Okay, I know, I know… the title is a little cringe. But, please, hear me out…
Flashback to Jan. 2021: After many painstaking and gruelling months of teaching amidst a pandemic, I needed a change. I was feeling burnt out and uninspired. On a whim, I decided to apply for a transfer to our online school, Cyber Stone Virtual School, hoping that a new challenge would ignite a spark in me again.
Fast forward to May 2021: It was a very cold and stormy day. I knew that my superintendant was in the building and, being an ELA teacher with a flair for the dramatics, I was hoping that the weather was not indicative of any upcoming somber news…
Turns out, it was not somber news — it was a transfer offer! One that I accepted! (Obviously).
In Sept. of 2021, I was bright-eyed and excited for this new path in my career. And then… one week passed… then two… and I realized that I was a fish out of water. Wiggling in the sand. Gasping for breath.
Questions that haunted my sleep in that first month: How exactly do you engage students in an online environment? How do you narrow down the multitude of technological tools available to us in the education sector in a focused, effective way?
Now, fast forward again (sorry… are you dizzy yet?) to May 2022.
Phew. What a learning curve that was! Now, although I wouldn’t call myself a “techie queen” (I just really wanted to pay homage to my favourite movie as a teen, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen), I have learned a thing or two about how to use tech for teaching in a purposeful way.
Each day, I rely on Microsoft TEAMS to connect synchronously with my students for their live lessons. We also use BlackBoard as the platform for which all students’ learning material and assignments are displayed. Lastly, we use Edsby as a learning management system and a communication tool for students/parents. These are the integral pillars upon which our online school functions.
Now, what about the extras? One aspect that is extremely hard to cultivate in an online learning environment is camaraderie amongst students. If you poll students on what they miss the most about face to face school, usually their number one response is “my friends”. How can you minimize this in an online setting?
I have found that Slido is an excellent icebreaker tool. Slido has a variety of options — like polls, wordclouds, quizzes, etc — that can be used at the beginning of class to help get students comfortable with one another. I often use the beginning 5 minutes of class to ask general questions like, “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” or “If you could have one superpower, what would it be” and use the Wordcloud option… the result is 5 minutes of students interacting with each other in a loose and relaxed way.
Cultivating these relationships is important as it pays dividends when I later want to elicit discussions amongst students and NOT hear crickets…
For many years, Kahoot has also been my go-to as an interactive quiz site that is engaging and fun for students. However, Kahoot has recently gone to the dark side and made drastic changes to its business model; it now only allows up to 5 students to play a quiz within the free version. Therefore, I have decided to do away with Kahoot and use Quizziz. In many ways, I find Quizziz superior to Kahoot (future blog post?) which may lend itself to the popular saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade…”
Now, what are a few tech tools that I find to be effective modes of learning in the online classroom, and not just a fad?
Padlet is a god-send for encouraging authentic online collaboration amongst students. It allows for more student-directed discussion and fosters student analysis. It gives students a space to engage with the subject matter on their own level and ask questions that are meaningful to them. Engaging in this type of critical thinking is a critical 21st century skill.
Flipgrid is another favourite tech tool of mine. In an online environment, it is especially beneficial for allowing the teacher to see the student in a one-on-one visual environment, practicing a skill. It also allows for the opportunity to foster a supportive and social online learning environment; there is the potential to make students’ videos visible to each other and, with the comment section on, this can lead to increased classroom camaraderie and reflection.
If there’s anything that I have learned from online teaching, it’s that just because there is pretty much every tech tool available, doesn’t mean that you should use it… each integration of tech into your classroom should be purposeful and meant to foster engagement and innovation. We have experienced an enormous technological transformation in our society within the last twenty years. Let’s capitalize on this — in a meaningful and focused way — to help foster critical, 21st century learners.
Slowly…. ever so slowly over the last eight months… I have transitioned to a fish out of water… to a fish in the water (with slight PTSD from the first month of oxygen deprivation).
So what’s the message in all of this? Well….
The (Self-Proclaimed) Teacher Techie Queen