At the beginning of the year, I decided to set myself small monthly challenges for my blog. This fell by the wayside as the UK went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and my teaching workload skyrocketed. I teach Year 11, 12 and 13 Psychology at an international school in the UK, and in the week preceding lockdown, our students started to be pulled away home by their worried families. We emailed lesson materials to our missing students while still teaching half-full face-to-face classes. The switch to online learning was a huge amount of work and upheaval for students and teachers alike. But we’ve finally reached summer half-term 😊 so I thought I’d write about my experiences of teaching online during the pandemic. Hopefully, someone will find my reflections useful.
Online Teaching Begins
When lockdown began, we shifted very quickly to online teaching via Microsoft Teams. This transition involved triple the workload as we had to alter existing lesson plans to make them more online friendly, prepare new materials, and learn the platform as we used it. Our students were now at home in different timezones. Some of them were going to be in quarantine for a while. We stuck to our timetables to keep everything as routine as possible, doing a mix of live lessons and set work. To make the education provision as equal as possible, I was preparing audio files to go with tweaked PowerPoints, uploading them (takes ages with audio files on Teams), and sending email backups of the materials (without audio – the files are too big). You can record live lessons on Teams, but not everyone had the internet capacity to view the Stream, and students HATE being recorded so they won’t ask any questions.
I haven’t always done whole lessons on a live call as I’ve been worried about my wifi. It was pretty good to start with – before last week, it had only cut out three times and was back up quickly (thanks EE). But last week, my wifi was so unreliable (fixed now) that I had to change my lessons plans with not much time to spare. As a result, I find the most reliable method for teaching on Teams (if your subject permits) is to do a quick introduction to the topic or activities in a live call so you can take questions, then offer a lecture-style lesson with PowerPoint and narration, which you can upload in Files or Lesson Materials. Students can download both PPT and audio files and use them at a convenient time. Finally, require the students to do something in the Channel chat facility, such as give their opinion about a topic, so that they are actively participating.
All The Good Things
We have lots of structured discussions in chat. Some students are actually contributing more in this way than they ever did in class. Scenario questions have worked really well for discussion in this way. We’ve set little research projects that the students seem to have enjoyed. I’ve received work which is much more reflective than usual; the students have been putting more thought and effort into their responses. On Teams, we’ve been able to do virtual pairwork and groupwork – the teacher can drop in on calls between students to monitor their progress, just like in class. My Year 11s organised this themselves in our first online lesson on Teams; students organise a call in the Channel and you can join their Meeting.
I am now communicating much more in emoji, so my modern language skills have improved 😊
All the Not So Good Things
My exam year students (Year 11 and Year 13) are annoyed they couldn’t do their exams. They felt ready. And it’s not satisfying to work for two years towards something and then have the end goal taken away. It’s like watching a movie where it builds and builds but then the ending just kind of fizzles out.
Microsoft Teams has a facility for setting and submitting assignments. However, as our students had a variety of internet circumstances (some kids were dialling in from military quarantine overseas; UK kids had some wifi issues), I couldn’t make that way of submitting work mandatory – some students had trouble uploading their files. So a lot of assignments came back to me by email – which is not ideal if you don’t want an overflowing inbox! Marking online isn’t ideal either – it takes longer to read text on a screen than to read text on paper, so the process is longer.
Also, the classroom experience is very different. Students hate being on camera – they soon switched off their video and microphones. As a consequence, if I was doing a live lesson, it was often like talking to myself, especially with the older students. Some students have unsuitable environments for home learning where it’s difficult to concentrate, especially if everyone in the family is at home, either learning or working.
Hopefully, we will be back in the classroom in September. But if we’re not, and we end up continuing our new online teaching or doing some kind of blended learning, here’s a list of learning tasks that work well online.
Online Learning Tasks
- Essay/Report Writing
- May include collaborative authoring, using wikis or Google docs.
- Reflective blogging
- Web-based tests/quizzes
- Problem-based learning activities
- Any activity that comprises an ill-defined problem that must be solved, using relevant tools and case studies, primary/secondary research, and collaborative work.
- Structured discussion forum ‘e-tivities’
- Online collection of ‘learning artefacts’ e.g. sample essays, reports, dissertations, or design and development projects.