Setting Student Expectations for Distance Learning

Traditional Expectations Versus Online Expectations

Wow, this past year teachers have learned that student management in a virtual learning environment varies quite a bit from student management in the traditional in-school setting.

After all, those days of the lovable townspeople arguing about how to build the new one-room schoolhouse on Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman (I loved watching that show on Saturday nights in the 1990s) are long gone, as we're clearly living in a brave new world in 2021 and beyond.

Don't fret though. Although the rules have changed, the name of the game is still the same. You want what's best for your students, and if we all adjust, they can still learn.

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Expect the Unexpected

Why do we need to set expectations for online learning? What expectations should teachers set for students in the distance learning environment?

First, your students may not take online learning seriously. It will be to your benefit and their benefit to let them know this is a real day at school, and these days really do count. However, you can decide if you want a bit more of a casual atmosphere. For example, some teachers allow students to munch on snacks during online sessions, and some teachers even join in and eat snacks too. If you do, try to eat as gracefully as possible, and make sure it's not affecting your students' ability to hear your words. Some teachers even use hand signals or sign language when conversing online, so they don't have to speak as much.

How do you navigate conversations and concerns about online learning? It is probably best to be open and honest with your students. Let them know you are trying to figure out this whole online learning scenario too, since online learning may be new to everyone. Think of virtual teaching as a big learning adventure, and in the end, students may even become better learners!

What are some other realistic expectations? Just as in the physical classroom, students should never bully other students in an online setting. Students should try to be kind and respectful to one another. They should not interrupt another student who is talking and even consider muting their microphones. Students should not try to distract other students on purpose by walking around or making silly gestures. Students should never be allowed to ''private chat'' with one another during classroom teaching time.

The Truth About Consequences

In addition to setting expectations, be sure to state the consequences of inappropriate student behavior. And make sure to follow through with those consequences even though they are not physically sitting right in front of you where you can watch them like a proverbial hawk.

To Grade or Not to Grade … That Is the Question

On one hand, you want to have some fair way of assessing the progress of your students. On the other hand, you know that not all your students have equal access to online instruction. This is why many teachers are opting for a pass / fail system of grading instead. However, as a teacher, you will probably have to discuss this with administrators in your school district.

Structure and Deadlines

Since online learning can seem somewhat ambiguous, it may be best to use very specific instructions. Create learning modules in which the students have clear procedures to follow. Similarly, have set deadlines and keep them, such as ''by next Friday'' or ''in eight days'' for homework to be handed in for grading.

Synchronous Versus Asynchronous Learning

Let's talk about synchronous versus asynchronous learning. The former is when you and your students are online together in real-time. The latter is when your students view a saved lecture at their convenience. Which is better? Well, both can be good, so many teachers are trying to use both. Try to find a blend of learning which best suits your needs.

Backup Plan

So, what do you think the chances are you're going to get disconnected from your students sometime during the school year? Well, 100% sounds about right. Therefore, be sure to implement a backup plan in advance for when this happens, so your students know what to do.

In Summary

Ultimately, each teacher will have a different list of expectations in an online learning environment. However, it is necessary that you let your students know these expectations in advance, so that each student knows your learning terms and conditions.

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