The COVID-19 pandemic has required students to be schooled at home using distance education techniques. Delivering an educational program while students are at home is not without its challenges. But, with a little knowledge, there’s no reason to doubt that our students can still be educated effectively.

As teachers, we need to start online sessions with trivia, laughter and all that makes for good social connection. It needs to be a time of welcome and reassurance. This silliness is serious. It’s only when the stress is gone will the learning arrive.  

Remote learning. The term ‘remote’ has ugly connotations. Distant, irrelevant. Cold. Who needs it! Answer: No-one. For this reason, we need to deliver remote learning that’s not remote.

The social element of education can still exist when delivering distance education. However, it’ll only happen if teachers major on relationships and not just on content. When a pandemic arrives, schools characteristically scramble to deliver content. Learning Management Systems (LMS) get crammed with PDF lessons lined up for transmission. However, in this scramble to serve our students academically, we’re in danger of forgetting them socially. It’s not so much content that’s required at such times, it’s connection, companionship and conversation.

For this reason, full use should be made by teachers of synchronous learning facilities. If teachers have to deliver content, split the screen and have inert content on one side and live people on the other. 

Occasionally, break the large class into small groups. Ensure the groups are made up of a mix of personality types and change the groups from time to time. These smaller groups can foster closer friendships than a whole class session would.

  • Dear 235. We have a personal interest in you, doesn’t work!
  • A collection of ‘enclouded’ PDF files does not a lesson make.

Left to their own, online groups of students can chat, share and gossip. Good. These diversions are important.





The teaching techniques that are appropriate when teaching students online will depend on a number of things, not least the age of the student, the technology being used and the subject being taught. That said, there are a number of pedagogical tricks that are useful in most settings.


Establish a regular routine. Start the online sessions at the same time each day. Remain professional in your dress and appearance when online. It reinforces normality. Require your students to organise themselves for online school just as they would for normal school. They need to have washed, had breakfast, dressed appropriately and organised their learning resources before the online session starts.


It’s good to concentrate on teaching the most important elements of the curriculum when online, and allow the less important to be dealt with off-line. In other words, decide what is to be done in a synchronous manner with the class group, and what is to be done in an asynchronous manner when working individually.


Logistics like roll calls need to done efficiently and on time. Don’t wait for laggards to log in. Start without them. By so doing, a message will soon be sent about the importance of punctuality. Use the initial period of logging on and roll calls to inject some warmth, humour and connection with students. Making the class feel special can be done by little things such as knowing the preferred name of each student and by giving them a class identity.


Hey to all you mavericks out there. Great to see you again.


And a ‘happy birthday’ to Jamie. Have a great day ‘JD’.


Now for a bit of camera advice. As far as possible, try to look at the camera rather than the screen. Use your peripheral vision to note what’s happening on the screen. This has the effect of improving engagement with your students as they will feel you’re looking at them, rather than at your toes or somewhere else. This is particularly important if you’re speaking close to the camera. Check sound levels. Check there’s enough light on your face. Check there’s no glare on the white board. Check that which is seen on screen is appropriate. This includes the photo behind you of that famous night in ‘Rio’ 20 years ago.


It's good to be clear in your mind what the objective of each lesson is. The start of the lesson needs to capture the student by stating clearly what’s going to be studied and why it’s important.


This morning, we’re tackling a key topic in our science curriculum. It’s on balancing chemical equations. If you learn this trick, then you’ll be well advanced in your ability to …  


In the first few days of online learning, it’s good to remind students of any on-line learning protocols that may be in danger of being breached.

 Just before we start, a quick reminder about noise and chatter. Remember SHIP. We make our contributions short, helpful, informed and pertinent.

Let’s now get into the secrets of balancing those chemical equations.


Things like toilet protocols need to be established. Remind students that it can get a bit ugly taking their computer with them to the toilet!


Here’s a key point: Online teaching must be done using about a third of the words that would otherwise be used in a normal classroom. Therefore, such words that are used need to be words that are important. Long monologues from either teacher or student don’t work. Balance the ‘talking head’ shot with other visuals seen by students. A variety of resources exist such as blackboards, whiteboards, Smartboards, flip charts, video clips, and other means of graphical presentation. Online lessons need to use a variety of presentation styles that appeal to different preferred leaning styles of students.


Rather than overwhelming teachers with marking, get students to conference their own work and share it with each other. This is not to say there shouldn’t be any marking. It is to say that when teaching online, marking needs to be managed in terms of amount.


It’s a good idea to teach less to encourage students to learn more. We know about ‘slow dining’. Distance education lends itself to ‘slow learning’. Another way to describe this type of learning is ‘profound learning’ that allows a student to explore an issue thoroughly.


Encouraging good student engagement can be facilitated through the good use of questions and peer2peer interaction. That said, don’t be afraid to make good use of the mute button if a student, or a number of students, become too noisy. Train students to listen and process an opinion before they speak, rather than as they speak. Remember the importance of silence and of allowing students to process what has been said or read. Imprinting is important lest key concepts be lost in a sea of ‘blah’.


It’s a good idea to keep the online lessons simple. Hello! We’re dealing with technology here! Don’t try and do too much or be too clever. When involved with whole group teaching, use simple tricks like asking students to put their hands up if they’re hearing you. This enables the checking of student engagement.


One of the most useful things to do at the end of a lesson, is to ask students what part of the session went well, and what might be improved. This sends messages about your teachability and desire for continuous improvement, and your respect for students and their opinion. Not only that, it could improve both teaching and learning.


We finish where we started, by remembering that maintaining connection is just as important as providing content. For this reason, fun activities should be included in our online sessions with students such as, ‘formal Mondays’ (ties) and T-shirt Fridays, collegial singing online, cup-cake and limerick competitions, photos of strange places to find a school hat, and so on.


‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.’



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