While quality and operational online learnings platforms take years to get off the ground, schools and institutions are being forced to offer online classes in a matter of weeks in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Executive leaders, professors, teachers, and students will have to prepare adequately to make sure online learning has the most significant impact. Communication is one of the most exceptional elements of online learning. Without it, teaching and assessment will not be possible.
Get Your House in Order
Before evaluating, designing, or refining a new system, you should get your home in order. This practice is not always easy, especially when responding to changing conditions or managing a crisis.
Nevertheless, it is essential that even in a rudimentary way to identify the required items and assign responsibility for oversight of those items. Leaders in online learning should be passionate and invested in orderliness.
Orderliness is crucial as it allows the users, students, and faculty members to be comfortable when navigating through the online classes. They should be able to find what they need quickly in video conferencing software. As you get your house in order, start by looking at video conferencing software reviews to determine the essential features in an e-learning platform.
Schools and institutions that lack the human resources and resources to design and build their e-learning platform can use ready-made systems that function just as well.
Comfort in the online learning system will allow transformation and transactions to happen without the physical presence required in a brick and mortar school. With the order in place, users will breed predictability and familiarity, which are the building blocks for human-to-human learning.
Designing the Communication Platform
Before rolling out online classes, you should have a tested e-learning platform in place. It should take care of all the needs of the users.
1. Know Your Audience
Online learning will never replace physical human interaction. It serves as a bridge between life experiences. Regardless of the system, you design, and the formats you choose to connect your users on the platform, prioritize the human presence on each module.
Acknowledge that the system is supposed to bridge distance and time. Your system should have good intentions, bias to connect playfully and joyfully, and goodwill. This will help deal with the frustrations that are bound to arise when students and teachers interact online. Online classes can be compared to freshly fallen ice, which is brilliant to behold, challenging to navigate, but worthy of exploration.
Depending on the ages of the learners who will use your system, you may be required to create several guidance forms. Young students and those with disabilities will need more adult involvement. This does not mean that 5-6 year-olds must be connecting to video calls. In this scenario, older family members should be given guidance and instructions on how to support the children’s learning.
Other audience considerations for the system include:
- Families with children who need additional support.
2. Define the Technology Stack
A software stack can be defined as the collection of codebases, platforms, and tools to create a system upon which user engagement, behavior, and activity occurs. The term is mostly used when planning to shift operations and communications from an offline (physical) environment to an online (digital) platform. The technology stack is the collection of tools that will keep your online institution moving when it is launched.
It is recommended you choose tools and codebases that support most types of communication formats. It is essential to name a team or person in charge of technical support and training. Here are the most common types of communication formats for online learning that your stack should take care of.
I. One-to-many Text-based Communication
It is essential to establish and sustain a single source of truth (SSOT) like a view-only document or a web page where institution-wide information can be posted. The institution should decide on its primary mode of one-to-many text-based communication to reach all of its intended audiences. It does not have to be a website. It could be an email or community-wide SMS service, as long as it serves the executive and team’s communication responsibilities.
Your stack should include email and notification systems to alert the audience of updates or remind them of information posted on the SSOT. To prevent the circulation of obsolete data, do not include specific details in the outgoing messages. Your e-learning platform should consist of tools for smaller groups, such as administrative teams, classes, and department faculty, to share information.
II. One-to-many Video and Audio Broadcast
Your school should select a platform or tool that allows one person (a person with authority) to stream video to all the intended constituents at once. For larger schools, the audience could be substantial. Some of the tools that can facilitate one-to-many broadcast include:
- Zoom webinars
- YouTube Live
- BlueJeans Event
- Google Meet
- Facebook Live
These tools are most suited for a Q&A session or text-based chat. People watching cannot be seen or heard, unless the host invites them as co-presenters. Most of these tools allow recording, captioning, and translation of scripts, making it possible to reach all constituents and create an archive of meaningful content for those who did not attend the webinar.
This feature is essential for online classes. Due to the prevailing circumstances, high chances are most students may not be able to attend the classes in real-time. With the recordings, they can catch up quickly. If you cannot integrate live streaming in your online learning platform, you could still use the old fashioned technique of filming a video, editing it, and publishing it on the official communication channels.
III. Large Group Video and Audio Discussions
An ideal online learning platform should be able to support video and audio engagement. These discussions could be classes, parent meetings, faculty meetings, or club gatherings. Here are some tools to incorporate in your stack to facilitate audio and video discussions.
IV. Small Groups Collaboration
Most web platforms offer spaces that can be used asynchronously and in real-time to support group collaboration. Teachers and students can construct something together at the same time or at different times using tools such as presentations, whiteboards, and documents. When combined with video or audio, these tools can serve as a powerful extension of the video conferencing utility.
Here are some of the tools for collaboration.
- G Suite (Sheets, Slides, Docs, and more)
- Explain Everything
- Work for iCloud (Numbers, Keynote, Page)
- Office365 (PowerPoint, Excel, Word)
V. Course Management System
Just like the physical classes, it is crucial to establish the starting and ending point of the online courses, as well as distribute faculty-only learning materials. The flow of the learning materials and the formats used should be consistent and straightforward. Here are some of the widely used learning management systems.
- Google Classroom
3. Implement Proper Time-based Phases
Your online platform should have at least three learning steps with determined lengths of closure.
Phase 1: The Standard Five School Days
This phase’s goal is to treat the first two school days as weather-related closure and utilize the other three days for faculty training, student work, and preparation for the next five days. It may not be feasible to move into a full-time online learning mode instantly, especially when resumption to normalcy is unknown.
The best way to help students adapt to the new normal with ease is to treat two days as you would for weather-related closures. The teacher should use these two days to refine or plan “snow day” activities that can be done asynchronously and independently for the next three days.
During the last three days, students should be completing the asynchronous activities while teachers and tutoring teams prepare for the next week of school, which will be conducted through the communication formats discussed above. This is also an excellent time to offer technical and instructional training.
In the preceding school week, team leaders and administrators should prepare on communicating with video and audio to their audiences, such as broadcast for the full school community and conference meetings for teams and faculty groups.
Phase 2: The Preceding Five School Days
These days should be used to assist your community get used to the online platform to engage with one another, connect at a team or classroom level, access learning materials, and master the daily routine. Even though users will not be able to be in the same physical room with students, they will be craving for connection and a method they had before the coronavirus pandemic.
By this time, the school administrators should have released at least two community-wide broadcasts welcoming students and giving them the way forward. Team leaders and faculty members should organize and conduct touchpoints with their designated groups. This is similar to putting your house in order but in a digital space.
You could incorporate the regular school calendar on the platform so that students, especially young students, can plan their day’s activities. Include both synchronous and asynchronous events. The main goal for everyone in these five days is to:
- Engage in meaningful activities
- Receive instructions from the faculty
Formal learning and assessing are not a priority during this phase.
Phase 3: Past the Ten School Days
After the first ten school days, you can consider your school as an online school. You can go ahead and introduce modules for feedback, assessment, calendars, and learning timelines. In the past ten days, both teachers and students will be adapting to the new normal of learning and receiving information.
4. Provide Checklists
Provide the users of the system with well-populated and straightforward lists of tasks they need to perform independently to prepare to learn and work in the online school you designed. Provide an office they can contact if they are having trouble with completing the independent tasks.
5. Offer Training
Since this is a new system, most of the users will require system training. Be prepared to provide organized training and instant support for smooth usage of the platform. You should know how to deal with smaller children for parents working from home. These parents will be trying to work and care for the children simultaneously, which adds another layer of stress.
Tips for Students Taking Online Classes
Now that the platform for learning is ready, the students have to do their part to ensure they get the most online courses.
Get a Study Table and Dress for Learning
Balancing a laptop on your laps in your bed, or with the television or music noise in the background is not the best way to study. Students learn best when in a location with minimal distractions.
An ideal learning space has a table, good lighting, chair, good airflow, and free from distractions such as television, noise, and smells of food. It also has good internet connectivity. Your table should be organized with the usual study materials placed neatly on top.
Organize Your Learning Time
An excellent student practices good time management skills. There is no right answer for when and how long a student should study at home every day. However, every student should have a personal timetable that divides their day into class time, rest time, and revision time. There should be breaks between classes to avoid zoom fatigue.
The human memory is not as stable. Most students tend to overestimate their memory capabilities. The human brain tends to forget 40 percent of new data within 24 hours of hearing or reading it. This is why it is crucial to take notes during class time or when revising.
Research is unclear on whether handwritten notes are better than digital records. Use the technique you prefer and are comfortable revisiting. The important thing is to practice good note-taking habits such as:
- Write questions that capture key learning points
- Revise your notes within 24 hours after taking them
- Summarise the information
Not all schools will have the human, digital, and human resources required to roll out online learning. In such cases, consider getting community support, even if you will be able to get just one active communication channel and modules for learning and assessment. This is much better than being forced into a fragmented experience.
Make the most of your online learning experience, create online study groups, and make learning a fun and easy activity.