Making the Most of Virtual Classrooms
Today’s Teachers and Students are Going the Distance
While homeschooling, and even cyber schools, have been an option for American families for decades, the vast majority of K-12 students enroll in a traditional school that provides an in-person, collaborative classroom experience. In fact, 90% of American children attend public school alone, accounting for 50.7 million of the 56.4 million students “projected to attend elementary, middle, and high schools across the United States” in Fall 2020. While many school districts across the country have been able to resume part-time or full-time in-school instruction, there are many more who are relying heavily or solely on online classes.
A shift to virtual classroom settings necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this sudden change has brought more than its fair share of difficulties and concerns. However, there is a lot to learn from online classes beyond the lesson plans themselves. Let’s explore how 8x8’s digital learning solutions help answer for some of these concerns, giving educators greater remote teaching control and confidence.
Distance Learning Advantages
While it is understandable that many teachers and students miss the conventional classroom setting, it is imperative to regularly remind ourselves that our country’s recent adoption of online school is not intended to be permanent. It is human nature to be frustrated with the drawbacks it can bring, but we would be remiss to not look at the unique insights and advantages it can offer as well.
This isn’t a question of which teaching environment you prefer, rather an acknowledgment that the reasons we have shifted to virtual classrooms come from a good place – a place focused on the protection of our students, teachers, and their communities as a whole. Humankind is hard-wired for self-preservation and adaptability, expressed in myriad ways throughout our lives, with distance learning at the core of our current expression.
Modern Virtual Classrooms Don’t Require that Teachers be ‘Techy’
While remote teaching of online classes is undeniably a more high-tech approach than in-person instruction, easy-to-use distance learning resources like 8x8 video conferencing make it a truly accessible and secure option for teachers of all ages and degrees of technical savviness.
As with all new things in life, there may be a bit of an initial learning curve, but out intuitive interface and simplified operation was designed to serve as a valuable, viable solution for users at varying technological comfort levels. More of a visual learner? Check out 8x8 Meetings and see for yourself!
Video Conferencing Features Ideal for Virtual Classroom Settings
One of the most simple, yet wildly important features of 8x8’s video conferencing solution is the option to virtually raise your hand. Whereas questions can easily get lost in the chat, or not asked at all if students are apprehensive to interrupt the lesson, this smart feature provides a one-click solution for students to let instructors know they have something to ask or say. If you find that those virtual hands keep “going up” as you’re finishing your explanation of a given concept, consider setting some rules.
- It can be helpful to stop and ‘check in’ on students’ understanding of the lesson more often than you might in a traditional classroom setting
- Because students are visually reduced to a small box on the screen, it can be more difficult to notice facial cues that they are having difficulty fully grasping a new lesson
- It can prove helpful to teachers and students alike to take a pause for questions after any new concept or lesson you’ll be exploring, asking that they wait until you’ve finished talking before ‘raising their hands’
- Once all the information has been presented, ask students what questions they might have
- Alternately, you can ask that they virtually raise their hands as soon as something becomes confusing, and lower them again if your continued exploration of the topic answers for their initial confusion
- This can help you better understand the ways in which you’re conveying information best resonate with your students, and where your language or delivery may be causing some understanding hiccups that you can address moving forward
Get Creative to Encourage Student Engagement in Online Classes
To be certain, lack of student focus and engagement in distance learning settings is a chief concern of many educators teaching online elementary school and online high school classes. While the specific approach to answering for this universal issue will naturally vary to account for students of different ages, the key for K-12 may indeed be the same – tap into their creativity!
But before you can ask students to get creative, you have to get a little creative yourself. Rather than starting from scratch, we recommend thinking of your favorite tactics for increasing engagement in the physical classroom, brainstorming on how they can be modified to work within the virtual classroom structure.
Virtual Storytime for All Ages
While many teaching tactics will require more significant modification, there are also popular in-class activities that translate exceptionally well to a digital learning environment. One of our favorites calls on students to collaboratively create a narrative by adding to a story one person, and one sentence at a time. Not only does this activity get students focused and engaged while flexing their creative muscles, it can also add quite a bit of much-needed levity, providing the valuable social interaction that many students are missing the most.
If you aren’t familiar with this exercise, it all starts with a simple sentence. You can kick things off yourself, or choose a student to begin the story however they wish. Going around the virtual room, each student in the class adds one sentence, either continuing the direction they were set-up with, or taking the story in a completely new direction. In short – it’s fun! But it’s also a great way to keep students effortlessly engaged as they follow along.
Don’t Overlook the Value of Office Hours
With so many elements of the “new normal” calling on us for increased connectivity, it can seem overwhelming to add virtual office hours to our ever-growing agenda. However, even an hour or two a week can do wonders not only for your students, but for you and their parents as well.
At the heart of so much of the stress we’re feeling is uncertainty. We are adapting to changing circumstances in real-time – every hour, every day, every week. Yesterday’s rules may no longer apply today, and tomorrow’s rules may change yet again. Routine is so important to many of us, and the pandemic repeatedly makes routine increasingly difficult, if not impossible. This is where the value of holding space comes in.
How Office Hours Benefit Teachers, Students, and Parents
With so many teachers being parents themselves, many are struggling with balancing a physical classroom and an online classroom while helping with their own children’s schooling as well. This often means days that begin very early, and end very late, reactively bouncing from one activity to the next, striving for optimum effectiveness in each. By holding steady virtual office hours, you carve out a notch in your calendar for whatever is needed that day.
Perhaps a parent has been meaning to follow-up with you on their child’s progress, but they aren’t sure of the best time to reach out. Or maybe a student has a question, concern, or idea that they would love to share, but aren’t comfortable doing so in front of the whole class. Office hours can serve as a ‘catch-all’ for the myriad updates, conversations, and clarifications that haven’t otherwise worked their way into your schedule.
One of the most important things to remember when the days are feeling especially long and tough is that you are doing the best you can with what you’ve been given. We may have all heard the phrase “unprecedented times” more than we care to count, but these times are truly unprecedented. And in ways big and small, our nation and the world as a whole responded quickly, creatively, and intelligently to a new set of rules put in place overnight. Teaching online classes quite simply isn’t something most teachers signed up for, and as such, it’s only natural that they are learning as they go along…just like their students.
Additional 8x8 Resources for Distance Learning
- Our team put together a helpful resource outlining 5 Steps to Conduct a Virtual Lesson. This handy guide provides a detailed, step-by-step guide to help you in preparing for your first lesson, or enhancing your current approach
While written before the pandemic, our blog post highlighting 3 Tips on Bringing the Outside World into the Classroom with Cloud Communications features virtual learning advantages that are relevant and valuable even when most instruction is delivered in-person