Some key points to consider when planning to take your face to face class / school fully online.

As has been acknowledged by those in the know, taking learning online is far from simple. It takes thought, experience and practice. I have been teaching in a fully online environment since 2008. I love it. It doesn’t replace face to face and nor should it. However, it is not the second rate experience some may think. Like any learning experience, it could be in the wrong hands, but in the right hands…it is an opportunity. 

It is a real pity that this environment is being forced on many NZ teachers. It has so much to offer – flexibility, agency, digital citizenship, connection, collaboration on scale. It is opens up the world. Not if it is just ‘stuff’ online though.

So here goes, my advice to NZ teachers planning to continue learning programmes for students at home.

  • Give them room to breathe. As so many have rightly indicated, you cannot expect to take a normal face to face programme and put it online. It takes longer, so it therefore needs to be a ‘lighter’ version. This is even more important if schools are closed. Who knows what the conditions are for kids when they are home. What pressures? What expectations? Focus on the ‘big’ and prioritise worthwhile learning. For me this would not involve, quizzes, wordfinds or any sort of ‘filler’. 
  • Design learning in ‘chunks’ or modules of one-two weeks or larger for projects. Taking learning fully online involves a shift in thinking from planning for ‘lessons’ to planning for a week or fortnight. This enables a fluid, flexible environment that gives the student an opportunity to work through at their own pace – but importantly, within this time frame, not longer. It is difficult to organise collaboration or knowledge building if everyone is at wildly different points. Keep design emergent so it moves with the needs of students.
  • Emphasise the social. This may actually be a far bigger need for students than curriculum. Your class is a community. Some of your learners will crave the connection to that wider group and the sense of being part of a greater whole. Create that for them. Provide an asynchronous hub (whether Google+ Communities, Google Classroom, Teams, Schoology or whatever else) that is lively and social. Encourage dialogue, conversation and collaboration. Provide ‘connected’ learning opportunities. Don’t stop there. Why not a hub for wider groups? Your ‘Ako’ Group? What about the teachers? Where is their online hub? Why not something like this?
  • Use video conferencing to support the ‘social’. I would advise against using video conferencing as a ‘delivery’ mechanism. Don’t use it to get content across. If you need to do this record yourself and put the video into your online hub for learners to view in their own time. Use it as a chance for everyone to connect. You may not even talk about content, curriculum or formal learning. Just talk. Keep the connections going. And I also wouldn’t recommend scheduling too many of these. Some learners may be craving the routine of school, but the more synchronous activity, the more flexibility you lose. This is actually a fantastic opportunity for learners to have more agency and control so don’t bind too much of it to set times.
  • Centralise communication as much as possible. We (NetNZ) advise our teachers to have a rule for this with students. Ask any general questions to be posted in your online hub. Say you will give it a maximum of 24 hours before you reply, but that you will if no one else does. This means you won’t be fielding the same questions through email over and over again. It provides the opportunity for students to help each other (actually act as a community) and takes the pressure off you to be the font of all knowledge. It also makes the problem and answers highly visible so everyone can benefit. Ask that students email you if they have a question of a private nature.
  • And lastly, think outside the box. This is actually a fantastic opportunity to engage in what can be a rich, highly ‘connected’ environment that everyone can benefit from. What about co-constructing learning with students? Use online platforms to plan and design together. Develop an online community not a course. Turn design on its head and just start with a ‘big’ question that everyone inquires into. How about knowledge building instead of learning design? What about learning across schools? There are no walls after all.

Most of all, take your time and enjoy.

By Darren Sudlow