Top Tips for Virtual Learning

 
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This year, educators across the world learned the challenges of engaging a classroom of students in a virtual environment.

Despite any virtual hurdle, our partners in Louisville, KY, Broward County, FL, Boulder, CO, and Toronto, CA brought goIT to students in virtual summer camps. After a summer of programming, they have shared their top lessons learned and are excited to share that advice with goIT’s network of educators.

1. Plan, plan, and plan some more: This seems obvious, and you’re probably already spending a lot of time planning for an in-person goIT program. However, in a virtual environment, there are a significant number of variables you need to consider prior to a program including virtual engagement, technology errors, and materials distribution.

a. Becky from Kids2GLOW in Boulder, CO said, “You have to be very intentional about how you organize your information for engagement as well as fully understand the technology tools you’re using.”
b. Create a registration packet was the advice from Opal and Greg Dawson from Best College Match in Louisville, KY. The registration packet should have everything the student is going to use in the program: Links to google drives and classrooms, pdfs, a fully detailed agenda for the program, videos they’ll be watching, and tutorials on all the technology they’ll be using.
c. Know Your Technology: All the facilitators agreed to take a time to have a complete understanding
d. “Review the goIT program thoroughly beforehand so that you can create lessons in addition to it to scaffold and prepare your students for the various stages in the project,” said Toronto District School Board’s Ashley Pilegg.

2. Add more time to your actual program: During this time, as people are beginning to understand how to both facilitate and learn in virtual environments, meaning they’re also learning about how to use the technology on which they are learning.
a. “Host a 1-hour tech-check day,” said Felicia Alvarez from Broward County, FLL. Meaning, take one hour in the first day, or even create a new session, where you walk your class through all of the technology they will be using, and ensure they have an understanding of the tech, as well as access to all the materials and links they’ll need for the duration of the program. It’s easier to take the time up-front than continue troubleshooting the same problems throughout the program.
b. “We ended up spending an hour and a half or more every day in our program,” claimed the Dawsons. The extra time though, was spent in collaboration and discussion, so it was time well spent. All facilitators agreed that they could have used an extra day and didn’t get to as many concepts as they would have hoped.

3. Volunteers are critical to the success of the program: Engaging TCS and client volunteers is an easy way to both get help in your virtual classroom, but also to bring careers in technology to life!
a. Kids2GLOW facilitated an all-girls program, so TCS engaged female associates as guest speakers. Bringing in associates who were also female to talk about their careers in technology really resonated with the students. Next time, we’ll engage more guest speakers and volunteers!
b. BCM said that volunteers, especially those who had been volunteers in the past, were the biggest highlight of the program. They were able to give students attention and feedback when they as facilitators were helping other students. “I would recommend live volunteers for modules 4 – 6 to anybody running the program.”

4. Emphasize Virtual Engagement: We all know students need to learn and be engaged in different ways, so it’s important to keep those same principles in mind in a virtual environment. Here are some ways our partners engaged students:
a. Use technologies like Pear Deck or Padlett
b. Emphasize using the chat box, as well as asking direct questions
c. Ensure students have their cameras and mics on (if possible) at the start of every class
d. Ask students to try to find a quiet space during the program
e. Use another technology for collaboration like Slack to encourage continual communication, especially if you have tech issues
f. A facilitator’s first group should start small. Once you understand how to engage a virtual audience in ways that work for you, increase your class sizes
g. Ensure students have some sort of adult support to help motivate their students.

5. Flexibility is key: goIT is already about adapting in your classroom, but you have to allow for a little extra grace in a virtual setting.
a. “Go where student interest takes you,” was the advice from Becky. She said her group of students wanted to learn more about coding, so they emphasized Module 5, whereas other groups really enjoyed problem solving in Module 3.i. “If a student isn’t engaged in a topic, don’t force it.”

Virtual programs are new territory and you can never fully replace the in-person goIT experience, there were a significant number of highlights from the programs this summer:

1. Students gained computer literacy and were even able to help facilitators understand certain aspects of technology.

2. Facilitators were not geographically restricted to programming

3. Volunteers add a huge amount of value to the program

4. The level of engagement in goIT is one of the best virtual learning experiences a student can have

5. Parents are heavily engaged in the process and enjoy participating in goIT’s programming with their students

TCS always encourages educators to be creative while facilitating goIT in any setting. Are you ready to bring virtual goIT to your classroom? If so, email the goIT manager john.dichiara@tcs.com to learn more!