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Teaching remotely in a COVID-19 world

08 May 2020

Once upon a time I was excitedly explaining a new activity in my ICT class. I think I’d got up to step 23 when a student politely interjected. It seems that the class were struggling to remember steps 1 – 22. OK, I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. I got the point and reminded myself that one step at a time is fine. This is a nice segue into the online seminar I recently sat in on. Hosted by Karen Tui Boyes from Spectrum Education, Catlin Tucker spoke about the online teaching experience and how it closely aligns with Blended learning.  

Think of remote learning via learning devices is an opportunity for both students and teachers to engage in new and exciting ways, especially when it comes to the kind of learning conversations that can take place.  Most educators are familiar with the concept of rotation stations or what we used to refer to as Learning Rotations. Tucker uses the term blended learning, and Wikipedia defines it as:

“An approach to education that combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction online with traditional place-based classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some elements of student control over time, place, path, or pace.”

In the COVID-19 context, the physical presences will be in different places, but the principles of blended learning means that meaningful learning can take place at home, and allow the students and teachers to interact and collaborate. This, of course, assumes that the class is using a learning management system that allows for a variety of collaborations to take place.

At the heart of blended learning is a series of tasks that are balanced between on-line and off-line tasks, allowing the student to have success while moving at a pace that ensures that a skill or task is mastered.  

Tucker is based in Northern California and worked as a teacher for sixteen years. She has written a number of books on the subject of blended learning, and credits it as a teaching practice that allowed her to keep sane and lead that rarity among teachers, a balanced life.  

Blended learning should be an integral part of a teaching programme, says Tucker. She also points out that activities don’t all need to be online based. 

Bite-sized learning: Break up the learning tasks into smaller bites than we would do in a face-to-face teaching situation. If you’re recording a lesson, break the teaching points down and do as separate video clips. This will allow your students to progress at their pace.  It’s what my old principal referred to as “chunking.” Teaching this way also has the added advantage. You, the teacher, only need to explain the teaching point once. The akonga (learner) can replay your clip until they have that longed-for “aha!” moment. If they’re still stuck, they can touch base with you and ask for one-on-one help.

Tucker says that a successful on-line teacher can be best characterised by using the acronym VOCAL.  

  • V-isible
  • O-rganised
  • C-aring
  • A-nalytical
  • L-eader by example

She went on to “unpack” what J R Savery’s model of a successful on-line teacher looks like in practice. For example, a visible teacher will be one who:

  • makes regular announcements
  • posts questions and facilitates discussions
  • hosts regular synchronous sessions (with the whole class virtually present)
  • provides timely feedback on students’ work 
  • is available with regular virtual office hours.

The blended learning model provides a strong foundation for teachers who are feeling a little outside their comfort zone. Ms Tucker and Ms Boyes have put together a series of useful templates and resources to assist teachers. Spectrum Education hold regular online meetings.  

I first encountered an unsuspecting Ms Boyes many moons ago at a U-Learn conference in pre-quake Christchurch. I’ve always gravitated towards those who can see the big picture and how the components fit together. They are worth their weight in gold, especially during those times when you’re critically evaluating your own teaching paradigm.