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How can practical studies be moved online?

How do you teach metalworking or observe students dissect a cadaver over Zoom? How do you grade students’ performance in Physical Education when they’re not physically in front of you?

These are just some of the hundreds of questions teachers and instructors worldwide asked themselves when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted school shutdowns. Fortunately, some real-life examples of these ideas can help you overcome distance learning’s pedagogical challenges.

Adapt assignments to more distance education–friendly formats

The stress and burnout that many teachers face as the pandemic is ongoing are understandable. Many instructors experience persistent anxiety because they must give students assignments that can be challenging to complete for a virtual classroom.

Finding creative ways to make typical classroom assignments suitable for the digital environment helps educators across practical subjects keep their classes effective.

For example, a creative writing teacher may assign their students to write a short story or play. Such an assignment works well in a classroom setting because teachers can give portions weekly and monitor their students. However, how do you translate this process for an online teaching experience?

One way to make such an assignment more suitable for the virtual classroom would be to have the students perform their work in front of their cameras. They could dress up as characters in their stories or create props that resemble objects in a scene.

Such an adaptation allows you to assess and grade statements based on criteria you can quickly see on screen. It also encourages students to use their creative thinking skills and increases their engagement with the assignment.

Jody Norton, an IT services teacher, adapted her assignments for students learning remotely. She instructed her students to gather into small teams to configure virtual networks to manage documents, emails and web pages. They also had to video conference with each other and record it for Norton to see.

In many instances, the solutions to finding a virtual-friendly adaptation are not as farfetched as they may seem. Reaching out to colleagues or an online teaching community will help iron out pain points and avoid too much trial and error.

Bring the class to their doorstep

An unfortunate reality for many students is that they simply can’t continue their studies for certain classes because those classes require tools and hands-on activities that simply can’t occur at home. On the other hand, students can complete some class assignments at home if the necessary equipment is delivered. That can be an option, depending on the apparatus.

For example, AnnMarie Lewis, a cosmetology teacher, has made personal deliveries to students’ homes, bringing them mannequin heads, colour mixing bowls and hair clips.

Doing so allowed Lewis’s students to continue their assignments even in the absence of a classroom setting.

In many cities throughout the country, teachers have stories of delivering devices such as laptops and tablets to students who didn’t have them and needed them. For students in priority neighbourhoods or low income families, schools and computer labs can be the only means of accessing these devices.

If and where possible, consider delivering school equipment to students who need it most, whether they don’t have access to the material or need remediation. With that said, it’s essential to practice safety measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask and delivering items in a contactless method.

Encourage students to leverage their available resources

One of the realities many educators overlook is that students may have the tools they need to learn a subject at home already. Students can learn about any topic or subject by Googling information or watching YouTube videos to dive into unfamiliar concepts. They can record themselves, send files and merge them with ease. They can do all of it on their phones. So why not tap into the technology they use every day?

For example, if you’re teaching a post-secondary course and students have to work towards certification, you can encourage them to complete online tutorials related to the class. That’s what Jenn DeForge, a teacher for veterinary sciences, did—she had her students focus on tutorials to prepare for the Certified Veterinary Assistant exam.

Additionally, DeForge encouraged her students to look at live stream setups placed in pet day-care centers and zoos so that they keep their observational skills sharp.

Don’t hesitate to let students use their phones and tablets for assignments. For example, AnnMarie Lewis (mentioned above) had one of her cosmetology students record a phone video of herself having a “mock” client consultation, with her father being the salon customer. Students can call on family and friends to be a part of assignments when teachers and their fellow students are unavailable.

Students in Krisztina Perron’s hospitality class were also encouraged to ask family members for help. They were instructed to interview their family members about a recipe (a family favourite) and then write an essay about its origins. The assignment had a tactile element since they also had to document themselves, making the dish.

While you can’t replicate a physical classroom 100% at home, educators could argue that it’s not necessary for the 21st century. As long as you equip the student with the essential tools, instructions and expectations, their location doesn’t matter—tools like Crowdmark allow students to complete and submit assignments using any device with a browser and internet access.

Adaptation is the key to successful online teaching

Understandably, the first few weeks and months of the remote learning exodus were trying. It suddenly forced instructors who had little technical or tactical experience teaching online to become effective online teachers.

However, one of the defining skills teachers have is adaptability. This skill can help you reshape traditional classrooms into ones that teachers can conduct online.

Review some of the examples listed above to help steer your efforts to do so. Also, make online instruction and grading easier with the right tools such as our Crowdmark platform, which automates and streamlines grading processes that are difficult to carry out online. The present and future of education may seem overwhelming, but there are as many opportunities as challenges to create a positive environment to learn and succeed.