When I recently spoke to a group of eight students ages 17 to 22, I asked them what the biggest surprise was that they received since returning home to finish the semester online. I got my own surprise from most of them. Their top answer?
How little their teacher knew about online learning.
Apparently, many faculty members struggled to get up to speed using a laptop or desktop to deliver their curriculum. Many had never taught anything using a screen unless it was a screen in a live classroom. Several students in my virtual discussion said they waited hours for their instructors to get up to speed. One student told me his teacher never managed to do it and ended up texting the assignments to his students.
Obviously, the computer and smartphone were second nature to these Generation Z students. In fact, for many of them, school will never be the same. While they get bored faster in their current environments, they love the autonomy they are experiencing, and many are declaring they plan to learn online going forward. When my son, Jonathan, was a college student, he told me he preferred online learning, not because it was fun but because it was fast and in his control.
How will this COVID-19 pandemic change the way teachers teach and students learn?
What the Numbers Tell Us
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, one in six high school seniors who planned to attend a four–year college full time no longer do. Why do they say this? The most prevalent reason is cost. Twenty-one percent of those students said it may “no longer be affordable for my family” because of the coronavirus. The second reason is, they’re now seeing how comfortable learning online can be. It’s as though the coronavirus has opened their eyes to new possibilities.
The American Council on Education predicts college enrollment could drop by 15 percent this next school year, which could lead to a $23 billion revenue loss for universities. And if the global pandemic forces schools to hold classes virtually this fall, is college really worth the cost?
Six Ideas to Utilize Technology to Teach
I believe the handwriting is on the wall. While I prefer engaging students face to face, both educators and parents must get comfortable leveraging technology. This has been coming for years; the pandemic just sped up the inevitable. So, let me offer a simple list of to-dos to as you engage learners through technology:
1. Mix up your platforms.
If you’re delivering an academic curriculum, you obviously must use a consistent platform. However, to keep students engaged, leverage as many formats as you can. For example, Zoom allows you to host a larger number of students but then break into “rooms” for smaller group discussions. You may want to also use Instagram and Marco Polo to post videos and other content for students to see and comment on.
2. Begin with personal interests.
A big mistake some educators make is jumping immediately into the curriculum. I suggest you first engage students on a personal level. Find ways to check on how they’re doing; ask them to respond privately if they prefer. Launching into personal issues first earns you the right to engage them afterward. In short, look out for their interests or needs and they’ll be more apt to lean into your desires for the learning experience.
3. Gamify your experience early.
The educators I know who are crushing their online classrooms use games and even gamify the learning experience. I know an elementary school teacher who is not tech savvy but who learned to play her students’ favorite game with them. Google Hangouts allows you to use video calls, photos, and emojis. Transforming the experience on a screen to a friendly competition increases student engagement.
4. Create constant content.
Check out your students’ favorite social media apps. I bet you’ll discover they are platforms that push out content all the time. Many are only about entertainment but, all the same, they’re keeping their young “customers” engaged. Push out daily content to your students that accents your lessons. Get them looking forward to your posts. Leverage videos as much as possible, even if it is a bonus to classroom time.
5. Make big feel small.
Teaching online may mean you must change your style. Late-night comedians are struggling with this, as they broadcast from their homes. You should be more laid back, more conversational, and utilize small “rooms” for conversation, like Zoom offers. Digital learning works best when students feel like it’s personal and tailored for them.
6. Get them online to get them offline.
Digital learning requires us to shift our focus from memorization to application. Our goal should be to get them engaged online so we can get them engaged offline, actually applying what they’ve learned and discussed digitally. Assignments should be more than writing papers or circling letters on a multiple-choice test. For example, if you teach empathy in your social and emotional learning lesson, assign students the task of showing empathy creatively to a family member. This is what makes online learning work.
David Geurin said, “Classrooms don’t need tech geeks who can teach; we need teaching geeks who can use tech.” Let’s engage these “screenagers” so they become better people.