Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many school districts decided to switch to virtual learning entirely. Others decided on a hybrid approach, making distance learning available as an option. For many, online learning is a life-saving necessity. However, isolation is a common concern for students and educators. With social distancing, it’s even more difficult for home learners to be social. Thankfully, there are ways to help students who may feel alone. These five methods can helps schools prevent isolation for distance learners.
Online Class Meetings
Distance learners miss the face-to-face interaction that a traditional class gives them. However, there are many video conference apps that let students see their teachers and classmates. This will allow the students to put names to faces and keep them more interested in the class than a chatbox would. Using platforms like Zoom lets students experience more of a normal classroom setting. Plus, seeing their classmates “in person” — albeit virtually — helps them to see that they aren’t alone.
Virtual Breakout Rooms
Setting students up in breakout rooms will give them little communities with which they can share their thoughts. It will also give students the chance to get to know their peers and hopefully build friendships with them. Distance learners know the struggle with making connections outside of school, so students will have that in common. Plus, small groups create classroom community online just as they do in person. It’s easy to create virtual breakout rooms on platforms like Zoom. Teachers can use breakout rooms for a wide variety of small group activities, from peer editing to strategy groups to safe spaces for students to share their feelings.
Events and Activities
Hosting online events like study groups or watching lecture videos can help students get more involved with class. This will give students the chance to collaborate and learn from each other. After the event, educators can have students share what they learned or think about it. Students will get to know their classmates in a group setting and maybe develop friendships that extend outside the virtual classroom. Teaching a book that’s been adapted to film? You can have students stream the movie and then hold discussions in breakout rooms. You can even have students practice communicating offline through a series of letter writing activities.
Virtual Field Trips
It may not be safe for students to venture out on field trips, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include exploration in your class. Virtual field trips bring a world of discovery into a distance learner’s home. Many world museums offer free virtual tours that would be perfect for multiple subjects. Science students can explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium through their live cams, or learn how food travels from the farm to the store with BrightFarms. Art students can visit Frida Kahlo’s home or tour the Louvre by subject. Students can even travel together on the surface of Mars with the help of NASA’s Curiosity Rover.
As educators, it’s important to encourage and uplift students in such times. Share messages of inspiration and positivity through email or during video lectures. Making students aware that they have an adult to talk to can help them feel less lonely. Motivating students to share their thoughts with their classmates will help them realize that they aren’t alone.
Now more than ever, it’s essential that schools keep an eye out for students’ online safety and mental health. Distance learners have reported increases in stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Schools can support their students’ mental health through screen monitoring software like LearnSafe. LearnSafe can detect signs of depression and abuse as well as at-risk behavior on school computers. For example, LearnSafe can detect a student expressing intentions of self-harm. In one particular incident, the LearnSafe staff alerted a school safety team to such an intention, and they were able to intervene before harm was done. In this and so many ways, LearnSafe helps schools support their students’ mental health even if learning happens at home.
Text by Claire Manasco