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Eight ways to improve online learning

Reflecting on online learning experiences during the pandemic can help improve education provision in the future. Oanh Crouch, director of education at Globeducate shares how this group of schools have identified eight key areas to focus on.

By Oanh Crouch

We have emerged from a time that we are all unlikely to ever forget on a personal and professional level. There have been many challenges to overcome during this time for students, parents, teachers, leadership teams and school communities. Globeducate is a network of international schools, including 20 IB World Schools, that offer online programmes across Europe, Asia and North America. Our mission is to prepare each student to become a global citizen that can shape the world. Eager to harness our schools’ experience of online learning so we can use it to impact our teaching and learning, I collated qualitative data and information from a survey conducted in our schools.

“As we return to the new normal, I am determined we do not simply return to the old normal”.

Amid the comments and reflections, eight areas were identified which will direct the way we consolidate and improve our provision of learning for every scenario—online, hybrid or face-to-face. We intend to use them to “build back better” as Professor John Hattie urges.

Relationships

We connect and cultivate relationships with students, parents, teachers and the wider community. Never is it more obvious that relationships are crucial for authentic learning to commence. “How are you?” have become the three most powerful words to communicate. Parents have shown appreciation, gratitude and are in awe of how teachers support their children not only on an academic level—but more importantly on a social and emotional level of support.

Examples

Understanding each family and teacher context and reality of their situation.

Using parents’ first names.

Talking about children’s pets.

Reading buddies.

Personalized videos, audio files, telephone calls, video meetings etc.

Small group lessons, 1:1 check-in conversations.

Weekly meet with parent and student about work that has been uploaded to identify challenges, issues and targets.

School calendar events: World Book Day, Earth Hour, Graduation, Crazy Hair Day, Wear it Wild day, WWF Summits, WWF webinar, Globeducate Debate.

Social events—birthdays, quizzes, book club, pizza making classes, special days etc.

Flexible learning

We allow opportunities for learning that is synchronous (happening at the same time) and asynchronous (happening at different times).

Examples

Projects for individual, paired, group task/presentation.

Whole class input 10 minutes, then log off for individual work, communication for support, one to one check-in with students to show progress or responses, relog in for last 10 minutes as whole class for sharing of work.

Flipped learning—links, reading, videos, podcasts, PowerPoints uploaded onto a learning platform for students to access before lessons.

Clear expectations of what students will need to do before, during and after lessons.

Split the group so smaller groups are synchronous, while the other half is asynchronous and swap over.

Incorporate outdoor learning and opportunities for practical and hands-on learning that students can complete asynchronously.

Learning platform

We continue to use our digital learning platform for every schooling scenario—online, hybrid and face-to-face teaching.

Examples

Teachers and students continue to upload resources, lessons, PowerPoints links and shared documents to the learning platform.

Live lessons are recorded and uploaded for student access.

Students can access work they have missed due to illness or review work they need to consolidate.

Absent teachers can upload work for lessons, so students can work through and learning is not missed.

Students and teachers can share work and comment on it to get further feedback and ideas to improve.

Families who are in different time-zones can continue to access learning.

Lesson Engagement

We use teaching strategies to promote online student and teacher interaction, participation, engagement and collaboration.

Examples

Reduce the level of teacher talk so lesson is not a lecture or webinar. Students are given lots of different ways to interact, discuss and respond.

Breakout rooms for students to work on projects, problems or brainstorm ideas.

Teachers pop into breakout rooms to check in and answer questions or provide feedback and challenge learning.

Use the chat function for students to respond to questions.

Use physical whiteboards for students to show their thinking.

Allow students to share their screen to showcase their work and explain how they solved a problem.

Use virtual whiteboards for increased engagement.

Make use of stamps, emoticons, drawing tools etc.

Annotate on pdfs to ask questions or comments.

Assessment

We design formative and summative assessment tasks that allow students to showcase their learning in a variety of ways.

Examples

Highlight importance of all assessment tasks as it forms overall predicted grades.

Use digital tools like Quizlet, Socrative, Google and MSforms to find areas of misconceptions.

Randomise questions.

Not just use ‘exams’ as assessments—use different ways to show learning—song, video, dance, presentation, speech, drama, music.

e-Portfolios as assessments—blogs on Google sites or MS Sway.

Learning sequence

We ensure clarity of instructions, divide learning into sequential chunks and monitor students’ response to teacher feedback.

Examples

Structure unit/syllabus into logical sequence of learning.

Check understanding of learning before moving onto the next learning sequence (see assessment).

Allow students to give teachers feedback on the lesson.

Exit tickets and student reflections.

Provide feedback on uploaded work—written, verbal and audio recorded.

Track feedback that is actioned by students.

Track editing changes to documents.

Monitor students’ responses to feedback.

Opportunity for written and verbal feedback from peers.

Ed-tech tools

We are creative in our use of ed tech tools to facilitate and promote learning to provide a virtual face-to-face experience.

Examples

Ed-tech tools to deliver learning via recorded videos, webinars and live lesson recordings.

Ed tech tools as formative and summative assessments.

Expand how ed-tech tools can be used to provide learning experiences—virtual field trips, guest speakers, artists, authors, poets, archaeologists etc.

Connect with different students in different schools.

Use tech tools for collaborative sharing—Padlet, Nearpod, Pear Deck.

Hold virtual staff meetings, parents’ meetings and conferences.

Use ed-tech tools for digital portfolios of learning.

Collaboration

We utilise the expertise within our local and global network to find resources that will enhance the learning experience of our students and professional learning for our teachers.

Examples

Share planning within and across schools.

Use school clusters to share resources, recorded learning videos and live lesson links and teacher professional development class visits.

Combine groups of expertise for input and have teachers in breakout rooms according to differentiated groupings.

Form learning communities for heads of departments and IB coordinators.

Connect students with school clusters.

Student participation in virtual global events—WWF summits and webinars, Globeducate Debate etc.

The initiatives implemented as a consequence of the pandemic continue to be a part of what we do and provide for our learning teams. School closures have strengthened the professional learning network we have and we continue to consolidate and build on our learning from the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) challenge, viewing it as an opportunity for growth and development.

As we return to the new normal, I am determined we do not simply return to the old normal. John Hattie urges us to build back better so that we take on board the new and adapted learning initiatives and to not put them away with tightly sealed lids. We want to embrace them and consider how they can be added to our teaching and learning repertoire. This social experiment that no one would have ever wish happened did happen and we want to use it as an opportunity to improve.

After an extensive and successful career in teaching and leadership roles in Australia, Finland, Thailand and the UK, Oanh Crouch is the director of education of Globeducate. She leads on teaching and learning projects, in-service training, curriculum development, global events and virtual learning communities across the group. Oanh utilizes her knowledge and experience with the IB programmes to work closely with leaders, teachers, parents and students across the group’s global network of schools to create a learning culture, which impacts curriculum design, pedagogy, collaborative practices and professional learning. You can connect with her here.

This article is part of a series of stories from IB World magazine that bring to life the wonderful initiatives undertaken by IB students and educators from around the globe. Follow these stories on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube and feel free to email us your story.

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