Hooking them from Home; Student Engagement in Distance Learning

Are you interested in hearing what the experts have to say about distance learning? I have broken down some of the key learning presented by Harry Fletcher-Wood (teacher, educational researcher and Associate Dean at Ambition Institute) at this evenings Webinar hosted by the Education Hub and Dr Nina Wood.

Harry began by discussing the need to prioritise. At the moment teachers are overwhelmed. We're bombarded with offers from educational apps, our Pinterest boards are brimming with ideas and our inboxes are full to bursting with suggestions on remote learning. But if we use every app, tool and suggestion we will overwhelm our students. Instead, we need to focus on establishing new habits and setting simple activities so that our students find working from home achievable and manageable.

Forming habits

To form these habits, we need to support our students to get into a routine that supports learning.  "After breakfast I will attend a hangout with my class and complete my maths activity". Harry noted that if students add a new habit to a preexisting one, such as eating breakfast, it will be easier to slot into the day. Once the students have followed this routine for a while, it will become the new normal. Similarly, when they see their peers are completing the same tasks, it will reinforce the idea that doing schoolwork is normal and expected (rather than a chore).

On that note, I'm sure many of you will agree that primary aged children tend to be most productive in the morning. If children are encouraged to start their school work earlier in the day, they will feel a sense of accomplishment and will enjoy the afternoon with their family. Whereas, if they start the day with a game or leisure activity, it is easy for them to view learning as a chore and they may be less likely to complete it.



Task Creation

Keep it simple! If your task is too long or complicated, you are going to confuse students and they may switch off.  This has been my biggest realisation personally, as I spent the first few days of lockdown creating beautiful videos and an array of learning tasks, which were enjoyed by all of six students. Less is definitely more, Harry suggested that you can realistically expect around two productive hours of learning with children (less for young students and arguably more for those at college).

Keep it familiar! This is not the time to try out those new apps or try a new lesson format each day. If you can use the same format or tools that you used pre-lockdown, fantastic! If not, still try to reduce the variability between tasks. This will simplify the learning because the students are simply making sense of the lesson content and not the task itself. We do not have the luxury of seeing our students in front of us - picking up on their confused expressions or being able to instantly answer their questions. They need to be able to complete the tasks with as little guidance as possible.

Harry also reminded us to set reasonable expectations. Give deadlines for tasks so students know how much time to dedicate to them and when to turn them in (AKA yes, you do need to turn this in). 

We should also set a precedent that all students will turn up to online meetings. If we start telling them that some people won't be able to attend for x reasons, it over complicates the situation and we will begin to have students who simply choose not to attend. We need to demonstrate to our learners that online learning is 'normal'.

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