Student Behaviour in an OL environment

As many of us are gearing up for our 4th/ 5th/ 6th week of #OnlineLearning, I have been closely observing student behaviour while hopping in and out of classes.

Photo Credit: IBO

The IB has also published a comprehensive guide (needs MyIB log in) on Online Learning in March 2020 titled “Online learning, teaching and education continuity planning for schools”. This guide not only shares ideas for planning and implementing online learning in the context of IB schools, but also guides schools with resources on screen-time management, and guidelines for ensuring student privacy and online safety, but also talks about transitioning back to a face to face classroom model, as many schools in China are moving that way.

A section from the guide on ‘transitioning from online back to face-to-face learning’ helped me join the dots with my observations in OL classes at my school.

“Learners may have:

  • become accustomed to more independent learning and will need time and guidance to transition from it. Some learners may have preferred learning remotely and will find the constraints of school difficult to accept.

  • become accustomed to shorter activities, asynchronous assignments, more freedom in their work and less face-to-face collaboration.”

5 OL Habits that can turn Bad

Ready for Online Learning

As our students are mostly learning on their own, using a digital device, and using non-human-contact methods aka through virtual learning environments, what impact was it having on their learning style? Based on my observations, I have listed 5 habits that are forming in digital learners, which could well turn out to be counter-productive by making students disrespectful, discriminatory or isolated in the real world.

Habit 1: It’s OK to mute somebody.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: We are trying to develop Communication Skills in students and part of that is listening and allowing each member to speak their mind. We strongly discourage a bully when it comes to group discussions… don’t we, or keep the vociferous child under control and allow the shy ones to speak? Could this habit turn that value upside down?

Habit 2: It’s OK to turn off the video cam when we want to.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: A student may turn off their video camera during a virtual class for a range of reasons. Somebody else may have walked in at home, they may want to take a refreshment break, they may not be ready for class and even worse, they may be just marking their presence online but totally distracted or even asleep in the real world scenario. This is tantamount to a social, mental, intellectual and emotional absence in class. What is worrying is for students with learning needs who may not want to show their faces or raise their hands to respond to the teacher, as an outcome of a complex mix of negative or depressive feelings and emotions.

Habit 3: It’s OK to be in any setting and in any kind of attire or be late to join a virtual class.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: Well every work and school environment has its own norms and guidelines for behaviour and appearance. In the real world, we need to be on time to attend a meeting/class or dress in the school uniform, and dress neatly or not carry our pets or our nanny to class. How do we balance the relaxed norms that online learning has set forth into our lives and make students discern these fine differences between what is acceptable in a virtual viz a viz a real classroom?

Habit 4: It’s OK to run parallel chat or private chat during the virtual meeting.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: I have often noticed students enjoying the chat feature greatly. As humans, we all crave to socialise and interact, and the daily chitter-chatter about inane topics adds vibrancy to our socio-emotional health. However, in virtual classrooms, children and students seem to maintain equally fine control over the live interactions and the conversations in the chat rooms. Some apps even allow private chat which is difficult to monitor by a teacher. So, while class is on, do we allow students to be private chatting with each other? Should we?

Habit 5: It’s OK to leave the virtual room/meeting when we want to.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: Many students leave or rejoin a virtual classroom. Sometimes, it could be that they may need a washroom break, or they are being roped in to do something else at home, or there is a genuine issue with their internet connectivity. But would this be acceptable in a real-world face-to-face classroom? Are we simply accepting knowing the many challenges of working/learning from home during a lockdown like we are all experiencing? Maybe. But it is important to be mindful of this aspect too.

What have we done at my school?

Online Hustle Bustle

So as we look towards transitioning back into real-world, face-to-face classrooms, how can we make sure that these habits do not cross over into the real world? Though, we have had a relaxed approach in student conduct we harped on a few essential agreements. Some of them are:

  1. Habit 1: Student mics must be on mute when somebody else is talking. Students cannot mute each other or the teacher… the rights have been disabled. A teacher can mute the class or individual students though.
  2. Habit 2: Students must be visible on the video at all times. This is easier followed by younger students and needs reinforcement for older students who may already have concerns with their appearance on a camera in a social setting.
  3. Habit 3: Students don’t need to wear their school uniforms (though some still do for the comfort of familiarity), but they need to be ‘ready for class’! Students must be ready in an undisturbed room, with enough light, with stationery, water bottle and anything else they may need for the class. Student attendance is being marked half an hour into the first class and shared and monitored with parents.
  4. Habit 4: This is a hard one to tackle, as sometimes productive discussions happen in the chat room regarding the ongoing lesson. Teachers monitor this frequently to remind students who are using the Chat Rooms for informal and unrelated discussions. As we use Google Meets, there is no facility for private, one-on-one chats.
  5. Habit 5: With younger students, the most common reason is network issues. We have rarely had any child leave the class either out of disinterest or in protest. In lower grades, parents are encouraged to be around to support the students’ learning and to help them with IT skills, as appropriate.
Gr 3 Class dojo

What can we do now?

Agency comes to play a strong role in the way students are learning in a virtual learning environment. Voice, choice, and ownership are promoted not just through synchronous interactions, but also through collaborative/social engagement using a range of technology-based applications like Kahoot, Flipgrid, Weebly, Canva, Mentimeter, and the likes. We need to sustain the levels of Learner Agency we have achieved and get students and teachers to reflect on how these norms of conduct will be similar or different when we get back to the real world and engage in face-to-face classrooms.

Photo Credit: IBO

Will we merely have to manage our rediscovered learning environment, sans the concept of physical distancing and with the introduction of more hard copy work? Or will we need to address the emotional rewiring and social reprogramming first that all of us will need to stagger back to a life of regained freedom? Only time will tell… but let us get thinking about it, sooner rather than later.

Till then the clock keeps ticking clockwise or anticlockwise, depending on which part of the world you are in. Stay safe! Keep learning!