Once upon a time, classroom teaching through blended learning was limited by lack of one-to-one access to tablets or computers for students and inexperience by teachers with virtual instructional strategies. With equipment pouring into many schools, students now have access to a digital device for virtual and blended learning. Most teachers, of course, have had a crash course in virtual teaching and learning over the past two years, and while most schools have returned to in-person learning, it’s important not to lose the benefits of virtual learning practices that worked.
Maintain a Virtual Classroom Space
Keep instructional plans transparent for students so they understand how learning experiences will look. Virtual learning platforms like Google Classroom, Canvas, and Schoology benefit students by having lesson agendas, scheduled sessions, work submissions, and resources contained in one virtual space. Full 24/7 access means that students and their parents or guardians can view the information about lessons and tasks to provide support at home and to craft specific questions for the teacher.
Inside the physical classroom, students can pull up the lesson with embedded links to give just-in-time support. Here are some resource link examples:
- Glossaries. When terminology is a critical part of understanding and applying concepts, providing a glossary of terms that students need to know for the current unit is like having a virtual word wall that students can refer to anytime and anywhere.
- Video-, audio-, and text-based explanations of skills and knowledge. Empower students to find answers about the tasks first from these built-in resources before asking help from the teacher. These resources can be embedded links in directions and models within the assigned work. This frees the teacher to provide targeted support to students based on assessed needs.
- Access to assignments and scaffold support materials. Teachers reduce the risk of students losing assignments with a virtual space that houses everything. Students can re-download needed materials on any digital device and complete the work. Tasks that can be done digitally make it easier for the student to turn in completed work. This also reduces the equity challenge of printing. Student absenteeism is something that can be addressed by keeping all assignments, recorded instruction, and support materials available for students to access anywhere and anytime.
Develop an Instructional Video Library
Recordings help with explaining key concepts and steps for completing complex tasks. Consider how many times teachers find themselves repeating explanations based on key lessons already provided. If those lessons and/or ideas were recorded, they would offer learners access to review.
Most people do not learn concepts the first time they are introduced. Sometimes what made sense during the live instruction does not seem as clear later that night or the following day. Recordings give students a safe space in which to review content. They also enable family and friends to have context about a teacher’s instruction so that they can assist their children.
In the physical classroom, students can refer to the recordings when they are struggling with a concept or task. They have immediate access to videos that address their questions before frustration impedes their work progress. A classroom community expectation, “ask three before me,” can be adapted to require that students review specific recordings of instruction before checking in with the teacher. This way, the coaching conversation is built on a common review of concepts.
Organize videos into digital playlists based on unit and/or topic. Include teacher-made videos, student-created videos, and relevant videos from YouTube and elsewhere. For example, YouTube videos can be embedded into virtual learning platforms for immediate use. Making videos is as easy as starting a screen-sharing session via Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams and clicking the record button. Upload onto YouTube and compose in the description a list of sections with a time stamp for each to create a linked ability to skip to different sections.
Meeting the needs of all learners can happen through virtual centers and stations. What sets these activities apart from their nondigital counterparts are embedded links to resources and tools, transforming into three-dimensional learning experiences. Students can work individually or in groups with as much spacing apart as desired.
Teamwork comprises important global professional skills that are transferable from the classroom to career opportunities, according to the International Society for Technology in Education Standards for Students. Virtual breakout or team rooms give students a space to work in small groups to practice and hone collaboration and communication skills. Use breakout rooms to facilitate conversations with professionals in related content fields of expertise. Task students with creating recordings that demonstrate their understanding of concepts and skills. As with the virtual centers and stations, students can be spaced apart as desired, using headsets to communicate as needed, if available.
Teaching inside a physical classroom with students brings about opportunities that are not available virtually. However, virtual tools and resources can make learning more dynamic and supported, thus freeing up the teacher to diagnose and support different learner needs.
It’s important that instruction continues to include quality practices from the virtual world for blended learning experiences. Using only traditional experiences or limiting use of virtual strategies is like choosing to complete tasks with half of your available tools. As the physical classroom grows in strength, explore the positive lessons learned from the virtual world to engage learners in greater academic success.