Learning and Teaching Remotely

As COVID-19 continues to impact on our lives on all levels, there is the increased likelihood that remote learning will become a reality for teachers and learners. Whilst there are many online tools and platforms available to enable and assist students to learn when at home, there are also a wealth of learning theories describing how best to teach and learn online. There are, however, some key messages that need to be taken into consideration to ensure students’ experiences with this pedagogical strategy is both positive and relevant.

Technology is a useful tool and when used purposefully and authentically, can support teaching and learning anytime, anywhere. Fortunately, we have a wide range of contemporary tools, digital devices and systems that allow teachers to connect and interact with students online. Using digital pedagogy strategies, teachers can continue to deliver engaging and relevant learning experiences and lessons, and students can continue to work on curriculum tasks, either independently or collaboratively receiving synchronous feedback.

One of the benefits of teaching online is that there are some affordances that are not available in a traditional classroom setting. For example, online learning provides greater flexibility for students enabling them to complete set tasks at times suitable to their context, home and family routines. Whilst there will be designated times when students are expected to be online, they have some control over when they choose to undertake other set tasks. For some, this might be early in the day and for others their preference may be to work later in the evening.

Teachers also can determine how and when feedback is provided. Technology enables a plethora of opportunities for feedback and can include audio clips, real time chats, video conferences, Facetime conversations, email communication or group phone chats. Feedback can be provided on a one-to‑one basis, including scheduled check-ins with individual students, or whole group catch-ups or a combination of both.

The multimodal nature of the online environment is also very useful as there are a wide range of different options available to learn and express learning, including audio, text, image and video. Teachers can use the digital tools available to design and create engaging interactive resources and artefacts and students can use the technologies available to creatively demonstrate and communicate their learning.

However, it is important to remember that technology is a tool, not a learning outcome. Quality teaching remains the focus, whether online or in a traditional classroom setting. Teaching and learning strategies that are effective in a traditional classroom still apply when teaching online. For example, behaviour management within the digital classroom might include ensuring all students use correct and acceptable communication protocols when interacting online. Student engagement, inclusion and differentiation should still be evident when teaching in an online environment, as these are basic principles of quality teaching and learning.

In a traditional classroom setting, teachers are expected to choose resources that are age-appropriate and have curriculum relevance. This expectation remains the same when teaching online. With such a vast range of digital tools, apps and platforms available, teachers will need to make discerning choices when considering the relevance of the technology available as well as the time spent interacting with these systems. In some cases, students might be expected to be connected and online for the duration of an entire lesson. In other instances, teachers might require students to connect at the beginning and end of a lesson. Some curriculum tasks might require collaboration with peers, whilst others can be undertaken independently.

Learning at school typically goes on within the confines of classroom walls, and online learning can provide parents with a broader insight into their child’s learning, including level of interest, engagement, ability and curriculum content. Parents also can witness interactions between the teacher and their child, providing a deeper understanding of the learning process.

Teachers who might be feeling slightly anxious at the prospect of moving to an online mode of delivery, need not fear. The Australian Curriculum ICT general capability clearly outlines the ICT skills and expectations for all students, helping teachers to plan and deliver online learning experiences that incorporate these skills. There are also a wide range of resources available to support teachers to transition to online learning.

However, the basic principles of quality teaching remain and for every learning experience we provide our students, regardless of where we are physically located, three questions are always central to the teaching and learning process:

What am I teaching? (Curriculum)

How will I teach it? (Pedagogy)

How will I know if the students have learned it? (Assessment)

Remote learning can be a successful and positive experience for all involved if the school community collaborates to achieve a learning community. This means acknowledging the diversity of learning opportunities and digital systems available, as well as applying those protocols that respect all community members. Digital learning is dynamic, flexible, creative, collaborative and challenging – vital ingredients demonstrating that learning can occur anytime, anywhere, not just within a traditional classroom during school hours.

(Thank you Paula Christophersen for reviewing this article)

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