A version of this post was originally published in Education Today, on November 9, 2021.
Online education isn’t by any means something new. However, more than ever before, the past two years have led educators to discover alternative ways of teaching. And while the beginnings were difficult and we’re still facing a lot of uncertainty, the frantic switch to online learning is no longer helping anyone.
Instead, teachers must look ahead and find the methods and approaches that work and can sustainably support students under any circumstances. In other words: we must do better. Although there’s no denying the pandemic had many unfortunate consequences, this is a chance to build a better education system, one that is flexible and engaging.
Indeed, one of the main problems that teachers have faced regarding online learning is student engagement. That is because the digital space comes with its own set of online teaching skills and tools for getting students excited about learning.
One of these skills is facilitating an interactive learning environment. In this type of virtual space, students get more feedback from an online platform, their teachers, and their peers.
Consequently, even if they are studying at home, they don’t really feel alone, as connectedness is the key to better learning — a lesson learned from many years of experience both as a teacher and as an e-learning entrepreneur working with hundreds of educators. That’s why I am now sharing my top tips for creating interactive learning spaces that any teacher can apply to their own classroom:
Make learning content accessible from anywhere
The flipped classroom is built on the principle that students control their learning and can decide when and where to learn.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s no structure. It means that the structure is more flexible. It allows students to move through the class and explore freely, reaching their learning goals just the same.
The difference is that everyone can have a different experience that is tailored to their specific needs and preferences. As a result, the content needs to be there, with engaging lessons and simple instructions that any student can follow.
Students can easily prepare for lessons during a flipped classroom scenario, but it should be a standard for any type of classroom, even for full-time face-to-face ones. Having that great foundation of content to browse whenever they need it is beneficial for students of all ages.
Use more interactive materials
A wealth of resources can come in handy anytime, but there is also the question of motivating students to use them. For instance, instead of watching an hour-long lecture-type of video, there can be shorter ones, in which you as a teacher talk directly to them. In this scenario, students can pause and unpause videos to answer questions, check their work, and are active participants, not passive consumers.
The same is true for going through a lesson that is immediately followed by a short quiz to test their knowledge. Hotspot questions, matching questions, and other more creative question types are more fun and challenging than simple True/False and multiple-choice ones.
You can also take it a step further through animations, which allow you to create your own materials targeted to your students’ needs. Another way of adding interactivity is by adding games to lessons, in which students get feedback for their work through rewards such as points and badges.
Don’t forget about project-based learning
Project-based learning can be done anywhere, even through remote collaboration. For this purpose, it helps to have a platform where students can form groups, collaborate, and even submit their joint assignments. For example, students can send messages and work together on the same documents.
Since they learn from each other as they do their projects together, they can be as creative as they want, even at home. For example, each student can grow a plant in different conditions, documenting their observations with videos and pictures, as this is so easy to do online. As the teacher, you can also monitor their work in real-time and comment on their progress since it’s all in the open in a chat, group, or web conferencing session.
Find ways to facilitate student interaction
Even if students can’t be online simultaneously, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be part of the conversation.
Through asynchronous methods, such as groups and forums, students can stay connected and discuss learning topics, which greatly enhances their understanding. What’s more, it doesn’t all have to be school-related, as they can even start clubs online and have more informal conversations.
Synchronous tools such as chat, web conferencing, and debate assignments are just as important. For example, holding online Socratic seminars is a sure way of engaging students and getting them to work together.
Ensure quality teacher-student communication
If face-to-face interactions aren’t possible or are limited, students can feel supported in any environment, as long as they have the tools to reach out to teachers.
Knowing that they have all the information they need and the teacher is open to answering messages (within reason) makes it much more likely for students to trust you. Through a learning platform, you can easily give feedback and guide students.
For guidance, it’s good to have access to a wide range of analytics to see where they need to improve. Additionally, feedback is much easier to give in online classes where you can see where students are lagging behind and intervene at any moment to help them improve.
This is the type of interaction that students need the most in terms of flexibility to explore and just-in-time feedback when they need it.
To say that the pandemic has changed education as we know it is an understatement. Yet, we’re at an interesting time in history, where we can see changes unfolding in real-time all around the world. Learning how to create an interactive learning environment will help teachers make their classes more engaging, which, in turn, creates more learning opportunities for their students, no matter where they are.