Distance learning common mistakes

5 common distance learning mistakes and how to avoid them

There are a few common mistakes I’ve seen being made by teachers and they’re all things that can be addressed and avoided quite easily.

Educators around the globe are truly going above and beyond right now, adapting to the new paradigm of distance learning as schools close due to the Coronavirus outbreak. As an independent edtech consultant, I’ve been supporting schools and education authorities with their distance learning digital strategy and helping them to ensure that they avoid the many pitfalls of this this new medium of teaching and learning. I’ve also been chatting to educators and parents here in the UAE (where schools have been closed since early March) to get their feedback on what’s working and what isn’t.

There’s a lot of good – even great – distance learning going on. In fact it’s been pretty inspirational to watch so many wonderful, dedicated educators rise to this new challenge and seize the opportunity to upskill themselves in the use of digital learning platforms. That being said, there will of course be mistakes made along the way and one of my key messages to parents is not to leap to judge schools too swiftly and give them the time they need to make such a monumental adjustment to the way they deliver learning.   

One thing that all educators need to be mindful of right now is that parents have far greater access to their child’s learning than ever before and in some cases they are assessing what is being sent to students in minute detail. So let me run through my top five and give some suggestions on how to avoid them.

MISTAKE #1 - Not checking what you upload

Quality assurance is a term that tends to be associated with leadership teams but really, every educator should be checking their work just as carefully as we expect our students too. This goes double when it comes to distance learning as a simple mistake can lead to frustration, and misunderstanding for both students and parents. One example of this I’ve seen a few times now is teachers not checking the source of their mic is set correctly when recording videos to send to students, resulting in silent videos that make no sense. The teachers clearly have hit record, assumed that their voice was being captured (perhaps because they’ve done one previously that worked) and then simply uploaded the file to the students. Check your audio settings carefully folks and always take a moment to check any audio or video content you plan to deploy to students. 

MISTAKE #2 - Not write-protecting files

Another common issue I’m seeing is educators uploading files to shared platforms like Teams or Google Classroom, where a whole class has access, and not write-protecting them. Not making these files read-only when sharing through cloud-based storage platforms like Office 365 or G Suite means that the file is open to live collaboration and thus editable by students. Whether maliciously or accidentally, what quite often occurs in this case is the file is altered and the content becomes confusing or even unusable. Make sure that all the files you share to a whole class are set to read-only.  

MISTAKE #3 – Explaining the task but not actually teaching

The switch to distance learning and online content delivery is a huge step for some educators and many are still finding their feet with the tools and platforms that they must now rely on to share lesson content with students. What I’m seeing in some cases are educators recording videos for lessons that only really contain instructions about what they should do – they don’t actually teach. I can sort of understand why this might happen, especially if they are trying to reduce video length/file size for upload but teachers must strive to do more than just set out independent tasks – especially if students will need more input on a topic.

MISTAKE #4 - Sending dull PPT/worksheet activities

Paired with the previous mistake is this one. We’ve come so far in terms of pedagogy and learning design in the last couple of decades and yet now a worrying proportion of distance learning experiences have reverted to the old-fashioned combo of PowerPoint presentation + worksheet. These makes for dull, lifeless learning that students will not engage with meaningfully. I do appreciate that distance learning makes everything from group work to kinaesthetic learning more difficult but it does also open up a plethora of other opportunities to have students complete tasks that engage higher order thinking skills. Let’s not devolve because of this shift in delivery, let’s use the new medium to open new doors instead, 

MISTAKE #5 - Lack of meaningful feedback

Feedback – whether it be on a piece of work, a project or an assessment is a crucial cog in the learning machine and it is something that I’m seeing either being abandoned completely or reduced to simple fragments  - or even just emojis! I imagine that this is in part due to teachers struggling to adjust their time management whilst using new systems. If there is no feedback loop taking place though, students (and parents) have no way of knowing what they done well nor what their next steps are. It also gives the impression that the teacher doesn’t care about the tasks being completed by the student – who in turn will start to care less about completing them. Depending on the platform you are using, my advice would be to start exploring the wonders of audio feedback. This approach takes a little while to get used to but in the long run, recording audio feedback allows you to power through a whole class-set of tasks in much less time and allows you to provide much richer, more meaningful commentary for students.

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