Many teachers will be new to the practice of remote learning and may be concerned about how they can get started and what they need to do. You may, or may not, be surprised to know that with a standard laptop and internet access you already have the hardware that you need to facilitate a remote learning workspace from home.
Whether you are planning to live-stream your lessons online through Microsoft Teams or record your them with the Recorder option in PowerPoint, the environment and location of where you deliver this from is important. When we set up a classroom, we always consider the environment that our pupils are going to be taught in and we strive to ensure that is it conducive to learning with engagement at its core.
Here are some practical tips to help you establish your remote learning area at home:
1. Set up the room
The location that you choose as your remote learning workspace is really important. Ideally, you need a clear environment that will enable you to be productive throughout the day. Try and find a room where doors can be closed to reduce background noise as much as possible. ASD pupils may find it difficult to focus on your voice if there are noise distractions so this is a crucial step to create an inclusive remote learning environment for all your students.
If you are going to be recording learning content, you need to make sure your room is well lit and that you have a good balance between both natural and electrical lighting. Test out different options before you start to record and make sure the video picture is clear for your students.
2. Test audio and video quality
Whilst devices have a mic built into them and it is often sufficient, it can always be improved with the help of an external microphone. From previous experience, I have found a headset microphone is the best at noise cancellation to minimise distractions from your lesson. If you are using a webcam, I’d recommend testing the quality and positioning of it before your lesson. You may need to use the external webcam if the quality of the internal one is poor.
3. Consider how you will deliver the lesson
If you are planning to record lessons via PowerPoint to ensure it can be accessible for your student at any time of the day, try and avoid sitting with your back to a window or wall that is full of distractions. The students need to be focused on you, not the things behind you.
For those of you who would prefer to use Microsoft Teams to live-stream your lessons, make sure you have uploaded all of the files to the Teams site prior to the lesson so you can easily show students where to find the work when you share your screen. I’d recommend trying to keep the video to screen sharing where possible to keep pupils focused on the work but if you do need to be on camera, make sure that background blur is enabled. This will ensure background distractions are minimised and is a reminder to your students on why the connection is taking place.
4. Set some ground rules
Make sure you set expectations with your pupils the same as you would in a classroom environment and familiarise yourself with how to mute pupils if they are interupting the lesson. Encourage students to ask questions through the chat panel. This way even your quieter students will be given a voice and everybody will have a chance to be heard. Just make sure you monitor it throughout the lesson.
On a more practical note, if there are other people at home, make sure they know you are delivering a lesson and ask them not to disturb you during it.
For many teachers this is a real step out of their comfort zone but we have these wonderful tools available to us, and our pupils, that can help us through a difficult time, whilst ensuring that every effort is made to help pupils achieve the best outcomes they can. And remember, there is a wonderful community of teachers available to help and support you during this time.
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About the author
Paul ‘Lanny’ Watkins is an IT/Computing Teacher at Ysgol Bae Baglan, a Microsoft Showcase School. He is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow, Master Trainer, Skype Master Teacher and Flipgrid Student Voice Executive Board Member. Recently acknowledged in the 2020 EdTech 50, Paul is also a member of Welsh Government’s National Digital Learning Council.