Going Back to the Classroom - Blending the Digital with the Traditional

With vaccinations underway, it seems at the moment that we can imagine going back to face-to-face classrooms from September, even if it may not last long. Let's take a quick look at what we should keep from our #quarantineteaching months and continue using in the physical classroom before the 4th wave comes our way.


 

Quite interestingly, I recorded a video about something very similar almost exactly a year ago, which you can watch over here, but I'll just recap the main tips from 2020:

  1. relax and be happy that your online teaching year is over (I think this is still relevant 🙂 )

  2. think about what went well and what could've been done differently - I gave the example of online vs face-to-face lesson planning

  3. start curating the apps, webinars, resources that you used or would like to keep using in the future - you can use websites like mix.com, edshelf.com, pearltrees.com, scoop.it

  4. choose the apps you liked and ditch the ones that you only tried out because you felt like you should jump on the bandwagon - in this post, you can find more tips on how to sort your apps and websites in order to keep your edtech list neat and organised

  5. use a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) to keep your materials organised, to stay in touch with your students, to keep track of task submissions, and to give more organised and transparent feedback (this is still sooo relevant!)

What to do this year?


We can confidently say that we've gotten much more experienced with lesson and activity planning. We are already familiar with various websites that we can use to insert online quizzes in the lesson, and many of us also use the homework function of these quizzes. Most of us already use VLEs like Google Classroom or Teams or Edmodo, and we all seem to see the benefits of these environments. We can now use most of the functions of the virtual conference software of our choice, such as computer sound sharing and breakout rooms.


But something we are not totally prepared for yet is what to do with all this knowledge when we go back to the brick and mortar buildings. Shall we just throw it out the window and go back to our pre-corona teaching methods? Certainly not! There have been a number of changes in our behaviour and our ways of learning that won't or shouldn't go back to what it used to be.


1. Stay flipped


One of the best things that has come out of this online teaching revolution is flipped learning. Many of my students and other teachers said too that the idea of doing some theoretical preparation work for the lesson and then actively discussing and working with the newly acquired knowledge is a much more efficient way of learning.


It increases time that is spent on Q&A, problem solving and practice. On top of that, it also gives more autonomy into the students' hands as long as we design those pre-lesson activities well. It's very important to keep in mind that giving some material without a proper task is not flipped teaching - creating interactive videos and activities that guide them through the learning phase and make them think, however, is much much better.





2. Keep the quizzes for instant feedback


What did we all learn (and gain) from using small games and quizzes during our online lessons? First, we can instantly check our students' understanding and zone in on things that prove to be harder for them than we expected. Second, we can insert different breaker activities that stir our sleepy students in the middle of the lesson, when their attention levels tend to be the lowest (Weimer). Third, we can use their inherent competitive behaviour to keep them motivated by using various competition-based games.


So, why not keep all these? Students have already become quite familiar with these little breakers and they also seem to need instant feedback about their progress from time to time, so if you have access to a projector, interactive whiteboard (IWB), or just a larger computer screen, and your students are allowed to use their phones in class for educational purposes, then don't even think about getting rid of these games! (But again, everything within reason, so don't overload them with these quizzes, and try to vary the platforms to keep them excited.)





3. Don't forget about group work


Many of us also used various tools (e.g. Google Jamboard, Mentimeter, Wooclap) to make our students think in groups and brainstorm even during lectures. This is again something that has changed the way classroom management and lesson planning works. Using such interactive elements, especially during a lecture, can still be an option when we go back to face-to-face teaching. Again, if you have access to an IWB or a projector and your students can use their phones, it's something worth keeping.


Another thing is group and project work. The online teaching period has also shown (hopefully) that we don't have to be so hands-on. We can sometimes take a step back and give project tasks to our students, who actually enjoy getting more autonomy and responsibility. If they don't happen to enjoy it so much or there are conflicts among our students, just start small and give dedicated roles to each student so that they don't slack off.





4. Gamification


Another huge thing is that gamification has become much more widespread than before. Incentives have a great effect on learners if we can design the whole system well. Honestly, I also tried using point systems (a small part of the whole gamification universe) in some of my classes, but as this was my first time and I couldn't see the pitfalls until the system actually got tested, I made a loooot of mistakes leaving some of my students doubtful about the whole idea. I will write about this learning process in another post! :)


But many of them appreciated the bigger principle, which again was giving more autonomy, freedom and choice into our students' hands, and letting them be in charge of the grade they would like to get at the end of the term. You can find out more about the idea here (in Hungarian) and here.





To sum up


What I personally feel at the moment is that after having gained so much experience in online teaching, going back to physical shouldn't really be such a big issue as we had thought a year ago. Seeing how all of us are adapting to the benefits of TFH/LFH (“teaching from home/learning from home”, I just made these up 🙂), going back to the real classroom (whenever it’s actually going to happen) should mostly be about the skilful and balanced blending of online and offline tools.

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