With the last year and a half spent teaching in front of a screen, what can educators take away from their remote learning experience and bring back to the classroom? Jen Roberts explains.

Just as teachers were planning to return to some form of hybrid learning in the fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that schools should fully open, saying that students “benefit from in-person learning.”

While it may seem like this change would force teachers to have to go back to the drawing board, replacing their technology-rich plans with those from before the pandemic, it’s not an either-or scenario. There are many skills that were learned during the pandemic that can now be capitalized on to enhance classroom instruction and student learning.

Students learned new technology and became more skilled with the programs they already knew. The use of technology increased student engagement, and teachers became experts at personalizing student learning. Across the board, students and educators became more resilient as they worked together to navigate the unknown educational landscape of online learning.

Technology

When the pandemic began, schools were quickly closed, leaving teachers scrambling to adapt classroom-based lessons for online instruction. This transition was easier for schools that already had technology in place. Other schools not only had to learn new programs in a hurried fashion, they sometimes even had to find computers and laptops to facilitate at-home learning.

Now that schools are most likely returning to in-person instruction in the fall, teachers should reframe how they think about technology in the classroom. Instead of technology being the way instruction is delivered, it should now be viewed as a way to enhance in-class learning. Technology has the potential to create dynamic learning environments that connect students to the real world, while also preparing them for college and careers.

  • Use resources from last year to maximize learning time. Teachers can use technology to create a blended learning environment where lecture videos made during the pandemic can be used so that class time can be spent on collaborative, project-based work.
  • Online learning management system (LMS). Using an LMS as a place to store all information related to class, including a course schedule and all learning material, frees up limited class time and increases productivity. When students know where to look for assignment guidelines or a missing deadline, that is more time the teacher can spend facilitating learning in the classroom instead of answering questions. It also allows parents access to course materials so they can monitor their student’s progress.
  • Don’t overdo it. Even though students are more familiar with learning online, it’s important to be mindful about the fact that there may also be some fatigue from staring at a computer screen for too long.

Student Engagement

Last year, the combination of hybrid and remote learning forced teachers to get creative with how they structure their time with students. Many teachers used technology to teach new content before class so that students could dig deeper into the topic when meeting in person or in small breakout groups online.

If the same approach is applied next year when students are back in school, they will have more opportunities to collaborate and work together to solve problems. In a 2019 study, Bond and Bendenlier state that “Engaging students in the learning environment with technology provides opportunities for a sense of community, accessibility, support, motivation, interest learning, and self-regulation.”

Students benefit from having learned these skills long after they leave the classroom. “Every child deserves to become highly engaged in technology as they prepare for the workforce,” says Dr. Felicia Bolden in her TechHub article, How Technology can Increase Student Engagement. “Technology not only increases student engagement, but it also enhances students’ opportunities to be successful and productive citizens.”

Personalized Learning

Perhaps the biggest surprise of education during the pandemic is how some students thrived when instruction moved online. Students who feel anxious to speak up in class suddenly had a platform where they felt comfortable sharing their ideas. Students with different learning styles–auditory, visual, and kinesthetic–benefited from technology’s ability to address their needs as it provided an opportunity for content to be delivered in a variety of ways. As students head back into the classroom, it’s critical to their success that learning be personalized.

  • Let students learn at their own pace. Teachers had to be flexible and allow students to work at their own pace. Sometimes this pace was dictated by limited technology in a student’s home that had to be shared among siblings, while other times, it was because of needing extra time to learn and master new material.
  • By allowing students to work at their own pace, it ensures that they are mastering the material before moving on to the next lesson. Teachers should work with students to set goals that help facilitate progress and put the students in charge of their own learning. Helping students set and meet learning goals is an important college readiness skill.
  • Apps and online programs. Software apps and other online learning programs were used when students needed extra help. Teachers directed students to different websites on the same topic based on their skill level or interest, which helps students stay motivated in their learning.

Differentiated learning will help students learn at different levels with the support they need to master content.

learning gaps

Resiliency

As the pandemic shuttered schools, teachers and students were forced to adapt to new ways of learning. Teachers retooled lessons and students had to learn new programs, some with as little as just a weekend notice. Existing class schedules changed to ones that were more conducive for online learning, forcing teachers to adapt their plans yet again.

But through all the changes, teachers and students adapted and even rose to the occasion. Students helped teachers problem-solve technology issues, and teachers taught students new online programs and class procedures. Teachers and students remained flexible as they created new norms for their online learning environments.

Try new things. The resiliency demonstrated throughout the pandemic shows us that teachers shouldn’t shy away from trying new things in the classroom. Students can and will rise to the occasion. Trying new things in the classroom helps build soft skills such as self-confidence, problem solving, and the ability to take on a new challenge–all of which are skills that are needed to succeed in college and future careers.

Create a safe learning environment. In order for students to take risks, they have to feel safe, so the classroom environment is critical in a teacher’s ability to try new things with students. Leticia Guzman Ingram, English Language Development teacher, in an Edutopia article, says that she once began class demonstrating something she was bad at–hacky sack. She did this to set the tone and create an environment where students feel comfortable taking risks,” she says. “I want to have a class where risks are celebrated. I want my students to feel free to make mistakes in front of friends and peers and collaborate to figure out answers.”

Returning to the classroom shouldn’t mean returning to the way things were before the pandemic. Students and educators learned many new skills that will improve classroom learning. Instead of technology being the way instruction is delivered, it should be viewed as a way to enhance the learning in the classroom through increasing student engagement and personalizing education.

ABOUT JEN

After nearly 20 years in the classroom as a high school English teacher and an educational foundations professor, Jen Roberts works as a freelance writer and editor. She’s passionate about making sure that all students have equal opportunities to succeed. You can read more of her work at www.jen-roberts.com