Teaching remotely has, out of necessity, become the uneasy norm at the moment. I say uneasy because it’s implementation has been foisted as opposed to eased into it with discussion, training and professional development, guidelines and the like. The transition, for me, has been nuanced. It has not been as difficult as it might have been, yet I still find myself feeling “in limbo” for lack of a better term. It is like feeling like a can’t remember why I walked in the room, then not recognizing the room. My unsettled disposition is, I have found in talking to many colleagues, one that resonates with many.
The times I feel confident and capable I owe to my comfort level with educational technology (and also in no small part to the fact that my children are all over 18 thus eliminating the juggling many of my colleagues are doing). I have used a blended learning model in my classes for a number of years and experimented with a variety of platforms – Brightspace/D2L, OneNote Class Notebook, and Microsoft Teams – so I was prepared for moving to an online platform. Most of my class content is already there. Yet, I still needed to adjust. The workflow I used in my blended learning face-to-face class was not a remote friendly model. Thankfully, I was able to draw on my background and experience to work around the work flow difficulty. In a blended learning situation I rarely used the news feed in Brightspace or Teams. I made announcements live in class. Now, the news feed is my hub. I post a succinct lesson outline for my students in the news feed once a week. Everything they need to do, with timings about how long they should spend on each item, is linked to that post so my students don’t have to struggle looking for the right section in content or the right dropbox, etc. I also include a short video just to say hi. I try not to make my content rely on video a lot due to internet connectivity and availability issues in my rural area. Many of my students have limited data and weak connections, so videos are not very user friendly.
I teach high school, so posting once a week is preferred by my students. Many of them work, and since the school shut down, many are working full time hours because they are in essential services like grocery stores and farms. Having a full outline for the week allows them to plan their schedule to suit their needs. This is also why I don’t try to have synchronous classes. Many of my students would be excluded due to internet problems and others would be working. I do have optional check-ins and students who are able join for a short chat. The feedback they have given me has been very informative and reinforces the way I have organized my work flow.
I’ve also been able to survey my class using Microsoft Forms to aid in future planning.
I’ve also been able to post short videos to boost student well-being, like this one from WE Well-Being COVID-19 Toolkit.
The two considerations that are top of my mind when I am putting together my plans for remote learning are first, social-emotional learning and well-being, and second, accessibility. I read on Twitter at the onset of moving to online to plan your lessons, cut the plan in half, then cut it in half again. That advice has stuck with me, and I have worked at paring down everything to its essential parts. Some of the activities I do face-to-face, like student presentations or group work, are doable online, but just because it is doable, doesn’t mean we should do it. Requiring students to try and do group work during isolation can’t be done without a great deal of stress for some students, not to mention the accessibility issues it creates for others. So why do it? I know how disjointed and, well odd, I feel most days, so I imagine students are too, or maybe worse. My chief job right now is not to teach curriculum, it is to teach students and looking out for their well-being is the biggest part of that. This is why I pare everything down and look at it all through the lens of ‘will this add undue stress to my students?’ or ‘Will this create accessibility issues for my students (and therefore cause undue stress)?’ These questions have guided me in selecting what I do, how much I assign, and the way that I present the information. Serendipitously, this approach has meant that I have eased my own stress and supported my own well-being by reducing any nagging feelings I may have about whether I am doing this right because as long as I am taking my students’ well-being into account, it can only be right.