Rethinking Online Teaching Strategies

With the sudden adoption of technology, there can be many unforeseen events such as when the system crashes during an online quiz leading to a sudden spike in the ticket volume that learning support agents and IT personnel have to deal with. Being someone who has direct observations of how online learning is taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic and working with higher education instructors, I agree with Dr. Torrey Trust of the University of Massachusetts Amherst that teaching in 2020 requires a different approach that builds trust, relationship, respect, and crucial skills needed during this time.

Long lectures, high stake tests, and individual activities are archetype features of the traditional teaching-learning process. With the adoption of technology, there’s a tendency for some teachers to continue traditional teaching practices. This is understandable because many teachers are still having difficulty in navigating their online learning system and traditional teaching is still one of the most efficient ways to deliver a lesson if the objective is about meeting the academic timeline. But for some educators, the current situation provides an opportunity for them to teach crucial skills such as collaboration on top of the intended curriculum.

Instead of the following strategies:

Long lectures are common in higher educational institutions. In basic education, students have several subjects to learn. Worksheets are intended to help students practice skills but sometimes given to them with less knowledge or no understanding at all. While exploration and independent learning are important, many students still need interaction with expert learners in order to achieve tasks more efficiently and effectively as pointed out by Lev Vygotsky on his definition of Zone of Proximal Development. In the case of assessment of learning, high stakes tests are administered which increases students’ pressure on top of technological hurdles. In spite of the opportunities to diverge from traditional teaching, 100% live classes or online meetings and individual activities still dominate in some settings.

Try these activities:

Mini-lessons with small group discussions for active learning provide students to share and learn insights from peers and experts. In a study entitled “Measuring actual learning versus the feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom”, students with ‘active learning’ experience learn more than they perceive probably because it provides more meaningful interaction compare to a lecture-oriented lesson. Low-tech and asynchronous activities provide doors for students to learn away from screens. Some low-tech learning may include journaling, drawing concept maps, creating a work such as one that relates to student’s interest, and planner to set learning goals. Decreasing students’ screen time is important as six hours in an online class is not the same as six hours in school. In school, it’s possible to have non-verbal communication, but in online learning, this can be difficult to process especially that most of the time we rely on verbal information to make emotional judgements on the person’s statements. For teachers having different students, culturally relevant pedagogy to contextualized learning and tap a potential point of connection can help increase students’ engagement and better prepare students for connected learning with peers, teachers, and the larger learning community. Most importantly, designing activities to promote social interaction such as through trivia, game night, digital escape room, virtual book club, online scavenger hunt, team challenge, vision board design, online community quilt, and other collaborative activities can help learning this time feel less isolating. During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers should focus on pedagogy rather than on technology and help students acquire and develop other crucial skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and collaboration that will also prepare them in the future.

Focus on formative assessments:

Summative assessment is important because that’s how we can measure learning against standards. But in online learning, formative assessments provide teachers an opportunity to adjust teaching and learning intervention especially that it’s new to many. With online learning, polls can engage students and at the same time provides a valuable tool for teachers to check comprehension and understanding. Activities such as mentioned in the “Try these activities” can become meaningful formative learning assessments. By monitoring their learning progress beyond just the numerical part, we will be more confident that students are going to achieve standards and we have some reference to predict their performance. Also, transparent assessments such as availability and application of rubrics help students meet teachers’ expectations. With learners struggling more than ever, there should be more emphasis on formative assessments.

COVID-19 pandemic has inescapably shown the need for future generations to learn the crucial skills highlighted in this article, especially collaboration. These skills don’t come naturally to humans, they must be inculcated, practice, and developed. Features of the traditional way of teaching and individualized learning with worksheets (if use properly) are still effective in helping students meet standards. This article does not suggest to deemphasize content nor abandon strategies that work very well, but to respond to the present and future needs. Some have successfully demonstrated those crucial skills, some are still struggling, and some have failed in those areas. The value of teaching-learning process is not just about the transfer of knowledge or content, but develop philosophy and real-life skills in tackling and dealing difficult crises, social problems, or issues such as climate change and public health emergencies. The activities suggested in this article will not just engage learners, but they will also have opportunities to acquire other skills along with knowledge.

If you’re an online teacher, how will you rethink your teaching strategies during this time?

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