Strategic use of digital tools can help educators who are teaching during uncertain times by providing structure and space for effective learning. There are many technology tools available that can help educators provide clear instruction and foster relationships regardless of when and where students are learning.
Using messaging programs and learning management systems, teachers can set clear goals and instructions for assignments, as well as provide instant feedback. Using digital tools also helps teachers seamlessly partner with parents, providing them a chance to take part in their students’ learning.
1. Digital hubs help teachers and learners stay organized
Educators and learners need a place to connect, no matter where they are located in the world. A digital hub, such as Hāpara Workspace, allows teachers to house all the information related to their class in one place. This space can make a difference when teaching in uncertain times, such as during remote or hybrid learning. Put everything related to your class in your digital hub, including:
- Instructions for digital learning activities
- Due dates
- Instructions for non-digital activities
- Virtual meeting links
Having all class communications in one place gives students a solid foundation for learning and a single location for student-teacher communication and relationship building.
Digital learning hubs also benefit teachers because you can schedule assignments and plan for substitute teachers.
2. Establish clarity and consistency with digital learning materials
There is a significant amount of research that supports the importance of organization, consistency and clarity with digital learning materials.
The article “Two Meta-Analyses Exploring the Relationship Between Teacher Clarity and Student Learning,” states that “higher levels of clarity are associated with higher levels of student learning.”
Clarity and consistency is especially important in virtual learning. In “Assessing Teacher Presence in a Computer Conferencing Context,” the authors explain that designing an online course “forces teachers to think through the process, structure, evaluation and interaction components of the course.”
Another study on online learning effectiveness found that in “face-to-face classrooms, instructors and students can negotiate meanings in real time. This opportunity allows instructors to make goals and expectations clear and to remediate student misconceptions and confusions as they occur. In asynchronous courses, this kind of negotiation of meaning is not possible.”
One way to provide this needed consistency and clarity, regardless of whether students are learning virtually or in person, is using a digital hub. Some tips for creating clarity within the digital hub include:
- Create naming conventions for assignments.
For example, name assignments by the week number, date, topic.
- Organize classwork by week instead of by day.
Put assignments in reverse chronological order so students don’t have to scroll through all of their assignments before reaching the current work. Organizing work by week provides students and their families flexibility to complete the learning tasks on a schedule that works for them.
- Add visual cues like emojis and icons to help make assignments and resources easier to find.
3. Prioritize relationships and stay relatable
Studies have shown that the learner-teacher relationship is an important component of student success, and digital tools can help grow these relationships. Learners and teachers can use digital tools to show their personality, such as through videos and messaging systems. This can help when teaching during uncertain times to create a supportive learning environment.
Teachers can use emojis to add personal elements to digital materials and communications. Educators can also use technology to create shared experiences for learners, parents and teachers. For example, teachers could organize online events, like a virtual talent show or show and tell.
Other tips for building learner-teacher relationships in the digital realm include:
- Within online discussions, you can share hobbies and personal activities.
- Bitmoji allows teachers to create a digital cartoon of themselves that they can add to online materials for a personal touch.
- Flipgrid fosters a sense of community by allowing teachers and students to record videos, which creates a sense of live interaction without learning having to be synchronous.
- Embed “buried treasure” into learning materials. Buried treasure is a hidden item or message. For example, teachers could embed a digital sticker of their school mascot somewhere in the digital hub or within digital assignments. Students who find the buried treasure could be entered into a drawing to win a prize.
4. Create self-directed learners
Students must be self-directed learners and self-starters to be successful in digital learning. Teachers need to help students become self-directed by slowly transferring ownership of the learning process over to students by using their strengths.
Choice boards are a great strategy for providing learners ownership into how they engage with content. The card structure of Hāpara Workspace makes it really easy to create choice boards. Teachers can also foster self-directed learning by using other strategies and digital tools:
- Empower students to answer their own questions.
Provide a list of resources for students to reference when they need help. These resources could include a list of YouTube videos curated to answer common questions or explain concepts. Provide the opportunity for students to add to that list themselves so they can share new information on the subject.
- Teach students to “ask 3 before me.”
This process helps students learn to use their own resources before going straight to the teacher for answers. The “ask 3” could be customized, but an example includes:
(1) Rethink the problem: Refer back to the instructions and learning materials.
(2) Do an internet search: Use your research skills to find the answer on your own.
(3) Ask a friend: Reach out to a classmate for help.
- Add pacing guides to learning tasks.
Tell students how long the entire task should take, and break down timing for each piece within the task. Times provided could be approximate time of completion or minimum time of completion. When teaching in uncertain times, your pacing guide supports both learners and parents. It helps them manage time and provide flexibility to tackle schoolwork in a way that works for them.
Scott Titsworth et al., “Two Meta-Analyses Exploring the Relationship between Teacher Clarity and Student Learning,” Communication Education 64, no. 4 (2015): 385—418, https://doi.org/10.1080/03634523.2015.1041998.
Terry Anderson et al., “Assessing Teaching Presence in a Computer Conferencing Context,” Journal of the Asynchronous Learning Network 5, no. 2 (2001), https://auspace.athabascau.ca/handle/2149/725?show=full.
Karen Swan, “Learning Effectiveness: What the Research Tells Us,” in Elements of Quality Online Education: Practice and Direction, ed. John Bourne and Janet C. Moore (Needham: The Sloan Consortium, 2003), 13—45.
Karen Swan, “Learning Effectiveness.”
Karen Swan, “Building Learning Communities in Online Courses: The Importance of Interaction,” Education, Communication, and Information 2, no. 1 (2002): 23—49, https://doi.org/10.1080/1463631022000005016.
Michelle Drouin and Lesa Rae Vartanian, “Students’ Feelings of and Desire for Sense of Community in Face-to-Face and Online Courses,” The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 11, no. 2 (2010): 147—59.
Underdown and Martin, “Engaging the Online Student.”