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5 May 2020 | News & Events

5 no-brainers for smarter teaching online

5 things-to-do, to reduce teacher workload and, at the same time, increase learner engagement and reduce drop-out rates. Carole and Ian have a chat...

Ian: Carole can you give a bit more of an overview of what you’d like us to talk about

Ian: Thank you. So, you’ve given me a list of 5 things for teachers to focus on — and you are saying that these are the top 5 tips if the teacher wants to ensure that their sessions run smoothly so that they work’.

Ian: OK, let’s go through each of them in turn. First up is Behaviour’. The poster you’ve sketched out for me points to the idea that good online behaviour — etiquette is the word you used — needs to be agreed in advance and known to the learners.

So, we have an organisation-wide set of rules made available. Where typically would an organisation put these?

OK, I’ve got that. The second thing on your list relates to materials and logistics. Making sure they are available and the links to them are working. I’m guessing that the accessibility of them to students with additional needs has to be adhered to as well? Again, where typically would these materials and logistical information be? Do subject area-specific spaces tend to be used?

On the poster that we’ve mapped out to support this, you’ve listed deadline’ alongside materials and logistics so presumably you are suggesting that all of these things are in one place?

This seems like it fits in with something we are going to look at later about learners knowing where they can go to get support during activity. This means that the default go-to’ is not the teacher who won’t get inundated with requests from the learners because the learners know there is a place where they can get the success criteria and other things. I know we’ll look at this shortly…

A term I used when I was doing live Initial Teacher Training comes to mind — weaning. The teacher is looking to wean the learners off of being dependent on them so that learners don’t see them as the provider of the answer and support and they look to each other and to other places.

Okay, the third thing is interesting. Before we started talking, I thought it might be the first thing on the list, but now I understand why you need to have the behaviour and materials and logistics sorted first. The third thing you list is The Welcome’. There’s a couple of things about that for me. First of all, on the example we’ve given on the poster, if learners are coming onto a webinar there will be an initial period of time where the welcome takes place. That welcome could look to simultaneously embed instructions and also to set a positive mood and reinforce positive behaviours. But what if, and I’m putting you on the spot here Carole, what if the teacher is NOT using the webinar. I’m wondering about this because a lot of the HOW2s we are creating on teaching online is about promoting independent learning so that the learners can access meaningful activities AWAY from the teacher. They encourage the learner to, for example, assess each other and engage in self-assessment using criteria provided by the teacher. So, how does a teacher welcome learners positively if they aren’t on a webinar? Is it just about the wording they use on the instructions posted to the learners?

I guess that part of the planning would be to make sure that every learner is positively referred to, maybe something positive about their work mentioned in the welcome written text. I don’t mean every learner, every session, but I know we used to keep a little tick list to make sure that over the course of a week or so every learner was mentioned at least once. They knew we couldn’t mention everyone every time, but it definitely helped create a positive mood. They would arrive wondering if they would be mentioned or if the instructions were written down wondering if it was their turn…

Let me see if I’ve got this. On the poster, we’ve shown how learners may be greeted when they join a webinar, but what I’ve just got out of what you’ve just said is that even if you are greeting learners on a webinar, it still makes sense to post those welcome comments online. The other thing I got was the need to keep an eye on which learners we are directly addressing online — to make sure that some don’t attract a disproportionate amount of attention. The final thing that came up for me is the usefulness of using Visual Instruction Plans (VIPs) to point learners in the right direction and to remind them of the core elements to the activity without burdening them with loads of text. Not just because it’s helpful to the learners, but because it will lessen the I’ve forgotten or don’t understand what to do” type questions that the teacher has to deal with. I love VIPs — it was the second on my list of HOW2s to add to the new Online collection.

Let’s move on to number 4 on our list — managing collaboration. We’ve probably touched on this already in our discussion. I’m just looking at the poster, and it’s about making sure learners are aware of how they are going to be working and who with — on their own, in pairs, or in larger groups and the timings for the activity. Again, if we consider this being done by webinar, this involves the learners being there live’ with you. If conventions are in place about where learners go to understand how you are managing collaborations, then this can be done without using a webinar or eating into more teacher time.

What I’m getting from tapping into your brain is that the webinar can be the default, but actually it’s creating a lot of work for the teacher and it’s setting up what we might call a dependency culture where the webinar is always there and the learners are expecting a webinar. Whereas actually the webinar is not the default — the webinar is more something you keep up your sleeve to fall back on if and when you need to. It needn’t be the first thing you do — it’s there in the background. Is that what you are saying?

Good, because one of the things that I and the team are trying to do as we create the new online HOW2s, is to show how the techniques can be carried out both with and, arguably more usefully, without a webinar. But we also want to indicate where and how the webinar is an option if you need to dip in to reinforce something or address some misconceptions or, as you say, pull things together and link to what comes next. It was very tempting at the beginning to have an image of a teacher on a webinar, but we realised this was sending out the wrong message; that this should be about developing independent learning and employability skills, getting learners supporting each other and if you like having the most important resource which IS the teacher’s brain being used most usefully.

Let’s move on to the final point on your list which again in many ways I think we’ve covered but I guess it’s not a bad thing to mention things before we fully focus on them. Let’s talk about managing support. The poster points to learners needing to know where they can access this support. I want to ask you where are the FAQs, where are the support groups? And how do you manage that in terms of, for example, keeping the FAQs up-to-date.

A couple of things came up for me as you were talking. One is that whether we are talking about faculty or departments or individual subjects, it’s not up to the teacher to decide where learners should go. It’s not something the teacher should have to be thinking about — ideally it’s something that can be decided at an organisational level. This, it seems to me, is supportive of teachers because if it’s not done at an organisational level then learners may well get frustrated at having to go to different places for different subjects and the teacher is left having to deal with the learners’ questions. To clarify, regardless of what subject the learners are studying, they should be able to recognise for each course where to go, say, on the VLE for support, FAQs etc. The other thing that comes up is the work we are doing on the new online HOW2s around key questions, key content, concrete examples and concepts. The teachers know what these key areas are for their subjects and, as they teach these areas, there will be a strong correlation between these questions that come up and the corresponding key content areas. The other thing that strikes me is how more experienced teachers, those that have been teaching the same subject area for a number of years can use this FAQ space to support their less experienced colleagues by having this space be a shared space.

Thank you very much for your time and I have to say that despite enjoying our online chat I look forward to a time when we can discuss this face-to-face.


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