The Coronavirus lock-down means that our staff and students are all getting used to teaching and learning in their own homes. Even though we are isolated from each other, it’s really important that we stay in touch and can learn from each other, so we’re delighted to share this article, written by our Digital Education Coordinator, Kerry Vandersteen, on the Teach Learn Digital website.
Recently, I had the pleasure of observing some excellent teaching practice online with Google Classroom and Hangouts. Beck, the Head of A Level Media Studies at City and Islington Sixth Form College, invited me to a Year 12 Class on Radio, so I was able to view how she organised a typical lesson for her students during lockdown. I was really impressed and decided to write up my observations as a case study so others can benefit.
Welcoming and signposting
The lesson ran from 9:15am-12:15 on the Friday. The first thing I noticed in the main stream for the class was an announcement wishing the group a good morning and informing students what was required. This directed them to a register activity and a video explaining the lesson content in the classwork tab. Beck also provided a link to a Google hangout half-way through the lesson (at 10:45am) so students could discuss the tasks they needed to complete and ask any questions.
The icebreaker was a lighthearted poll asking students to name their favourite chocolate bar. Beck could then see who was present and working through the main tasks. She also reminded students she would mark them absent if they did not complete the tasks.
One thing I really liked was a screen-recording of the slides introducing the lesson (using Screencastify). It was labelled very clearly and I felt really comforted by Beck’s warm, friendly voice and sense of humour as she explained the lesson, so am sure her students did too.
Beck then provided a range of bitesize activities. Some were due for submission on the day and some were due later. The tasks were designed as scaffolded activities so to build on knowledge which would eventually equip students to complete an independent assignment.
Beck advised students to look through the tasks before the online meeting so they could ask any questions about anything they were not sure about.
2. A Jamboard (an interactive whiteboard)- students were able to share their previous knowledge about the BBC using coloured notes. This was the first time Beck had used this tool with her class and she was really pleased how well it worked and the students enjoyed it too!
3. Research Task – students completed their research individually.
4. Reflecting on Research – students completed a quiz individually
5. Watch 2 video clips and then take part in a discussion on Jamboard
6. Reading and note-taking activity – a non-digital task for a change
7. Homework – individual written task
How’s it going?
Beck fed back to me that she has been pleased with the level of engagement from her class. Her advice is to avoid talking through PowerPoints. Instead she tries to design stress-free, bite-size activities to get the students active. You should always try to think from the student’s point of view and make the learning as straightforward and as interactive and as possible. Although the tasks are designed to be completed in sequence, it does not matter if they decide to work through them in a less linear fashion.
Beck also regularly checks in to see if her students can cope with what they are being asked to do. Students seem to appreciate the routines and human contact with their teacher and each other because it creates a sense of normality despite the challenges of the current crisis.
Managing Class Hangouts
Beck starts by welcoming her students as she would face to face with a warm smile, by welcoming each student by name and cracking jokes. There is a lovely atmosphere in the class and students feel relaxed and able to ask questions. Clearly, Beck had already done a lot of groundwork for building this rapport previously when teaching face to face but it is good to see this continued online.
While Beck uses the camera, the students keep theirs switched off. Students have their mics muted but unmute them when they want to contribute to the discussion about the task so far and what they have been set for homework.
I asked Beck about those that were not present in the hangout and she told me she was aware why some of the students could not attend and was following up with those that she does not know about. It turned out three students didn’t have questions which is why they didn’t join, one did not want to speak due to a speech and language need but now knows he can use ‘chat’, two were worried about bandwidth sharing with a working parent and the last one felt unwell. While it is good to prompt all students to participate, it is also important to be understanding and flexible towards students’ personal circumstances.
During the hangout, I asked the students to tell me what they thought of their online lessons with Beck so far. They told me:
Finally, a few of the students asked me why some of their other teachers were not using Google Classroom yet and still sticking with platforms like Moodle as they find it far less personalised and interactive. This is something we will need to discuss with some of our teachers but it is still early days and we are are all on this journey together!