Distance Learning: An Easy How-to Guide

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If a teacher has never done any type of distance learning, it can be a flood of emotions.

It seems overwhelming, nervewracking, and confusing.

I am here to promise you…PROMISE YOU…it isn’t that bad.

distance learning teacher

For three years, I taught a blended learning elective at my school.

I worked at a CTE high school, so with requirements for shop hours in addition to basic core academics, there was simply no room for electives.

We piloted a program to try to overcome this for students who wanted a little extra.

A colleague and I put in a proposal to teach Human Behavior, a morphed psychology and sociology class.

Hands down, it was the most sought after class in the program.

To run the class, we met after school one day a week for 2 hours and then met online via Google Hangout one evening a week. Students were issued a Chromebook for the duration of the class and everything was 100% student-centered.

Each week to start had a different theme that dealt with psychology and then the last several weeks put all of that knowledge to use in creating a sociology experiment to prove a hypothesis based on what they had learned throughout the course.

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Each week had content, surveys, and experimental responses.

It was awesome.

When I think back about my time in the program, there is a special place in my heart for that first group of kids.

For one thing, we all figured out how to do distance learning together.

This is what I learned from those moments that I unequivocally, without a doubt think that anyone who is figuring out distance learning must know:

It’s going to have bumps when it first begins

Your first day or so working on an online platform, something will go wrong.

Many things may go wrong.

That doesn’t mean it’s doomed to failure.

If you have six hours worth of lessons planned on your very first day, take a deep breath….there’s a really good chance it’s not going to happen.

Someone’s internet will be down. Someone’s computer won’t connect. Someone (or their parent) will be texting someone else in the class to tell you that they’re trying, but it’s not working.

distance learning classroom

Relax. It’s okay.

You need to allot time that first day to work out all the kinks.

Stay. Calm.

Have a notebook and keep notes of who is having what issue. Work through them step-by-step. If your school is having you work on a bell schedule and all of a sudden it’s time for the next class, it’s fine.

Go back during your prep time and see what issues you can work out and what you might need to contact someone about.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Everything WILL work out.

How you structure that online time will make the difference

You absolutely, without a doubt, MUST make it conversational.

I can’t emphasize this enough.

Chances are, you have taken part in some type of webinar in your lifetime.

As an ADULT, how many times can you honestly say you watched the entire thing and didn’t switch over into a new tab to “multitask”?

Think about it.

teaching distance learning

I have mentioned before that we are teaching Generation Z. Yes, they’re tech-savvy, but the statistics today say that the average attention span is 8 seconds. 100 years ago, it was 23 minutes.

All you need is one shiny butterfly and they’ll be gone.

So how can you combat that?

First, have a plan of what you want to cover if you’re live chatting during the distance learning.

Make sure the student’s cameras are on so you can see them.

I once had a student try to tune in to the distance learning class and then leave the room…for the whole class.

Also, make sure they all know to mute their microphones when they’re not speaking. Background noise will get old really quickly.

From here, you need to know your students to decide what will work best.

I have done different things depending on the nature of what I wanted them to achieve.

I have done full class, where everyone is in one Google Hangout. That was good if everyone was discussing a topic (in my class, we used the Google Hangouts do discuss the results of the surveys they would complete for homework in between the in-person class and then distance learning class).

I have also broken the students into groups. They each go into their own chat and would invite me as well, so I would pop in and out of each one to see where they were with things and answer any questions that would come about.

child looking at tablet

Also, a good idea when planning this out is to utilize the internet!

It’s literally right there in front of everyone. Scavenger hunts are good. Everyone can be part of the chat but searching for things in another tab. You can see their faces as they do it and can tell quickly who is engaging and who isn’t.

Don’t be afraid to call on students who may be distracted. It only takes a time or two before they realize that even though they’re on their couch, you’re still doing something.

Also, don’t try to have them live on the chat all day long if you can help it. I spoke with a teacher in Hong Kong who said that some teachers are on week six (at the time) of doing just that: online school as if it was live in the classroom. He said that EVERYONE was absolutely exhausted in every sense of the word and it just couldn’t be sustained much longer.

If you’re scrambling still to figure out a happy medium, consider an inquiry-project. Your students will have a lot to say each time you speak, especially if you give them a list of questions they need to answer (and create) as time moves forward, that’s for sure!

Interruptions can…and will…happen

I’ll never forget it. I was on a Google Hangout with a small group of my students discussing their last-minute preparations for their final projects. I had gone into the bedroom and shut the door, which was supposed to be the universal signal for “Mommy is working right now”.

I guess the memo got lost that day.

My kids bust into the room, about age 5 and 3 at that point, in some type of savage fight that only two little boys can have.

I wish it was over something epic.

It wasn’t.

I then spent the next 30 seconds to a minute holding my laptop as I ran around the room, tried to quiet them down, boot them back out into the hallway, and still keep a conversation going with my students.

Needless to say, all of that failed.

My students were in stitches laughing.

I might have even broken a sweat.

The takeaway? It was the best live birth control I could have given them at the moment.

I digress.

Interruptions are going to happen. Guess what? It’s going to happen on their end, too.

The best you can do is attempt to keep them to a minimum and also be flexible.

Don’t make your student embarrassed or feel bad if all of a sudden their 140 pound Golden Retriever wants to join in the conversation.

dog with toy

Address it in a lighthearted way and move on.

Remember, at the end of the day you already know your students. You know which one is going to do every single thing you ask.

You know which one is going to be attempting to play video games the entire time.

You also know which one is going to claim every single technological issue that can possibly arise.

Let me tell you something though: this is also new to the kids. They might surprise you. They are just as uncomfortable as you are.

Their parents and siblings and dogs are home with them, just as yours are.

It’s like the stillness of the first day of school, but you already know your kids.

It’s like the first day of a new school, where everything is new so there’s excitement and also a little trepidation, but you already know your kids.

I promise you…it’s going to be fine!

If you haven’t joined our teacher mastermind group on Facebook, please do! It is open to all teachers during this unprecedented time. All questions are answered, we are having a number of trainings on various websites and apps we can use, and being kind to one another is a must! https://www.facebook.com/groups/293751971607485

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