With the school year about to begin and many schools choosing to be either fully online or run a hybrid environment, we wanted to offer a series of helpful ideas to help you set up your online learning environment and get you off to as smooth of a start to the new school year as possible!
Every new school year, teachers and students find themselves spending the first week of class establishing classroom rules, procedures and systems to teach the students how things are supposed to work in their new environment. The same thing can and should happen with your online classroom to create your new online environment. By establishing procedures/systems within your online classroom, you are setting up each student, the whole class and yourself for success!
In fact, your first few online sessions should include explicit teaching of exactly how you want students to behave and interact online. This will allow you to establish and give practice opportunities to your students regarding how the community works and interacts appropriately.
Explicit teaching and lessons designed to teach your class how to interact in an online session will make your whole quarter, semester or year that much smoother. Take the time at the very beginning to establish these routines, and as you move forward, make sure you continue to practice and acknowledge the correct behavior. This will give students confidence in how to interact online and set clear expectations, making everyone more confident in the tools they are using.
If you give ample opportunities to practice using the tools, then as students gain confidence in how to interact in the online tools, the quicker they will transition to learning with the online tools.
Here are a few “getting ready” tips for you to establish your online classroom interactions. Depending on the platform you use, some of these ideas may not apply.
1. Be Prepared
Have your learning environment arranged before students arrive; thinking through the flow of the session. The need for this kind of preparation is critical in an online environment. You want to make sure you know every step so you maintain control, decreasing your stress and the stress of your students. This planning will make everything much easier, and help you to provide a smoother transition between activities.
2. Teach Them “Status” Options
Whenever you start a lesson, instruct and then remind your students to learn and use their status options. Teach them how they can raise their hand digitally if they have a question, or change their status to laughter or applause when they like what they are learning. Using their status options will empower them to be more involved and will help you to keep their attention.
3. Pointer and Highlighter
Use the whiteboard pointer and highlighter to help draw attention to an object or word on the screen. As you utilize these tools, again you help keep their attention on what you are doing and add interest to the lesson. You will also model skills your students will be using as well.
4. Give Desktop Control
As you teach concepts, look for opportunities to have your students demonstrate that they understand. A great way to do that is to share control of your host screen so they can manipulate items on the computer or share new ideas.
5. Share Ideas
Encourage students to use their microphones to share their thoughts in the main room or in breakout rooms when they are called on. Incorporating this tool with fun easy topics first is a good way to practice the tool without the added stress of ‘having the correct answer.’ Remember, just as some students are shy to speak aloud in class, they may be shy to use their microphone too (and those who like to share aloud in class, may love the microphone too much) so establishing procedures will be good for everyone.
6. Gather Written Feedback
Make the chat area visible and ask students to weigh in with their comments and observations. This is also a great way to get questions answered by many if you don’t want everything to be one at a time by raising hands.
7. Private Thoughts
Allow private chat conversation for participants to ask a specific question or share a problem. The private chat could be used to message the host without other participants seeing the message or could be used if participants serve as mentors to each other. All private chats are visible to the host.
8. Step Away
When students are assigned an independent task, or if they need to leave the session momentarily, encourage them to select their step away status and step in status when they return to the session.
Use a virtual timer to countdown when the session will begin, when participants should finish their independent task, when the breakout time will conclude, or when a speaker needs to give up his/her turn. By putting a visible timer on things, you will help keep the lesson or session moving forward and help each student have a better understanding of what to expect.
Whether your class is moving completely online and using remote learning tools or if you are starting to establish the use of eBooks and other online tools in your classroom, as you prepare to re-engage your students this fall, we hope these few ideas help you think through ways to engage your students and keep them involved.
And remember, although this may take a bit of time out of the curriculum, once these routines and procedures are established and used consistently, learning will come that much faster!
For more tips for engaging students online, check out this PDF from Pearson with 45 ideas.