design or book, etc.

A challenge that I am foreseeing with my placement is engagement. My district will be using Canvas which is typically used in college settings, and I think that the middle schoolers I will be working with will have to become more independent as they get used to navigating this type of LMS. Additionally, I am worried that both my students and I will be experiencing so much screen fatigue that it will make it difficult for us to engage with one another. Relationship building is such an important part of teaching and I am worried that building strong relationships with my students is going to be incredibly difficult when I can’t meet them face to face.

Despite these worries, I am optimistic that I will be able to make the most out of this virtual semester with my students. There are a lot of cool apps and platforms out there that create so many exciting possibilities for online learning and I am excited for my students to teach me about what is relevant to their lives so that we can set up an online learning model that works for us.

2 Replies to “Virtual Back to School Season”

  1. Hey Maggie,

    This is a great post, thank you for sharing. I also foresee a challenge with burnout and engagement. But I think you hit on something important in talking about creative assessment, which is that you can also get creative with engagement. If you’re focused on helping students engage with course material in ways that they’re interested in, that will help everyone stay motivated and involved.

    The burnout thing is interesting, and one I’m not really sure how to address it. I feel like allowing students to have breaks in class (non-screen time) for things like reading or writing will be super helpful. Your suggestion about project-based work also makes a lot of sense. Anything to break up the repetitiveness. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  2. I totally agree that the old method of assessment is going out the window. And it should since in the digital era – life’s become “an open book test”

    Here’s something from a post a wrote years ago about motivating students.

    Four Dimensions of Motivation (more here)

    Competence — The student believes he or she has the ability to complete the task.
    Control / Autonomy — The student feels in control by seeing a direct link between his or her actions and an outcome and retains autonomy by having some choice about whether or how to undertake the task.
    Interest / Value — The student has some interest in the task or sees the value of completing
    Relatedness — Completing the task brings the student social rewards, such as a sense of belonging to a classroom or other desired social group or approval from a person of social importance to the student.

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