Distance learning: challenges and opportunities
As school suspension due to COVID-19 is being prolonged in many countries, technology is currently the only means by which we can reach out to our students. Therefore, we need to reconsider when, where and how learning happens and adapt our methodological approach.
Besides some essential software such as a web conferencing tool to organise live sessions, an efficient Learning Management System (LMS) – like Moodle, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Schoology or Edmodo – is also needed. This helps to create a virtual classroom in which to share resources and materials and communicate flexibly with our students.
The real challenge, however, is to provide effective distance learning with meaningful activities to keep students focused on their learning goals and performance objectives.
As it is not feasible to keep students in front of a screen for hours, long academic-style video conferences are preferably avoided and replaced by shorter online sessions and micro-lessons to explain the learning scenario. In order to avoid limiting online live sessions to one-direction information transfers, teachers could make part of the lesson content into videos that students can watch asynchronously at their own pace. Time spent online with teachers can then be used on interactive, creative and problem-solving tasks, for example through polls, exit tickets and moments of reflection. Equally important is the planning of post-connection deliveries and deadlines.
Teachers might also feel the need to formatively assess students’ learning progress in order to provide personalised feedback. For example, students can complete online quizzes – like Socrative, GoFormative, Liveworksheets, LearningApps and Wordwall – or play games in teams like Kahoot!, Quizzizz or Quizlet Live.
As for the summative assessment of students’ performance in distance teaching activities, online testing may raise concerns about plagiarism and cheating. Therefore, it might be easier to evaluate the learning process on the basis of creative tasks like digital storytelling, and to focus on skill acquisition such as learning to learn, cooperation, active participation, progress and commitment.
In a time of global crisis like the one we are facing, teachers are called on to carry out an important task for the community, which deserves to be praised and which can bring about innovation in schools like never before.