5 things teachers should consider when moving lessons online

5 things teachers should consider when moving lessons online

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a reduction in face to face learning across educational institutions. Teachers are now required to think about technologies more than they have ever had to before. But as experts in education, teachers can use their strengths to teach in virtual spaces.

Monash Education’s digital learning expert, and former school principal Michael Phillips has thousands of hours of experience. Here he offers his top five tips.

1. Focus on the learning needs of your students

Teaching is first and foremost a people business. Our work is all about enhancing the knowledge, skills and lives of the young people we work with. This doesn’t change when we move learning and teaching online. We need to remember that not all students learn in the same way – knowing your students is a vital part of integrating technology into your classroom. You just can’t set and forget.

Just because a digital tool works well for one group of Year 7 students, doesn’t guarantee success for another group. Equally, just because the use of a digital tool worked on Monday doesn’t mean it will be as effective on Friday with the same group of students.

2. Understand the content and purpose of your lesson

Content needs to come before technology. Do it the other way, and you can ruin your lesson.

Imagine the purpose of your lesson is to develop synthesis skills and teach students to draw themes and ideas from a large amount of information.

There are digital tools that are great at this. TagCrowd, for example, creates a word cloud from sections of text. The more common the word, the larger its size. It’s quick and easy to see the themes, visually.

Result from TagCrowd, visualisation of the frequency of words used
An output from TagCrowd.

However, if the aim of your lesson is to teach synthesis skills, then this is not the tool for you – with the click of the button, the app is doing the work, not the student.

3. Consider the relationship between teaching, learning and technology

Teaching is not simply telling. Learning is not simply listening. The two exist in a symbiotic relationship. It’s vital to understand this relationship when considering which educational technologies might work in your classroom.

It is also really important that teachers understand some of the ways in which technologies impact on learning. For example, did you know that research over many years has found that people are 25% slower at reading text on a screen than from a printed page, and that we should write 50% less text on screen compared to what we put on a printed page?

Technology doesn’t make everything better – there are some things that we can’t do as well in virtual spaces as we can when teaching face-to-face. However, there are many things that digital technologies can do well, and occasionally even do things that would be hard, or even impossible, to do in face-to-face teaching and learning.

We, therefore, need to rethink some of our teaching practices to allow students to take advantage of the ways in which we can engage them in virtual spaces.

Don't forget - teaching is at it's core a people business and building and maintaining relationships with our students, caregivers and colleagues will be more important than ever. Think about how much richer video communication is than text and use tools not just for teaching content.

Video communication between boy and teacher
Video communication is richer than text.

4. Understand your school context, and know you can influence it

We are now working at the time when it can feel like lots of things are being ‘done to us’. It can feel like we are dis-empowered and we have no control.

My research into teachers’ use of technology has shown it’s not a one-way street – teachers and their teaching are not always shaped by context or by technology.

We now have the impetus to consider where we work, what new tools we might work with and what kind of virtual learning spaces we would like to create. This means we need to consider the technologies we use, and importantly we need to consider them in relation to the other factors that shape how people work in individual schools.

5. A new framework to use when introducing technology into your classroom

After considering students, content, pedagogy and context, you are well placed to make a thoughtful decision about using technology.

Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler have developed a framework called TPACK to show how technology can be effectively integrated in the classroom. It represents the combination of Technological Pedagogical And Content Knowledge and is represented by this Venn diagram.

TPACK Venn diagram
TPACK Venn diagram. Reproduced by permission of the publisher © 2012 by tpack.org.

The TPACK framework is one way for us to consider all of the things we need to think about in a large scale move to online teaching and learning.  We need to be thinking first and foremost about our students, then about the content that we are trying to teach them and finally, which digital tools will help us with this task.

In many ways, this is what we have always done as educators – the digital just gives us different options. We as teachers are best placed to make these decisions for our classes – so get out there, try some new tools and think about how they might enhance your digital classroom after the school holidays.

Free online course

Our digital education team at Monash Education have put together a set of free online modules to help support this online learning challenge.

Online teaching: Interactivity