Thriving Online – Barker College

Barker’s Digital Learning Team, like all teachers and staff around the state, for that matter, commenced Term 3 firmly positioned in survival mode. We had a good set of tools and strategies in place, but nothing can overcome the feeling that we just need to “get through the week”.

Inevitably, we reach a point where we become more comfortable and familiar with our new modus operandi. It is here where we can shift the focus from surviving online to thriving online. Thriving online follows this example, placing wellbeing together with academic virtues.

Thriving Online represents a guide to good teaching and learning in an online context from PreK-12. The framework includes five domains: Wellbeing, Design, Agency, Interaction, and Feedback. Interestingly, these don’t just make for good online teaching; they represent good teaching, period.

Wellbeing

A common phrase in education circles is Maslow before Bloom. This refers to two models prevalent in education and psychology:  Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive engagement. Put simply, Maslow before Bloom means that teachers must ensure students’ basic needs are fulfilled before learning can commence. While some students might flourish learning online, for others, it can be isolating and daunting. Having an awareness of this spectrum is vital. To thrive online, teachers help students feel a sense of belonging in their class, establish routines and norms, and emphasise individual goal setting.

Design

Like face-to-face learning, online learning should balance the need for teachers to engage in good direct instruction and the ability for students to learn independently and from each other. In the online environment, teachers can create this balance by conducting targeted video meetings on Teams to explicitly introduce and scaffold ideas, provide worked examples, and check for understanding. However, we also know that students then need opportunities to think and connect their ideas. For this reason, we keep our video meetings under 30-minutes and allow students time in lessons to develop their understanding.

Agency

Feedback from our online learning experience in 2020 revealed that many students valued the ability to work through activities at their own pace. When students are well prepared, we know that they value the ability to pick up where they’ve left off and work through an activity or project at their own pace. Agency can also come from more unexpected places, like the ability to watch, pause or rewind video content or from having the choice of several activities or topics from which to work.

Interaction

Interaction is often seen as one of the most challenging areas to tackle in online learning. We are lucky to be teaching and learning in a time where technology continues to make interaction and communication more accessible. Many teachers use breakout rooms in Teams to provide students with the virtual space to communicate and collaborate. Microsoft Teams has also become a real hub for asynchronous communication with students and teachers communicating over chat. Our focus for thriving online is to continue to look for ways where interaction, collaboration and communication are developed through learning activities.

Feedback

Feedback in online learning takes on new meaning and importance. In a face-to-face classroom, feedback can happen so subtly, almost subconsciously. When working online, students look for different cues from their teacher to make sure they are on the right path. Using tools like OneNote have helped by giving teachers access to student work as it is being completed. In our next phase of online learning, we will continue to develop feedback options by encouraging individual goal setting, peer feedback, self-assessment, and peer feedback.

Conclusions

Teachers and staff learnt a lot from our previous experience of online learning. While we learn more about the nuances of teaching and learning online every day, we are well-positioned to make the most of the challenges that are thrown our way. In 2021, we must set our sights on providing excellent learning opportunities for our students, no matter the context.

 

Andy Mifsud

Director of Digital Learning Barker College

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