I can’t find it…… how can we support students AND teachers to navigate online environments??

Like many, I’ve been thrown in the deep end of distance learning as NZ has been in various stages of lockdown. Because of interest, and a good skill set, and a bank of digital resources, I was ok about the shift. (Really missing practicals though). Most of my classes have used the platform (we are using office 365 Teams, which has been pretty awesome) before, and know their way around. Even despite this, I’ve had a few questions asking where stuff is, or we have had a few syncing issues where stuff hasn’t got where it should so students lose confidence about where things are.

And I have seen plenty of memes on the interwebs about students struggling to navigate online planning platforms

It has made me think back to what feels like ancient times when I was starting out as a teacher, and we were learning some literacy strategies. Who ever was running the session was going through parts of a text book – the content page etc, and then on the page – what did the pictures show? The captions? Were there summaries in boxes….?? And then, how did we know to check this? Who had taught us?

I think it is easy to forget that students don’t always know how to navigate online environments. Just like the text book example, unless someone has shown them how to use it, they don’t know. Or, the might have been shown it, but didn’t need it so forgot. (I am often like this with KAMAR….) Often times, ‘we’ ‘assume’ that someone else will teach them, and they should just know! Like teaching some-one to use a text book – surely they learned in primary school? Or isn’t that the English teachers job? If it is online learning, it must be the digitech teachers job, not mine.

The other thing to consider is that students can navigate some environments, and many of the memes say why can you manage tiktok or games, but not school. I think this is simply a cost benefit – students want the outcomes of the game, or the social connection. The motivation is different…. so how do we motivate students to check?? Or how can we gamify the experience, so students WANT to get to the next steps, but also learn from experience. Almost all games come with a tutorial level and then get harder.

I also wonder the same question for teachers – how to do grow confidence and skill sets within our profession. I am AMAZED at the uptake I have had with some PLD sessions I helped organise, and the incredible things teachers have done. But I worry about the teachers I have not heard from – how are they doing? Are they stuck and struggling silently? Are the racing along just fine? Are they doing their best, but don’t know what they don’t know, and so are working harder than they need too….. And I still get the odd question, that I have answered multiple times before, that gets emailed, messaged, text (or called on my cell phone while I was out and about) from teachers who need help JUST THEN.

And I constantly come back to how do I build capacity for people to have a go, and try and figure it out. No matter how many times I demo that really, I spend a lot of my time playing round with stuff till I figure it out, people just don’t believe me. Staff still ask for a frame by frame pdf print out of what to do (the videos go too fast…). I also keep coming back to a point about TELA devices, there is no point giving someone a shiny new devices if you don’t talk them through it, and so often this doesn’t happen.

I don’t have any answers here, I wish I did. Perhaps if I did, I’d be out of a job.

Perhaps we all need to take a breath and think how we can all navigate the online spaces for teaching and learning better – for both staff and students. Because there will only be more of it to come, and while the challenges with the Corona virus are significant, the opportunities to reimage what education could be are endless

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