Tips for effective teaching if you have to teach at a distance


 Paul A. Kirschner 3 April 2020 in Paul’s Random Thoughts. Good education – both teaching and learning – is based on science, not beliefs!

Because of the Corona pandemic, we’re all going through a period that none of us has ever experienced. Concerning teaching and learning, kids can’t attend school, and we must help them learn at home. And this might last weeks or months. Fortunately, online education offers a solution, but the instructional techniques involved are not (entirely) the same as what we do in the classroom during face-to-face education.

Here are a few simple pointers to help. Go to the original text to read the advice given.

1.      An important piece of advice beforehand: Stick to the essentials.

Beware of offering too much new subject matter and possibly concentrating on maintaining previously learned subject matter. This advice is powerful and promising to follow because learning materials you don’t repeat are forgotten. Think of the infamous dip after the summer holidays!

2.      Frame new subject material you want students to learn in the bigger picture.

3.      Refer to relevant prior knowledge students have and can look up.

4.      Communicate concrete goals and success criteria with the subject matter.

5.      Have students study a detailed example before starting the exercises.

6.      Offer students support during practice.

7.      Have students actively process the subject matter.

8.      Let students find out whether they have mastered the subject matter.

Have your students (after practising) make a “practice test” to check whether they have mastered the learning materials. Research clearly shows that taking a practice test – retrieval practises – leads to better learning and retention (than, for example, rereading the material) and gives the student insight into whether they have understood the material. The latter is important because you are not present with the student to check for their understanding as a teacher.

9.      Provide students with adequate feedback on what they have done.

10. Spread exercise over time

In a nutshell:

  • Keep it short. “Try not to do everything you normally do in your online class.”
  • Prepare well. “Know what you’ll say; don’t change it during class.”
  • Provide structure. “List what students should do and see if they have done it.”
  • Prepare students. “If you are going to talk about something, prepare them beforehand by stimulating their prior knowledge.”

• Give short assignments before and after and require them to be submitted to you. “Not complicated or profound, but things they can do in a few minutes, and you can see whether they are prepared (before) and understand (after).”

• Make use of the online resources available. “Don’t try to do something better in an evening when someone else has already done well.”

I hope this helps. Suppose you want to know more about what constitutes good teaching for effective, efficient, and enjoyable learning. In that case, you might want to read a book I recently wrote with Carl Hendrick: How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice, available from Routledge and via Amazon (US and UK).

This blog is based on the book ‘Lessons for Learning’, a recent Dutch language book translation, which should be coming out before the summer. The book is a collaboration between Tim Surma, Kristel Vanhoyweghen, Dominique Sluijsmans, Gino Camp, Daniel Muijs, and myself.

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