How I teach - Move lessons online - without crashing

20th March 2015 at 00:00
Technology can be intimidating to adult learners. Here's how to avoid glitches

Exams are moving from paper to screens, folders of coursework are being replaced by e-portfolios and some of my lessons now have to be taught - or at least accessible - online. Many of the adults I teach will cope with this shift as well, if not better, than younger students. But even if my learners are technologically skilled, many tell me their computers are frequently monopolised by their children.

With this in mind, here are my tips for handling the digital revolution in adult education.

Make it desirable, not essential

Explaining to a student who rarely uses technology that their course is going to be based online can end up with them making a beeline for the door. When it comes to learning, adults face a number of obstacles, such as a lack of time, family responsibilities and low self-esteem. Don't make mandatory digital skills another hurdle.

Consider your surroundings

Many teachers in adult education work remotely seven days a week, setting up classrooms in community halls and day centres. Not all these sites have the required technology to hand (and that can include photocopiers and printers). Even if they do, there usually isn't anyone around in the evenings or at weekends to fix a problem if it occurs. Be mindful of your environment and adapt your planning accordingly.

Take time to train staff

Some teachers love using technology and can't wait to try out the latest app or interactive game with their students. Others steer clear, fearing it will mean extra work and yet more planning. It's all very well insisting that staff employ more e-learning, but you have to make sure they feel confident in doing so. This means training. And not casual sessions delivered by the member of staff who "knows the most". Bring in someone, preferably from outside the organisation, who knows absolutely everything.

Offer ICT support

If you're expecting students to complete homework or exams online, they too will need training. Any course that makes these demands must also offer accompanying sessions in basic computer skills. It may be worth embedding these into the lessons, as extra classes for students who work all day and attend courses in the evening are unlikely to be successful.

Make sure the technology works

Glitches are to be expected. But implementing a service-wide system before it has been tried and tested and backed up numerous times is a recipe for disaster. If you set homework only on the virtual learning environment and that breaks down, no homework will be done. Being rushed into using a flawed system is frustrating for students and teachers alike.

Prioritise learning

Some of the best lessons I've observed have involved nothing more than paper, pens and an enthusiastic, well-informed teacher. Ticking a box is not a justification for using technology. Rely on it too heavily and you may find that when it stops working, you're left with nothing but the sound of tumbleweed rolling through your classroom. Technology should be used to enhance learning, not dictate it.

Kate Bohdanowicz teaches English to adults in East London and is also a journalist

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