By Nadav Avni

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, schools were forced to quickly adapt to distance learning and blended learning environments. The results were mixed, to say the least.

Teachers were using a combination of tools, such as Zoom and Google Classroom, tacking up chart paper and using a variety of virtual whiteboard products. Students and parents were confused. Such approaches served to exacerbate the digital divide between students with sufficiently powerful computer equipment and broadband connections and those without. The consequence of this was widespread frustration for students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

At first, the onset of COVID-19 left educators little choice but to adapt and do the best they could. In the process they learned a lot – not least what didn’t work. Since then, all of us had the opportunity and time to plan our approaches and improve them. Parents may be willing to forgive the weaknesses of an imperfect system when events are moving fast and things are uncertain; once schools are back in session this autumn, parents will expect them to have got their act together.

The pros and cons of distance learning

There are benefits and disadvantages when it comes to remote learning. Some students will benefit from the experience, in that it allows them to work at their own pace. Certain students may find that contributing ideas in an online setting is easier for them than speaking up in a classroom. On the whole, most students are comfortable with technology and used to communicating online – once this has become their main way of communicating with school, they may be more likely to provide feedback or ask questions when they need help.

Conversely, other students may struggle with the lack of interaction compared to that typically found in a classroom setting. Many ‘remote classrooms’ sessions held last spring would have seen students’ learning interactions reduced to reading educational materials, watching videos or clicking through presentations – a passive form of education that can be dull and lead to disengagement.

At the time, of course, educators were doing the very best they could in highly stressful conditions – but as remote learning becomes more commonplace, finding new ways of keeping students engaged will be crucial.

Remote classroom planning for distance learning

Here are some of the key things educators need to start taking into consideration when planning their distance learning programs, moving forward.

Provide training for the new normal
Teachers will need to adapt their communication skills, and may need some help brushing up on their tech skills, to implement remote classrooms successfully. Distance learning will require educators to find new ways of fostering collaboration, providing real-time feedback, and keeping in touch with students and parents.

Deploy the right tools
Some parents have complained about different teachers using different tools, forcing parents to provide their children with IT support while lacking the time or skills to do so. Using a single tool across all remote learning programs makes things easier for everyone. Adapting to any new learning tools can be difficult; doing so repeatedly will only add to your school community’s stress levels and confusion.

Find the right selection of tools and then use them consistently. Let students focus on learning the curriculum, rather than figuring out the software. Cloud-based tools can make distance learning more cost-efficient for administrators, while for IT staff, minimising the number of platforms you use will mean less troubleshooting and time-intensive problem solving.

Stick to a schedule
A consistent, regular schedule helps provide students with a sense of normalcy and helps teachers stay on task. Determine specific lesson structures and office hours, and then stick to them.

Adapt your lesson plans
Educators will need to adapt their existing lesson plans and strategies to the ‘new normal’, but also carefully assess students’ learning levels. The abrupt switch to distance learning has left some students behind – especially those who were unable to fully participate in the spring.

Set goals and motivate students
Keeping students motivated and getting them to complete their classwork is difficult, even under the best circumstances. When distance learning programs are involved, this becomes even more complex. It’s therefore crucial that you set clear goals for students so they know what’s expected of them, when things are due, and exactly what they should be doing.

In a remote classroom environment, when students aren’t motivated or become frustrated it’s a short step from there to them ceasing participation altogether. Some schools have reported that as many as a third of their students this spring stopped logging in for classes.

Manage student participation
As remote classrooms become the new normal, gauging those levels of student participation is something else that has to change. Watching how students absorb lesson material in person, it’s possible to see there and then if they’ve properly understood and are doing the work. With remote learning, that instantly becomes more difficult.

Teachers need training and remote learning resources that will allow them to see students at work, check faces for signs that learning is taking place and provide them with a way of giving individual instruction when it’s needed, without singling out individual students in front of their classmates.

Provide distance learning resources for teachers
Teachers need the right resources if they’re to provide an optimal experience for their students, and having right tech tools will make a big difference. They also need a means of staying connected with peers and administrative staff, so that they can continue working in a collaborative way.

Remote learning can be isolating, and place an additional stress burden on educators. Whether they’re working from home or in the classroom, this added stress can lead to burnout and anxiety, so it’s important that teachers are provided with the support they’ll need to stay motivated.

Keep standards high while managing remote classrooms

Given the continuing uncertainty around COVID-19, educators should plan on being able to provide virtual teaching as an option for the autumn term and beyond. Without the right distance learning resources it will be difficult to maintain high educational standards, irrespective of whether you’re pursuing a ‘remote classroom’ or ‘hybrid learning’ approach.

Teachers must be prepared to maximise the upsides and minimise the downsides of education’s ‘new normal’, and recognise how technology can help to achieve this. The ideal solution is one that provides a hybrid approach, by using one tech platform that combines classroom management tools with enhanced video conferencing capabilities.

One such solution that’s currently available is VISO TeacherView, which provides a foundation for interactive learning. A cloud-based platform, VISO TeacherView, allows teachers to teach and students to learn remotely, while benefiting from the same seamless experience of traditional classroom environments.

VISO TeacherView allows teachers to discretely assist any students needing help, and virtually ‘walk’ between students, while viewing their screens and faces in real time. Teachers can similarly monitor students’ activities and evaluate their performance there and then, while sharing screens and camera feeds, providing individual and group assistance, and implementing collaborative learning methodologies.

Nadav Avni is Marketing Director at Radix Technologies Ltd; To learn more about VISO TeacherView and how it can help you manage remote classrooms click here