Helping Children with Online Learning
By Tracey Dowdy
If nothing else comes out of this pandemic, parents will at least have a greater appreciation for the myriad of skills it takes to teach a classroom full of children. Granted, most of the parents trying to teach from the kitchen table are also managing a household, working from home themselves, and hadn’t chosen teaching as their profession, making their job infinitely more complex. The prospect of accomplishing anything remotely resembling academics may seem overwhelming, but with a little preparation, clearly defined rules, and reasonable expectations, you can do it.
Get set up.
Determine which video conferencing platform they’ll be using and create the account together. By involving them in the process, you’re demonstrating that you are there for support but ultimately this is their responsibility. Do a practice run or a demo so your child knows how to answer a call, raise their hand, share their screen, record the lesson, mute the microphone, and how to exit the call. Many of the platforms allow you to save your settings, so while you can test the camera and mic on your system, make adjustments in the video-conferencing software you’ll be using. Gather earphones, an external camera and/or mic if there’s not one built into the computer, paper, pencils and any other necessary supplies (protractor, pencil sharpener, eraser) to take notes. Because video conferences use a lot of power, your battery will run down quickly. Make sure you have adequate battery life, or better still, plug in the device to avoid dropping the call.
You may want to be within earshot the first time or two, but after that, take the time that they’re “in school” to work on whatever needs your attention, just like a regular school day. Of course, you’ve taken on the role of the teacher in some aspects, so if they’re goofing off and not paying attention, help them stay on track and focus on the lesson. If you have older kids, allow them some privacy so they can interact with their peers and teacher without worrying about you overhearing anything. You can check-in as needed, but don’t hover.
While one of the benefits of video conferencing is being able to do it from anywhere, consider whether your child’s bedroom is an appropriate place to have on camera. Remember, privacy is still very important, and screenshots are easily taken by anyone participating in the conference. Wherever you choose, tidy up around you and make sure there’s nothing personal – photos, clothing, art, etc. in the background you don’t want on camera. Before the call starts, sit down, open your camera, and look at your background. If you want real anonymity, consider a virtual background that will take the place of your personal space. Also, if your student is going to be sharing their screen or sending screenshots, make sure no other browser tabs are visible to avoid any potentially sensitive or private information being shared.
Encourage them to go to the bathroom before or wait until after class – NOT during. A video of a student bringing her laptop into the bathroom during class recently went viral, and no one wants that kind of attention. If they really can’t wait or there’s an emergency, remind them to make they temporarily disable the video and mute themselves, and then turn everything back on again when they return.
Remind your students that you and the teachers expect the same level of respect and appropriate behavior as when they were face to face. If your student is using Zoom, caution them about Zoombombing, and remind them there are real-world consequences for online behavior. Again, any live video chat can be recorded and screenshots captured by participants so it’s important to always behave appropriately.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.