Top tips to engage your students online

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If you’re used to teaching in a classroom and the move online has been more than a little strange for you, rest assured you’re not alone.

AAT tutors up and down the country have been booted out of the classroom because of lockdown restrictions, and are now tackling the challenge of remote teaching. We touched base with a few of them to find out what’s working well just now, and how they’re keeping students engaged and motivated with assessments on hold.

Communicate more

Mindful Education partners with colleges to provide online courses. During Covid-19, they’ve made all of their AAT Level 2 and 3 lessons available free to all colleges, with additional guidance for tutors on how to use them, so they’re right in the middle of it with most AAT tutors.

Matt Brown, Director of Marketing and Student Experience at Mindful Education, helped develop the company’s guidance for delivering online lessons, and he had the following tips:

  • Replace a 3-hour face-to-face classroom session with a 1.5-hour virtual classroom lesson and a (less formal) 1.5-hour virtual drop-in session. Chunking time like this will help students stay engaged.
  • Remember that there are lots of positives of remote learning. It provides a more flexible option and students can access the courses at any time, on any device and revisit the lessons as much as they like.
  • Communicate more with your students now than would feel normal.

Mike Webster, tutor at Cardiff and Vale College, urges more communication during this time as well, in order to overcome the remote aspect of teaching online.

Students need time to adjust

Mike has been teaching for ten years and delivering blended learning for four. With lockdown, he now teaches his full and part-time students (ranging from 16 to 65-years-old) fully online. His students are engaged and enjoying learning and he is determined to keep up the momentum.

Mike’s top tips:

  • There will be a huge culture shift when you first move online. Don’t expect miracles initially. Students won’t be as productive if they are used to the classroom but I believe the use of technology makes for a more enriched experience.
  • Don’t try to use existing classroom materials or replicate it like-for-like online. You need to do things in smaller chunks. We use Microsoft Teams and Mindful resources and have managed to continue teaching with them almost seamlessly.
  • It’s not as easy to pick up on visual clues from learners online. Make sure you do a lot more checking in with the students. I’m going to each individual attendee in the virtual classroom to see that they’re keeping up.
  • We’re providing more of a support role to students focusing on their wellbeing. Some are at home with children or working too. It’s really difficult for them to balance everything. A lot are experiencing mental health issues so we direct them to the college support system if they need it.
  • We are giving the students AAT updates once a week, discussing any news to keep them calm and motivated.
  • We can track progress via Mindful’s online tasks and also set them practical homework to submit which we mark. I’ve been telling them to remember they can come back later with any questions after they’ve digested the information.

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Vary your teaching tools

Debbie Evans, training assessor at Walsall College, was previously holding fortnightly workshops in the classroom. Now the college is delivering workshops via Zoom, the popular free video conferencing tool.

Debbie taught purely face-to-face for ten years, then changed to blended learning when she started at Walsall College, so she’s had a bit of experience with remote learning before coronavirus struck. She believes it’s beneficial for learners and tutors to be able to work more efficiently and creatively, especially now.

Debbie’s advice:

  • Don’t be frightened of change or technology. You can get confident with it very quickly and a lot of our learners couldn’t wait to sign up for Zoom.
  • As well as using Mindful resources, we have a PowerPoint for each session to embed knowledge in a different way. We use the Zoom whiteboard function for engagement and in addition to  Zoom we utilise the AAT online resources like e-learning, Green Light tests, practice papers and webinars.
  • We gauge progress with Q&As, progress reviews, portfolio work and ask students to complete reflective statements. At the end of every session they complete a progress check built into Mindful to see how well they’ve done and to embed their understanding. Any areas of concern can be built into the next workshop.
  • We are now contacting learners at least once a week by email or phone to check in with them and reminding them of the support that’s available through the college, with regards safeguarding and counselling. There’s a lot to process right now, so it’s understandable that students might need more support.
  • We’re continually updating students with AAT and assessment news. We’re giving them alternatives to be working on earlier than we might have done usually to keep them engaged. They’re focusing on getting their portfolio work uploaded and doing their professional discussion.

Flexibility is vital now

Sarah Osei of Walsall College, is an NHS key worker at the Warsaw Healthcare NHS Trust. As she’s not at home when the remote lessons are being taught, Walsall College is giving her individual sessions after work. 

“The College has been great at accommodating me and it’s good to have the freedom to be able to continue my studies at home, having quality sessions at different times. It was a bit strange at first but I’m getting used to it.

We’re still using the Mindful lessons which have the in-built progress checks, and instead of face-to-face we use Zoom which is brilliant as things like past papers can be shown on the screen.

I don’t always like to put my hand up in class to ask questions so this works well for me. I’m more comfortable raising things online, then going through them one-to-one. 

With the resources that we have available I don’t feel that my studies have been affected. I feel that we’re still able to make progress and carry on.”

In summary

Being thrown in at the deep end might not be such a bad thing if it forces you to embrace new ways of teaching. Everyone will need a bedding in period but tutors and learners will quickly adapt to using video learning and online resources, and we may all come to enjoy the range of options and flexibility they bring.

Erring on the side of over-communication seems to be key just now, until you establish a working rhythm with each student. Check in with your students more frequently to ensure they’re keeping up and coping with all the changes.

Next steps:Join our free webinar where Mike Day will show you how to teach AAT UACS on a new platform called Xero Learn. Available on demand.

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Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.

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