Online learning and offline rewards – why combine the two?

School curriculums are increasingly being pushed online. That means not just homework and challenges like Times Table Rock Stars, but also, as we have seen during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, whole schools’ lessons being moved online.

There’s no doubt that familiarising children with online learning are a positive step into the future (as if most of them don’t spend enough time online anyway). But as with any seismic shifts in educational policy and practice, there are bound to be teething problems – teachers are literally learning on the job here.

An example is discipline. How can a class be kept in line when they are spread around their own homes, where normal school rules don’t apply? Do schools even have jurisdiction in people’s homes? It’s a subject that’s being tackled daily. Without a 9:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. timetable, is it even possible to ensure children are learning at the right pace?

Second, how much are parents involved, or how much should they be involved? It’s almost impossible to check parents aren’t doing their children’s homework for them when it’s all entered online – even those who can still remember how to do long division.

Third, how are queries raised with teachers? If a child is stuck, they can raise their hand, but the teacher won’t see it from another building. And teachers can’t stay up till midnight answering a list of queries every night. Again, we’re in uncharted territory here. Some success has been found using video conferencing solutions, or systems similar to live chat where queries are typed. It does require some sort of structure, however, most notably a timetable so the channels can be opened and closed.

And finally, what happens with rewards? We’ve covered rewards systems in schools extensively in our advice centre, so there’s no doubt that they are an effective way of maintaining discipline and improving performance. But it’s difficult to keep tabs on behaviour or performance when kids are working remotely and you can’t be 100% sure it’s they who are doing the work.

In truth, discipline is all but impossible to monitor, beyond timekeeping and behaviour in group or private chat sessions. As for performance, teachers should be able to recognise if a child suddenly leaps into a new league when they are working at home, only to return to norm when they are back at the desk.

Timed online tests are good ways of getting accurate performance results. If children have to log into an account and answer series of questions quickly and accurately, it’s hard for parents to get involved, and again, it’ll be perfectly obvious if there’s a sudden spike (or trough) when a parent is involved. And best of all, these applications feed results back straight away, so teachers can monitor live.

Teachers can continue with their rewards systems as normal, bearing in mind the weaknesses associated with monitoring home-working children. Don’t forget, children won’t be spending all their time at home, so they will still be attending class some of the time, so your normal token reward system will still work. And even if they are completely remote, it’s still a great way for you, the teacher, to keep tabs on who’s doing well and who needs a push.

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