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Let's start with the premise that e-learning is the safest method of training in times of global health crisis as it allows the trainee to be completely isolated from the physical dangers that lie ahead. However due to the situation created by the new virus (coronavid-19), many professionals, educators or not, pushed by the constraints that governments around the world issue, are forced to or will be forced to work remotely. In this case, with no previous teleworking experience, the chances of failing in this venture increases exponentially. This article will not focus on the necessary characteristics that modern teachers should have, as recorded in a previous article, but will instead focus on practices that have the potential to enhance one's ability to teach and work from home in general.
It is imperative to differentiate a distance learning course from a regular classroom session. Special preparation is required with regard to the tools to be used. Their flawless operation should be checked before the lesson begins so that the teacher may prevent potential malfunctions during their usage. If an LMS (Learning Management System) digital platform is already being used in the classroom before the transition, it is advisable to stick with it for the sake of usability and speed, as each new tool requires to be familiar to its users. Examples of such platforms are Edmodo, Moodle, Canvas, TalentLMS, iSpring Learn and docebo. Of course, they are not the only tools that one can use but they are certainly some of the most popular. An LMS platform as an asynchronous e-learning tool, that does not require the simultaneous presence of all participants, will allow the lesson and trainees to be well organized as it will be used as a digital space where the classroom and students will be virtually hosted. There, will be the gathering place, where users interact (for example via the use of a communication forum) and the announcement board that will be informing students about the activities that will take place while at the same time providing them with a place to be informed by the teacher, without the need for personalized communication. Keep in mind that a digital platform has to be enriched with the necessary tools that can enhance student engagement as well as boosting their interest in digital learning. Such gamification tools can be badges for successful completion of goals, a leaderboard system, virtual prizes and more. This is important as eLearning in the light of the possibilities provided by the usage of mechanisms mentioned above, having a direct relationship with neuroscience can make the educational process extremely beneficial for the students.
Next, a careful selection of the tools that will be integrated into the digital platform should be done, and a lot of thought should be spend on selecting the right videoconferencing tool that will be used to engage students in a synchronous way of communication. During the usage of such a software, the participants will interact in a variety of ways, mainly through live video as well as via a written communication system, the so-called chat room. Such a tool is essential as it will help learners overcome one of the major problems of distance learning which is none other than possible isolation that the student may feel due to lack of face-to-face communication. Through live video, teachers and students will be able to talk and interact as they would have done in any video call. There are multiple software available for this purpose, some free of charge while a few other demand a payed subscription, such as Skype, Big Blue Button, Zoom, Blackboard, Slack and Google Hangouts. Some of them are equiped with tools like live polls, sharing the presenter’s screen, managing attendees and various other goodies that may come in handy.
If you plan to teach online keep in mind that it is extremely important to have a backup plan. Often technology fails, especially when it comes to using it in frontan audience or doing a demonstration using a technology tool, so having alternatives is imperative. It is also necessary to always have a backup plan. It is really common for technology to fail, especially when it comes to using it in front of the world or doing a demonstration using a technology tool, so alternatives are imperative. For example, you have made a great presentation at the interactive presentation tool called Nearpod but at the moment the software is not responding. What a well-prepared teacher would have done, would be to have a presentation on one’s hard disk in PowerPoint format so that he/she would use instead.
Another option would be to have a second device available that could be used in the event of a malfunction of the central computer. In such cases a cheap laptop with a decent microphone and camera could be a lifesaver.
Do not treat distance learning and in general the use of distance learning tools as inferior to conventional learning. It's not inferior, it's just different. Most of you work with GenZ people, born practically from 1990s to 2010s, who because of the extensive use of mobile devices, will show a huge pereference to the so-called video-based learning as they already spend a lot of time on YouTube and other video streaming platforms for their entertainment. Be sure to enrich your eLearning lesson with several videos that will aim to convey the basic information of your lesson, leaving out details that may not be so important. It should be emphasized that the videos you create need to be short, less than 3-4 minutes long, as GenZ people have extremely low attention span, making it impossible for them to watch extensive video recordings as they are easily distracted by their environment.
During the lesson, be prepared for technical problems that users are going to face. Some will not listen to the presenter because their headset won’t work, while some others may not see he presenter's screen because of low bandwidth, etc. These issues can be mitigated by having testing connections and video conferences with students before the formal start of the lesson so that everyone can overcome the potential obstacles and become familiar with the selected tool. A smart move would be the development of tutorials, in either video or in written form, that will be available before the start of the lesson for the convenience of the users.
Additionally, it would be useful to create silent spaces in which students can think. Students in the digital world, just like in the real world, need to have time for reflection, so make sure you don't forget to give them time during a video conference. You can also use the tools at your disposal for this purpose. Make polls, ask for feedback on chat rooms, have them post notes or on forums and give them a chance to express themselves. You will be amazed to find out that otherwise silent students can now express themselves freely.
Lastly, make sure you have a frequent presence on your digital management system. Constant communication is essential in a digital classroom environment. Remember that online classrooms don’t share the warm feeling that a classroom can offer. Try to resolve this issue by answering the participants' questions in a timely manner and provide regular guidance and comments. Be available to your students by providing them with support and assistance where and when needed.
Take care of your appearance. Whether you are going to work from 09:00 to 16:00 at home in front of your computer, dress as you would at work, and take off your pajamas. By doing this routine action, your mind will grant the necessary importance to the task that lies ahead. Get rid of distractions around you, such as kids, TVs, even your smartphone. This will force you to concentrate, boosting your productivity.
During the video lesson make sure your room is clean and dress in the usual way. This will give the impression that you are taking distance learning seriously to the direct recipients of your messages, your students. Be sure to inform your family members and friends about your working hours, and explain to them the seriousness of the situation, asking them to respect your peace of mind and concentration.
If one is not familiar with the magic of distance education, this process may seem awkward and challenging, but in reality, it is a wonderful experience. Do your research, plan your lesson as you would normally do for a conventional classroom and fly. Make sure you are well-prepared and be positive about the potential difficulties that you may encounter at various points along this new path, taking seriously the role of the teacher who teaches remotely.
In addition to the undoubtedly beneficial advantage of flexibility, which is the first outright advantage of distance learning and teaching, there are other benefits to consider. Most importantly, eLearning is an ever-evolving job market for teachers - and therefore an exciting career opportunity. Imagine that this whole process could open new doors and horizons for you as you can now reach students you could never meet in a physical classroom through distance education.