Five tips for successful online lessons
How to keep your students engaged and learning during the disruptions
According to UNESCO, there are currently 188 country-wide school closures affecting 1.5 billion learners, which is almost 90% of the world’s students.
Schools in Thailand, like the rest of the world, have also been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. Educational institutions have been ordered to close and any learning which is going on is happening online.
Fortunately for most Thai learners, the school closures came into effect after the Thai school year had ended so the students most affected by the current closures are university students and international school students.
However, Thai schools are scheduled to reopen in mid-May, for the new school year, and it’s highly unlikely the coronavirus outbreak will be contained that soon. Thai authorities are yet to make announcements about delaying the start of the new school year, or moving learning online, however the chances of all schools opening in mid-May, as scheduled, are slim.
The most likely scenario is that Thai schools will be encouraged to teach students using online resources, so that students can remain safely at home while still continuing their education.
Many teachers have experience of teaching individual students or small groups online, but teaching regular sized classes is a whole different story.
The months ahead are set to be challenging for many teachers (and students, and parents!) but there are ways in which teaching online can be effective, enjoyable and successful!
Here are five tips -
1) Central Learning Platform
It’s essential that students at each school have one central learning platform which they can all access and navigate in order to organise their online learning.
Google Classroom is probably the most commonly used learning platform, but many institutions have their own Moodles and Virtual Learning Environments. Alternatively, schools may opt to use Google Groups or even a page on a social media site.
Whichever platform is chosen, it’s essential that students know how to find this resource, how to log in, when to log in and how to navigate.
During regular computer studies lessons, students should have already acquired these skills, but at schools where this hasn’t happened, students and teachers will face numerous difficulties during the initial phase of online teaching.
These are very disruptive times for us all, and, believe it or not, our students will actually miss coming back to school, seeing their teachers and socialising in the school environment. As such, it’s important that online lessons remain as familiar to the students as possible. Students should be able to have online interaction with familiar teachers, a familiar structure to their ‘school day’, familiar lesson structures and familiar activities.
3) Live Video Stream
Real interaction between teachers and students is essential for successful online learning. Simply sending an email with a reading list or a set of worksheets is not going to engage or inspire learners.
Interaction between teachers and students can be done through the school’s online learning platform, messaging apps such as Google Hangouts, and video streaming apps.
Without question, live video is best. Using Zoom, Google Meet or YouTube Live your students will be able to see you live, they’ll be able to communicate with you and they’ll be far more engaged in their lessons - plus you’ll be able to see who is online and ready to learn.
It’s also worth remembering that you don’t need to be ‘live’ for an entire lesson. Good teaching practice tells us that teacher talk time should be limited to 20%-30% of the lesson. I usually spend the first 10 minutes speaking with the students, introducing the lesson, reviewing prior knowledge and then setting a learning activity (as in a regular lesson).
I then usually ask students to log off from the live stream (but keep messaging communications open) and tell the students to rejoin the live stream after a certain amount of time (usually 15-20 minutes). Then i can review their progress, provide feedback, answer any questions and set further work.
Live streams are important - but students do not want to spend an entire lesson staring at their teacher.
A final tip for using video streams with large classes is to remember the mute function. Being able to mute your students while you are explaining something important is wonderful - shame it can’t be done during regular classes!
As with regular lessons, it’s important to include a lot of variety in your lessons - reading, research, group work, composition, quizzes, discussions and of course games.
As mentioned earlier, students do not wish to spend the entire lesson looking at their teacher, and they should not be expected to spend the entire lesson doing worksheets either. Think about the activities which are successful in your regular lessons and adapt those to be successful online.
5) Free Resources
Finally, there are currently hundreds of educational websites now offering their services completely free to help with global school closures. The Journal.com has an updated list of hundreds of these resources.
Find resources which can support your learning and teaching, then link to these resources via your school’s central learning platform. Resources which I personally recommend are Kahoot, RazKids and Education City!
I’m sure lots of teachers have more opinions, ideas and tips about making the best of online teaching and learning - please leave comments and ideas below!
Dan Maxwell, a writer and educator currently living and working in Thailand
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Hi Dan, Thanks for your very comprehensive article. I ran my own bricks and mortar school on Ladkrabang Road from 2014 until Songkran 2019 when the owner sold the building and finding another suitable home-school site proved too difficult. Besides, with the worsening economy etc. the business had lost money in 2018. Currently, I am looking to re-open online as a boutique school (as before) for private groups or individuals, and wonder if you have any tips or advice e.g. are the 700+ likes that the school facebook page I manage actually worth much?
By Aussie Joe, Australia (13th April 2020)
Thanks very much for the useful info!
I've been teaching all my students on Skype for the last 2-3 weeks. I try to mix up the lesson in different skills like conversation, reading, videos and puzzles etc. It seems unlikely that international schools will open for term 3 at the end of April. I am hearing that many parents are unhappy that (1) these schools won't refund or reduce fees and (2) they just send daily worksheets with no face to face time with teachers at all. Does that sound like good value at over 500,000 baht per term? No, I don't think so either. The good news is that kids can still learn at home, via private tutoring schools, and those which offer good online lessons will do well. We see it as a challenge, and so far we're adapting to the online learning environment very well. Most kids actually want to learn.
By George, BKK (3rd April 2020)