Another tool in the teacher’s toolbox.
In teaching, we are always looking for something new to assist us in our teaching; and to help our students to practice and learn more deeply what we have been teaching. Although it is not new now, some teachers have never given online products a good trial. Online learning provides the opportunity to do both of these things.
If you were learning a musical instrument, you have a lesson with the music teacher, then you go away and practice your skills. Online learning works similarly. You teach in class, using manipulatives, worksheets and whatever other strategies you choose, then your students practice.
The benefits to teachers
Online learning means that students can be set tasks by the teacher for independent learning at a student’s own differentiated level. They can then be given time in class, in the computer lab or at home to practice those skills. The beauty is in:
• Differentiation of students;
• Students can ‘own’ their own progress and success (for instance they can choose to do more because they want to get better at it);
• Teachers can access data to advise and coach their students.
• Students receive instant marking and feedback on their progress;
• Teachers do not need to mark student work.
• Flexibility of access (any device, anytime, anywhere).
Choose to buy in
There are various brands of online learning available in the literacy and numeracy education market (eg: Mathletics, Literacy Planet, Reading Eggs, Sunshine Online, Matific, Studyladder, Spelling City, Manga High etc). They vary in different ways. For instance their user interface and learning model can be quite different. However, it doesn’t really matter which brand your school has given you access to, choosing to actively ‘buy in’ and participate is usually a teacher’s choice.
Teacher promotion is needed
When a teacher is exposed to a new online learning model, they are aware that there will be a learning curve. They need to decide if they think the energy used to learn and promote this learning tool is worth the outcome. If you do choose to engage with online tools, a teacher must be the promoter and driver of the success of that program. Without that, student buy-in will be poor.
Online learning multiplies the effectiveness of your teaching. A teacher cannot assist every student at every moment. Online learning is highly structured and provides prompts and clues for students to work relatively independently. It is engaging, challenging and satisfying. Kids love it when they can see that they are kicking goals! Online learning makes so much sense on so many levels. Promoting and harnessing the power of online learning makes us better teachers for our students.
So, do we set tasks and sit back and let it all happen? No. As a teacher, online learning tools provide us with rich data on our students. This data helps us to identify those that need extension, those that need learning support and coaching from us and those that need to be on an easier level.
Seeing students ‘buy in’ and truly engage in online learning is an absolute thrill as a teacher. Their confidence in numeracy and literacy soars! It has been my fortunate experience to see students working at above their year level as they had mastered the curriculum tasks at their year level. Similarly, I have seen struggling students who are working at lower year levels prove themselves to the point of being able to raise the year level they are working towards.
What about homework? It makes a lot of sense that homework should take the form of online learning wherever possible. No worksheets to printout, distribute and mark; and kids can choose to do more homework if they want to. If you are promoting it right, many will!
Online learning is not supposed to remove the role of teacher, or that of traditional teaching methods and strategies. It is designed to be another tool in your tool belt and to complement your other strategies. Teachers, if you are not excited about online learning, maybe it is time to have a fresh look at the options available to you.
Access to technology in education (and in students’ homes) is increasing. The more it is promoted, the more success we should see through its use. Let’s get excited!
Note: These comments are the opinion of the author.