14 tips to guide educators implementing remote learning amid COVID-19
In 1947 at just six years old and with barely a year of school under her belt, my Mum suddenly found that “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic” was happening at the kitchen table rather than in the classroom. The schooling system, and all of New Zealand, had been caught up in the worldwide polio epidemic.
Schools across the country closed and the correspondence school delivered activities and tasks which were completed and then sent away for marking. Mornings were packed with printing practice, grammar and writing sentences, and the afternoons were spent in the kitchen helping her Mum with the preserving, sorting out the button jar or playing outside.
Dial the clocks forward 73 years to today and while this COVID-19 pandemic has not yet seen schools close (not counting several schools closed for cleaning following the positive test of a student), and with all UK schools closed indefinitely, I doubt it will be long before we see New Zealand schools moving towards some form of distance/remote learning.
It could just be pockets of schools affected or we could see an extra week added to the holidays. Whatever form the disruption may take, it’s never too early to start thinking about what it might look like for you, your school and your students.
If we do find our schools closing, it won’t be the correspondence school hand-delivering textbooks to students, it will be the internet and devices providing learning activities and opportunities. The speed and immediacy of the internet will not only ensure instant and timely contact, support and feedback for students, it will also ensure the learning process is interactive and fun.
As educators, it is important that whatever happens, we continue to support wellbeing and provide safe learning environments for our students as we move from face to face interactions to virtual classrooms.
Virtual classroom advice
Netsafe has compiled the following tips to help you navigate these largely uncharted waters.
1. Online and offline
One of my favourite teacher quotes is that you “can’t fill from an empty cup”. It’s important you set clear expectations about when you will be online and when you will be out of contact.
You may have students who will be sharing a device with whānau so their time online might need to fit in around the needs of others or it could be irregular.If all your students are on different schedules, you can’t be answering emails or messages from 6am – 10pm. Set aside times when you are available and when structured activities will happen and share these with your students and their parents
2. Think about the platforms you use
It is likely that your school will determine the platforms you will use to connect with students, but you might have some flexibility.
Consider your choices, weigh up the risks and benefits and make sure you have plans and structures in place to mitigate any risk.Be transparent with parents about what platform you are using, why you’re using it, how it will be used and what you have in place to protect the privacy of your students and ensure their safety online. Check out Netsafe’s Digital Safety Management Plan – it’s a great tool to help you to look critically at the online platforms and apps you use and evaluate their appropriateness.If you are already using a platform to communicate with your students ie Seesaw or something similar, and you think it fits your needs for remote learning, then stick with what you, your students and your parents feel comfortable with.
3. Be a Magpie
Teachers are highly skilled at borrowing, copying, ‘stealing’ and adapting ideas from others. Take advantage of the experiences and learnings of those teachers who have been doing this remote learning gig for a while.
Many teachers in Asia have been working remotely with their students and have seemingly tried and tested every app and resource available, as well as creating some of their own. Hop online and check out their recommendations and some of the tools/resources they have created to support their students and learning.
4. Set achievable goals and manage expectations
I have not been blessed with the ability to stay focused for any great length of time – my real strength is in my ability to procrastinate and then panic at the last minute.
Young people are often the same, and you can almost guarantee that while they have their laptop open, they will also have their phone, taking attention away from the learning we would ideally like them to engage in.We need to understand from the outset that there is no way our students are going to cover the same work they would in class. They will not be sitting at tables or lying on beanbags working solidly from 9-3. Keep tasks and activities short and meaningful. Ask for these to be submitted or checked off regularly rather than larger assignments completed over long periods.
5. Guiding the internet search
The ability to search for content, images and information is an integral part of learning and teaching, however searches can also turn up unwanted content.
Schools have filters, firewalls and monitoring software that helps make content harder to access, and chances are, robust filtering systems won’t be in place in some homes or on the devices students will be using. Even if there were those protective measures in place, a savvy young person works out very quickly how to bypass them.Spend time working with students to develop the skills and knowledge they need to search safely and to know what to do if they stumble across something that makes them feel uncomfortable or concerned.
6. Establish routines early
We all know how important routines are for ourselves and our students so have a think about how you can provide structure during this period of distance learning.Some families will slide into this new learning arrangement with ease while others will have barriers to overcome. Consistency around what happens and when, takes away the guesswork and helps to lessen the uncertainty.
7. Finding time to disconnect
We all need time to disconnect and recharge our batteries – life online is busy and the constant flood of information (especially with the current pandemic) can be overwhelming. As well as providing online activities and learning opportunities for students to engage in, also make sure there is a balance of offline tasks.
8. Factor in the fun…and utilise the tools
Working in uncharted waters can be thrilling for some and the source of great anxiety for others. Inevitably there will be teething problems.Lighten the load and schedule time for students (and yourself) to have fun. There are some neat time management apps available too, which can be useful especially with younger students and our tips will help families too.
9. Being social on social media
If schools do close and prolonged virtual contact with students is required, we need to think about how we stay connected.Social media is a great way to connect, however it does come with risks and challenges.
All social media platforms have a 13+ age limit, so bear that in mind and if you have younger students and look for other ways to connect.If you do decide to use social media (after a risk identification and mitigation process), communicate this clearly to your school and parents. Most anxiety comes out of the unknown so be transparent and have clear processes and expectations in place.Avoid using your personal accounts – set up a school-based account where you have greater control over who can access what and you can clearly delineate between your professional life and your personal one. If you are creating class groups where students can post and share learnings, ensure the group is closed and expectations are in place about how and what to share. Avoid engaging in personal messages with students and keep conversations professional and visible where possible. If you are connecting with students via video-conferencing consider your location and avoid personal spaces. Learn about Facebook’s privacy settings and read our tips on how to improve your online privacy.
The freedom to work independently will be a dream for some students, however for others it could be incredibly isolating.It’s important to factor in opportunities for students to connect and collaborate on tasks and activities. This will help to scoop up those students who need regular contact with others, those who perhaps have less guidance and support at home and those who have specific learning needs.
11. Partnering with parents, families and whānau
Generally, parents and caregivers are not trained teachers (other than those amazing people who somehow manage to juggle the life of an educator with that of a parent). Make sure to provide tips and guidance for those who feel completely out of their comfort zone, be transparent about what students are doing and how they can help support learning at home.
Clearly communicate information around tasks and due dates so nothing comes as a surprise and offer tips to make the transition from school to home learning easier. For example helping their child/ young person:
– identify an appropriate workspace at home
– schedule work time and play time during their day. Share online safety tips with parents too. Check out Netsafe’s parent resources including the Online Safety Parent Toolkit.
12. Be ready for questions
Given the current speed at which the pandemic is evolving, being able to access the latest information and advice is crucial.
There is a lot of information available and it can be hard for students to discern between fact and fiction.Put aside time to answer questions students might have and help them to develop the skills to be able to triangulate information, gather it from different sources and then think critically to assess the information’s validity. Netsafe’s tips might be a useful starting point.
13. Student wellbeing
Some of your students might be dealing with COVID-19 themselves or someone close to them who is. There is stigma around those who carry the virus so make sure students have a way of connecting with agencies or school counsellors who can support them.
14. The rise of the keyboard warrior
With more time spent online, incidents of online bullying will likely increase. The pressure of social isolation, boredom, frustration and anxiety will lead to more frayed tempers and short fuses.
Crises, whether perceived or real can lead to heated conversations and misunderstandings so keep an eye out and help students to develop strategies for dealing with them when they arise.Encourage your students to connect with you or a trusted adult if things happen online and let them know that Netsafe is here to help too. Sometimes talking to a stranger on the phone is hard, so we have a text service too – text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282.
Having worked within a variety of education systems around the world I can honestly say that Kiwi teachers are amongst the best – if anyone can turn this uncertain time into a period of rich and meaningful learning, it’s a Kiwi teacher.
Who knows if or when schools may close – but let’s be prepared for whatever happens.
Yes, the road ahead is unclear. Yes, there are going to be difficulties with devices and connectivity. Yes, there are going to be challenges we didn’t anticipate. Yes, there are going to be students who struggle. Yes, there are going to be days when we will just want to pull our hair out and give up in despair. But as teachers, we have this incredible ability to come together and to support one another when things don’t quite go as planned.
Reach out, ask questions, talk about the issues, collaborate, problem solve and find time to gather online for a cuppa in a virtual online staffroom.
I had an amazing mentor early on in my teaching career who regularly reminded me that despite the apprehension and concern I experienced when faced with a new teaching challenge that I was exactly the right person for the job – “you’ve got this”.
More help from Netsafe
Schools and kura
Netsafe has resources to support schools and kura at every stage – from urgent assistance responding to online incidents, to classroom and community engagement, to long-term, strategic planning.
For schools looking to review and implement an online safety programme, we recommend joining the Netsafe Schools Programme. This a free programme designed to help schools with online safety, citizenship and wellbeing. It been guided by research to empower schools with the knowledge and capability to create a safe online environment for their students, whānau, staff and boards.
Parents and whānau
Netsafe also has a variety of resources to support parents and guardians create more positive online experiences. Our Online Safety Parent Toolkit is a great place to get parents and whānau talking about online safety. As young people spend more time online, it’s important that parents and whānau can teach their child to have a safe online experience.
While there might be a digital technology gap between what you know and what your child knows, you can still help. You have life skills, maturity and experience your child hasn’t developed yet especially when it comes to safety and security behaviours. You can view more of our parent resources on our website.
Report an online incident
If you need want help or advice with anything happening online, you can contact us for free expert advice. Our helpline is open from 8am – 8pm weekdays and 9am – 5pm on weekends.