Online learning has been tough on educators, students and parents. Many kids don't have reliable access to the Internet, laptops or mobile devices, or the support they need at home to be successful. Many parents are balancing work, parenting, and teaching all at the same time. Many educators have not been enabled effectively and are struggling with the technology and policy, which is taking them away from what they love - teaching. As a parent, there are some things that I did to help get the best out of the situation we are in and am collecting my thoughts here for others to enjoy.
1. Schedule everything in one place
The first thing our kids struggled with was where to be and when to be there. We decided to use their school Google id to schedule everything into GCal so that we could mimic the physical school day with a virtual one. Instead of the class bell indicating it was time to move to the next period, we set up reminders so that they knew class was starting in ten minutes. We created the calendar by scouring all the emails, the PDF schedules, and Google Classroom to find the zoom links, the passwords, and the class names and created recurring calendar entries for all of them. We also scheduled in lunch and breaks as well to encourage our kids to eat and exercise once in a while. Once this calendar was created, we shared it to our personal calendars so that we could see when our kids were supposed to be in class and not playing Minecraft. This took away all the inefficiency of trying to find the zoom link for English and removed any excuses for not showing up for class on time. Pro tip - put in the school holidays as well (most schools already have an online calendar you can just add to your kids' personal calendars). This gives you something to look forward to when you have been online all week.
2. Learn Google Classroom well
If you are used to GSuite (Sheets, Documents, Slides, folders) then this will be an easy transition. Just think of it as adding a conversation stream, assignments, and check in/check out features. Google Classroom is just a new UI on top of GSuite with those added features. Learn to navigate the Stream, the Assignments, and the To-Do views. The "To-Do" view is the first place to go to see what assignments are due, overdue, or do not have dates on them:
This list should be pretty small if your student is staying on top of their assignments. This view allows you to click directly on the assignment to review your student's work. The next view to get used to is the individual classroom "Stream" view. This is where you will stay on top of the discussion and it helps you find links to external resources, zoom recordings, and important assignment information. Some teachers use this instead of the assignment object to convey information so you have to dig through this sometimes if your child needs help figuring out an assignment:
The "Classwork" view will give you all the assigned work in one place, per class. It is somewhat useful but you should be able to get everything you need with the views above.
Pro tip for Google Classroom - Once an "Assignment" is submitted, you can not see the teacher's comments until you un-submit the assignment. This is a handy trick if the teacher tells you that they graded the assignment and you can't see the notes. You have to "Un-submit" and then you can view them. This seems like a design flaw to me but I haven't filed it yet with Google.
3. Learn the grading system well
Since Google Classroom does not include grades, schools typically deploy a separate technology for grades such as Schoology, MySchoolApp, or ThinkWave. I am most familiar with the first two as that is what my kids' schools use. Here are my general tips. If the LMS is different than the grading solution, then there will always be a difference between what you see in the LMS and the grades. This is just because teachers are busy and don't always post their grades immediately after submittal. Therefore, your kid may have completed the assignment three school days ago but still has a zero in the assignment. Now, the teacher should not post the grade until the assignment is graded but some do and this can cause concern. My recommendation is to be patient and only reach out to the teacher if it is really outdated (like a week).
MySchoolApp has a messaging capability in it as well. I don't use that capability and prefer to stay in the GSuite environment so that everything is readily accessible from one place.
4. Zoom setup and configuration
Make sure your kids show up with their full names so that you reduce the burden on the teacher to take attendance and let kids in from the waiting room. Make sure their Zoom client is fully patched to the latest version of Zoom by clicking on the zoom menu and selecting "Check for Updates":
On the "Video" tab of the Zoom "Preferences" menu, you should select "Turn off my video when joining a meeting" and on the "Audio" tab, choose "Mute my mic when joining a meeting". This will avoid any embarrassing situations for your kid accidentally clicking on a Zoom link before they are ready. Also verify that "Automatically adjust microphone volume", "Automatically join computer audio when joining a meeting", and "Press and Hold Space key to unmute".
Pro tip - use the space bar to unmute yourself to say something quickly and go back on mute.
4. Be involved at the school
Being a parent with kids in online learning right now is not easy. It takes a community of teachers, parents, and students to work together to make the best of it. For some of the tips above, you can work with your school administrators and teachers to make improvements for all students. For example, we had success at convincing one of our schools to make the calendar trick a school standard. So instead of hundreds of students having to set up their own calendars manually, the teachers send out calendar invites to all students and the students' calendars will automatically populate and automatically be updated with no work by the student. This works way better than making the kids do it themselves. Don't be a critic, be a constructive critic with a positive attitude and you will have more success!
Eric is a traveller, hacker, and experimenter who is currently researching how to become a happier, calmer, and more compassionate human being.