The closure of schools and colleges due to lockdown has seen teachers thrust into having to teach remotely. For some this has been a steep learning curve and it’s meant they’ve had to adapt their practice and potentially move out of their comfort zone. 

In this blog post I’m going to reflect on how I have adapted to this new way of working, and will also share some of my tips on the apps that I have been using during my remote lessons. 

With so many apps available it’s easy to get lost as to what tool to use and when. My first tip would be to pick out no more than two or three apps only and experiment with how you can use them in different ways. 

Just like at the start of a new term, you need to set out expectations and make sure students are clear on when and how you going to communicate and what the format will be for synchronous and asynchronous lessons. 

When it comes to choosing apps for use with your students you need to consider the types of devices that they may have available to them. My suggestion is that you choose apps that work well within the browser and don’t require an app to be installed. This should hopefully ensure most of the students can engage with your lesson activities. 

It is worth considering that some of your students may have siblings who are also studying from home thus only have access to a computer occasionally and are reliant on their mobile phone as their main device.  

Bear this in mind when you are setting specific activities especially if those activities require some sort of intricate action. For example selecting and moving objects around a screen – this may be straight forward with a keyboard and mouse but much more challenging using fingers on a screen. 

The issue of getting students to login prior to using an app can also present a problem with students forgetting passwords, this can delay students from accessing the apps thus impact on the pace of the lesson. 

When it comes to adapting your presentations, it is tempting to add lots of additional text to make up for what would have been said during the lesson. However I don’t think this is the best approach as it results in the slides looking very crowded and not particularly easy to read. Instead consider recording a voice over. You can either use a screen recorder such as Screencastify which is available in the browser or the voice recorder function built into PowerPoint

Adding of a voiceover has its benefits, the main one being that students can replay the information multiple times to ensure they understand what’s being presented to them. 

Due to lack of devices at home because perhaps they’re sharing with siblings or other family members, you should consider setting a window of time for students to do activities asynchronously, meaning that they’re not  required to log on at a specific time. This will give them flexibility to work through your activities when a device is available to them.  

When it comes to looking at ways to add an engagement to a lesson, Quiz tools can be a great way to achieve this. My current favourites are Quizizz and Google and Microsoft forms. Both Quizizz through its homework feature and Google and Microsoft forms enable you to set a time window providing students with flexibility to complete the activity at a time that suits them. 

If you want slightly deeper level learning you may want to explore how you can expand the types of questions available. I found that by adding either a video or an image to a question I could create a more challenging activity. I have started using PowerPoint to create images with activities on them such as word search, crossword, name the object and label the object. Having created these in PowerPoint using the insert shape options. I download them as images and the add them to the quiz tool I am using thus enabling me to broaden the types of activities I am using to engage my students. 

As useful as quiz tools are, sometimes it is good vary the types of activities the students are working on and provide them with an opportunity to collaborate. This can either be done asynchronously with students contributing at different times or during lesson with students in breakout rooms. 

Here are of some of my favourite tools that enable students to collaborate they include Padlet and Google Jamboard  which enable students to post onto a virtual wall and this can be a great way to get them contributing or discussing a particular topic.  

Wakelet is another tool that I’ve relied on during lockdown. It is a curation tool that is easy to use and does not require students to log in. Students can add a range of different types of content such as documents, twitter posts, weblinks, images and record videos. 

I’ve used it as a way of getting students to collectively research materials ahead of a lesson. I’ve also seen it used to create a virtual playlist where the teacher curates the different types of activities they’re going to use in the lesson and shares them with the student via a link to the Wakelet. 

My main takeaway would be to keep it simple. Find two or three apps that can be used in a variety of different ways with your students. Spend time making sure that they know how to use them and can access them via their device at home. The time you invest at the start going through these processes with your students will result in much more efficient lessons going on forward. 

Finally, just a brief reflection that this has been a challenging time for all teachers and students, but I hope some positives come out of this. The first being that teachers have seen how by sharing content in advance for lesson they can free up more time for discussion and debate during a lesson. 

The second that some students prefer this remote approach to lesson and flourish when being able to contribute through the chat feature. Hopefully if we can enable more students to connect remotely to occasional lessons, reducing the number of students who miss time in class due to anxiety.