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Today, Pivot founder and Director Cleo Westhorpe interviews Narelle Carlon, Online Teaching and Learning Project Office at Western Australia’s School of Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE).

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long you’ve been at SIDE?

I’ve been teaching at SIDE for 18 years. I am a Level Three Classroom Teacher. My main teaching area is English and I have taught across all year groups in the secondary school environment. I’ve been a curriculum writer for SIDE, and I’ve been part of SIDE’s Online Teaching and Learning team for three years. Our role is to support teaching staff and students in their use of online learning tools

What were some of the biggest lessons for you when you made the switch from ‘bricks and mortar’ to an ‘online’ classroom?

I didn’t really switch to an online classroom… it was more of a gradual evolution! When I started at SIDE the school was still operating as a paper-based correspondence school. In the time I have been teaching at SIDE, we have become an almost 100% online school. However, the biggest lessons come in working remotely with students, regardless of the mode.

The most important thing is the teacher-student relationship. You have to work much harder to build that relationship and students have to become comfortable working with you. It’s easy in the online space to focus on the task at hand and forget social connections, so you have to have that at the forefront of your mind all the time.

Quality of instructions — you must be explicit. Instructions have to be clear and concise, and the teacher’s voice needs to come through. Students have to understand what they need to do, why they need to do it, and when they need to do it.

Good pedagogy is good pedagogy. If it works well in your classroom, it will work well online. You may have to find ways to adapt, and you may need to be more flexible in your approach with students, but ultimately bringing teaching and learning online is just about using the tools to deliver what we know to be good teaching and learning.

How do you connect strongly with your students to build positive learning relationships?

I try to be warm and welcoming. I show an interest in my students as people before I launch into the day’s teaching and learning. I reach out and check in on them… even if that is sometimes via a group email or message. I offer support, I make sure they know how and when they can contact me. If I notice particular students aren’t engaging in the way I might expect, I contact them personally to check in. Firstly, that they are OK, then to work with them to try and find out what the blockers might be and negotiate ways to overcome those things. I try to help students feel they have control over their own learning, that they belong to a learning community, and that I’m here to help them along the way. This often involves a level of flexibility from the teacher that can take some time to adjust to.

If you could share three pearls of wisdom with a teacher who has never taught ‘by distance’ before, what would they be?

1. Keep it simple to start. Online learning is a steep learning curve, so adjust your expectations, be flexible, and accept that it may take students more time to complete things.

2. Give explicit, clear instructions:

Be clear about the learning intention — what do students need to achieve at the end of the lesson or sequence of learning?

  • What do they have to do to achieve their learning goal? What are the success criteria?
  • How might they do it/what are the steps?
  • When does it have to be done by?

3. Be available, be present and show you care.

Thank you for sharing your expertise with us today Narelle, we’re sure that many fellow educators out there will be able to take away some valuable insights from our discussion. You can check out more distance learning strategies and resources at our COVID-19 Resource Page. We are offering free access to our Pulse Checks until May 1st.