Today, the school year kicks off in our local communities here in the Coulee Region of Wisconsin. Most, not all, are entering this year on a virtual platform as opposed to in-person, classroom learning. While the majority of students were exposed to an online learning environment last spring, it was brief if you consider how long a school year actually is in length. For our district, it was roughly the equivalent of one term (half a semester with two terms) or one grading period. Success in the spring required some quick adjustments on the part of teachers, students, and parents. Virtually everyone was thrown into the world of virtual learning if you’ll excuse the pun!
However, our family probably fared better than most because we had distance learning experience before last spring. Our experience includes:
- Alex Online Math (Geometry) in 2007 for acceleration
- Health Course Online in 2009
- Enrollment in a Wisconsin Virtual HS via another school district four hours away (but, we did not have to go in person) for grades 11 and 12 (2011- 2013) for our eldest son, which included AP classes, an additional foreign language (Chinese), and a whopping 70 hours of service learning a semester.
- Online enrichment courses through Johns Hopkins University which included math counts, pre-calculus, and AP Statistics.
- And, my own (second) Master’s Degree in Environmental Education, which was entirely online, (2014-2018).
Since experience that includes my own learning, as well as supporting and navigating our sons through several virtual platforms, I’ve gathered some tips that I’d like to share today.
Tips for Online Learning
One of the things that can cause issues with online learning is the platform itself. Last spring, it seemed, many platforms were used – Canvas, D2L, Blackboard, Google Classroom, and even YouTube. It was seemingly up to the teachers to choose the digital platform that would get the job done. Unfortunately, this caused some confusion as to how to turn in assignments, how to communicate, where to look for instructions, and how participation and grades (if entered) were tracked. Immediately, I saw this as an issue. Since students were allowed to submit assignments in different ways depending on the platform and choice of the teacher, a great deal of flexibility was needed to learn and understand how the platform worked for each class.
Fortunately, this variety has been taken out of the equation by school districts. Many districts have gone to using one platform for teaching and learning. It might depend on grade level – such as lower grades using See-Saw (a platform I am unfamiliar with) to Canvas or Blackboard for upper grades. Obviously, using one platform across an entire system increases the equity for students and decreases the need for flexibility as they move between their classes online. This is an important change from the online learning that was experienced this past spring. And, it is a change that should increase the success of your student, as long as they learn the platform.
Ideally, a few days should be given to allow students to navigate the online learning sites for each class. This should include, where assignments will be posted, where to submit assignments (dropbox, email, etc.), where to look for grades or other feedback from teachers, and of course, due dates. Keep in mind that this is all great preparation for post-secondary education of any sort. There will be a short learning curve in the first few days to weeks that should be supported by the student’s teachers and family. Patience is required. Do not allow frustration to develop into anger at your child’s teacher or school. If you need help, ask for it! Clear communication is essential for any new learning environment.
Schedule and Work Tips
Despite not having to get up and catch the bus, a normal schedule should be kept. By normal, I mean routine. Be aware that online learning is not meant to replace all the hours your child was at school physically in years past. Very often, they will be able to sign on, see their work, maybe have a time when they have to “meet” as a class via zoom or google classroom for a lesson, and then sign off to complete their work. When work is done on a schedule it is referred to as synchronous learning – everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. But, with online learning, much of it is asynchronous. This means that aside from joining their teacher and class at assigned times, students will choose when to complete their work during the day. This might even mean they can “work ahead.” Still, expect due dates and even times, as digital assignments sometimes have to be completed by a specific hour to allow for grading and feedback.
For example, in graduate school, many of my assignment submissions needed to be complete and uploaded by 11:59 p.m. on the day it was due. If it was submitted at 12:05 a.m., it was considered late. Be sure you know (parents) or your student knows if there are any such time requirements for assignments.
Your student(s) should try to do their school work at the same time every day. If this means from 8-12 noon, then that is when you know they should be doing readings, assignments, projects, and meeting with their class virtually as required (obviously, this might be a time outside of the hours I’ve listed as an example). This is the best suggestion I can offer to digital learners that will help them stay on top of their work.
KEEP A SCHEDULE!
Last spring, our 12th grader got up at the time he would normally rise if he were going to school physically. This was 6:15 a.m. He would do school work in the morning, usually between eight and eleven. Then, he’d be done for the day, allowing him time to pursue his art or complete projects for school that were due at a later time. This schedule ensured he kept up with his assignments and was able to turn things in on time. Extracurricular activities were curtailed due to the circumstances of the pandemic but involvement in those will increase the need to keep to a schedule for school work. The difference between this and a physical learning environment is that the structure needs to be put in place at home, as opposed to using the structure that school sets for the day.
Provide Structure and Use it
Likewise, when our eldest son was finishing high school virtually, for two years, he kept a schedule similar to what I described above but was also defined by his involvement in band, theater, and service-learning. As described above, these extra activities placed more of a demand on his time – time that could be unwisely used if one does not adhere to a structure!
Remember to Relax – Take Breaks!
A television commercial recently watched, said that pediatricians in the United States are now prescribing play for children. While my husband scoffed at this, I knew that this has been a practice in some European countries, such as Scotland, for a while now. Our children have become overscheduled, over-busy, and overburdened with the demands of life. A return to play and the exploration of the outdoors, along with experiencing nature are essential parts of childhood. No one learns well if they never get off the treadmill of the required lessons.
Relaxing the mind and spirit is essential to our health and no different for children of any age. School is work, whether it be in a physical space or via a computer screen. Taking time to play and relax is essential.
Trust your Teachers
Finally, trust that your teachers want this year to be successful for you as well. Many have worked long hours to ensure that they can deliver their lessons on a new platform. In fact, through all the digital learning experiences our family has had, I have not been displeased or disappointed with any educator. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for in-classroom teaching and learning!
Tips in Summary
Digital learning might be new this year and like any educational experience, it will evolve. Some will have a great experience and some will not. Some will have experiences that change from day to day and class to class. But, hang in there! One thing is for certain, digital teaching and learning are not going away. Most certainly, we are on the tip of a very different future in education.
To make the most of this year, the following tips were offered today:
- Stay on one platform (your teachers and district have probably done this for you).
- Get to know the platform – explore it. Have patience with yourself and others.
- Communicate clearly and early. If you do not understand what is being asked of you or your student, let the teacher know. Do not wait until the last minute to ask for help.
- Keep a schedule and routine for the time learning will take place.
- Set aside a quiet, designated spot for learning in your home. (This was not mentioned above but is very important).
- Provide structure and adhere to it.
- Relax, take breaks, and get outside. Enjoy nature. Play. Everyday!
- Trust your teachers in that they want you to be successful, too!
Enjoy your year!
Today is Slice of Life Tuesday. Thanks go to TwoWritingTeachers.org for hosting this weekly forum.