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Distance learning: Increasing student engagement 

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I am a Life Sciences teacher and my typical instruction is very hands-on, but -- along with the rest of the country -- that has had to change in recent months due to the coronavirus closures. Addressing the digital divide has been one hurdle but another has been keeping students engaged in a distance-learning environment -- which is very different from keeping them on task in a classroom.

Here are a few ways that I am doing it.

Hyperdocs

I’ve developed hyperdocs for entire topics such as meiosis, reproduction, invertebrates, or the eye. These topics can  take up to two weeks to complete. Each hyperdoc is separated into subunits so learners aren’t flooded with new learning activities every day. My students can see the bigger picture and the small steps they need to take to get to the end.

The hyperdocs are divided into two parts: one guiding the learners on new concepts and the second part with activities learners need to complete. In the first part, I use notes, slides, and links to videos that assist learners with the understanding of new concepts. The second part requires learners to complete activities. These could include drawing diagrams in their workbooks, labelling an interactive online diagram using drag-and-drop, doing online puzzles and quizzes, or completing questions from past papers.  

Short, Explanatory Videos 

I use Boclips for Teachers as my source of videos to explain concepts. The fact that these videos are short is useful, since many of our learners don’t have much data. Each video explains a few terms, concepts, or processes so learners are not overwhelmed. I’ve used videos, for example, to show learners the biodiversity of plants and animals in their natural habitats.

In my life science classes, I have some videos that are compulsory and others that are longer and optional. Some learners do only what they have to, but others may find a particular topic interesting. These optional videos show concepts, structures, or processes that are not necessarily included in the curriculum. I have found that they help the more advanced learners pay better attention. It’s important to me that learners understand that what I am trying to educate them about is really the wonderful world we live in.

More Online Tools

For my fellow educators looking for more online learning tools, I recommend joining a virtual learning group of some sort. Find a group that’s excited about education and that does things the way you wish you could. Watch for webinars that speak to what you want to achieve. I have participated in many of these online courses, and have been given so many resources and tricks that I’ve used to stay connected with my students during this challenging time. 

Jenny Woolway is the deputy principal at Bracken High School in Alberton, South Africa. In the grade 11 and 12 Life Sciences classes she teaches, she uses Boclips for Teachers, which is free to teachers and parents until the end of June, to search for and share short, informational videos. She can be reached at jenny.woolway@brackenhighschool.co.za

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