Learning Together While We’re Apart

Tackling the isolating feeling of learning online is a huge challenge for so many of us right now. With millions of children not yet back in school full time (or at all) and learning happening through a mixture of on and offline activities how do we help our children connect with each others as well as their teachers? We recently posted about strategies to embed well-being into remote learning and the importance of this right now. As we navigate these challenges, how can we learn together while we’re apart?

Who is really interacting?

Last week I was catching up and planning with my 5th grade teacher. We’re were talking about a provocation for a new unit, and how we could plan something that ‘fit’ with online learning. We’re fortunate in many ways; we use a combination of Zoom and Seesaw to reach our students (with a lot of support for families). But one of the challenges we face is that so often the learning feels narrow. Teachers send videos which are amazing, but lack the interaction of the classroom. We’ve been practicing our Dora the Explorer moves (ask a question, stare into the mid-distance, then answer it yourself) – just with more thinking than ‘simple’ answers. We use Seesaw to get our kids to respond with their ideas, thinking and creativity. We do Zoom calls…but struggle to get away from them being teacher-child while the rest of the class listens (or, listens as well as they can). Great…if you assume the teacher is the only one who can lead learning, or has thinking and ideas to share. But that’s just not true. Our kids simply aren’t talking to each other as much as we’d like them to be.

Our 5th grade conundrum was this; how can we help them learn together?

Designing Learning

One discussion over on Twitter has been this; are we learning online, or surviving and providing some learning until we can get back to school?

It’s a good question. And certainly in the early weeks and months of school closures we’re were definitely in survival mode. Even now, curriculum coverage (an awkward phrase, but that’s a discussion for another day) is lower than we’d like. But some of us will not be back in face to face schools for a while, and school with no Covid restrictions? That could be a year or more away.

With all this in mind, plus the very real need for balance and both student and teacher well-being, how do we design learning online? Can we?

I don’t think there’s any suggestion that we can provide online learning that replaces the classroom. However, I do think we can create learning engagements/activities/etc that are better suited to online learning and not just an awkward recreation of the classroom. In fact, I think that might be better.

It reminds me somewhat of this model;

https://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/purposefully-incorporating-technology-into-the-classroom-using-the-samr-model

This model is a little old in the tech world now, but it’s useful in this context – let’s not try to replicate our classrooms online. Instead, how can we meaningfully use tech to support learning?

An interesting question to ask ourselves; If we were back to ‘normal’ tomorrow, would this lesson/activity still be a valuable skill and way of approaching the learning?

Finding Ways to Collaborate

If one of our aims is to support children to learn together and from one-another while still apart (be it online learning or in a distanced classroom) what tech tools can we leverage? These are not perfect solutions, we cannot replace the amazing group and peer learning of our classrooms. But as we look to design online learning with purpose, there are tools that offer increased interaction and develop our learners’ skills.

FlipGrid A great tool for harnessing the power of video. If you promote watching and responding to each others videos this can become a powerful way to build thinking together and learn from one another.

ThingLink We love ThingLink for encouraging children to share their thinking and ideas about images or texts. They can add annotations such as notes or questions and share them with one another. This is also a great way to facilitate group discussions without relying on the teacher talking.

Padlet Padlet is great for sharing ideas, questions and building on each others thoughts! Take a moment to think about which layout you choose and how this can support collaborative thinking.

Miro A strongly visual tool, Miro is a good way to map out shared thinking, connect ideas and collaborate.

Explain Everything Another collaborative thinking tool! Explain Everything is well established and easy to use on most platforms.

Minecraft for Edu This is an amazingly powerful tool for motivating kids to collaborate and share ideas. Gather an idea of levels of experience with the platform and take this into consideration when setting up groups!

Shared documents (Google/Microsoft); No link really needed here but both Google and Microsoft offer a lot of collaborative tools (with Apple Edu not far behind). I use these more with teachers to facilitate collaboration but the possibilities are extensive!

None of these will replace the rich experiences of being together, but perhaps we can make learning online feel more collaborative and less isolating while we wait for it to be safe to return.

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