Bulent Dogan, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Houston’s Curriculum and Instruction Department, said while online learning comes with a unique set of challenges, there are steps teachers and school districts can take to increase its effectiveness.
Dogan, who teaches at the University of Houston at Sugar Land, said the digital divide is one of the biggest hurdles to successful online education, so districts should work to ensure students have equal access to laptops, software and internet.
“Nowadays internet is as important as electricity, so you need to make sure everyone has internet so they can actually benefit from distance education,” he said.
Furthermore, he said some of the difficulties with distance education include a slower pace of instruction, less one-on-one direction and the inability to participate in hands-on learning activities.
Dogan offered the following techniques for teachers navigating this new online environment so their students can be successful.
1. Give clear instructions for assignments.
Having clear instructions for each activity will help prevent students from getting lost or falling behind in the online environment, Dogan said.
“Even text-based simple instructions are great—doesn't have to be video based, doesn't have to be anything special,” Dogan said. “Simple step-by-step instructions like, ‘Go here, do that, now you need to click on that.’ Very simple instructions will be very helpful.”
2. Provide training sessions for any new technology tools or online systems.
Taking time to walk students and even parents through new resources will contribute to a better learning experience, Dogan said.
3. Utilize small-group breakouts, and encourage collaboration.
Dogan said this will help students feel more connected to one another and more comfortable in this new environment.
“A lot of learning management systems have some online forums or apps,” he said. “Also, breakout rooms in Zoom—use those to your advantage. Make sure your kids are put into small groups, they’re talking to each other and getting help from each other.”
4. Follow and learn from teachers who are leaders in online learning.
“There are a lot of educational technology blogs that are constantly updated with new tools,” Dogan said. “Follow those blogs and form a personal learning network so you can talk to other teachers in your field and to see what they're doing so you can copy the good examples.”
5. Always have a backup plan.
Dogan said teachers should prepare alternative lessons in case technology or the internet fails.
“Always have a backup plan,” he said. “When you have online meetings, your internet connection may go away or you may lose connection, so what is the next alternative thing? Can you prepare some offline materials, just in case you cannot teach the subject that you're trying to teach?”
While Dogan acknowledged the many challenges with online learning, he said students are resilient and adaptable to new situations.