Students need three overriding skills to be successful online. If they don’t have them, steps need to be taken to help develop them! Here’s the big three:
- Students need to be able to read and write. These skills transfer from a binder and text to a computer. Since students in fourth or fifth grade and up have developed literacy and writing skills, they are primed to start in virtual lessons. They can attend live, or synchronous, sessions or a recorded, or asynchronous, sessions; they can find assignments by reading announcements and they can complete them using computer software. Younger students and students with special needs may need assistance logging in but can then attend live sessions or watch recordings and online assignments may be weaved into a daily routine along with a traditional paper/pencil/project approach.
- Self-regulation skills. In a virtual setting, students don’t get dropped off by the flagpole before school and have bells to tell them when to head to class, recess or lunch. They also don’t have a friend sitting across from them telling them when to turn the page. They need new guides. It takes self-discipline for them to log in and get working and organizational skills to manage their time and tasks. These basic skills are taken for granted in a traditional school and a lot of students haven’t developed them, but doing so in a distance setting is one of the benefits. While parents can jump in and help, let’s face it, many kids don’t want to have mom or dad looking over their shoulder (and vice versa), some parents don’t have these skills and some are not available to help. This leaves the role of motivator and organizer in the hands of the online teacher. And it is a very important part of the online teacher’s job. If you find yourself spending a lot of time helping students set schedules and get organized instead of lesson planning or grading, keep in mind how important these tasks are in the virtual world. If the student doesn’t get this, you certainly won’t be getting their assignments to grade.
- Computer Literacy skills. What do we mean by ‘computer literacy’? It’s the buzzword for knowing how to get basic tasks done on a computer: starting with the very basics of how to turn a computer on, download and upload assignments, use a browser such as Chrome or Mozilla, log into a website, and enter usernames and passwords – and that’s before we even get to word processing or working on spreadsheets. For students that are using social media, email, cellphones, etc., they will adapt to the online environment within a couple of weeks or so. But, students that struggle here can get quickly frustrated and give up. Again, this is where the online teacher can make a huge difference. Let your students know to contact you when they get stuck. So often it is a quick “see that box? Click on it” or “Here’s how to to reset a password.” While it may seem menial, quick responses to these situations are life savers and maybe an invaluable foundation for building a relationship with a student.
Understanding what it takes for a student to function online and helping them do so is a key starting point to helping them be successful. Getting over this first hurdle sets the foundation for the long term.