I started my teaching career back in the dark ages of 1996 and stayed in the classroom until the end of 2007 when I moved into the library/media center. Those first few days of school were always a wonderful flurry of activity where I would introduce myself, meet the kids, but most importantly, give them glimpses of how things in the classroom needed to work in order to create a positive experience for everybody. You know, things like: where assignments needed to be turned in; where to find supplies; where to find additional copies of class materials; how to keep track of individual progress; classroom roles and responsibilities; how our classroom economy would work; how to be a good classroom citizen; and most crucially, how to be excused to go to the bathroom! By the time we hit the middle of the first quarter, my classroom would run like a well-oiled machine and students were largely independent and able to function in the environment we had created together. Whenever a new student arrived, the kids would demonstrate their knowledge by teaching the new student the ropes.
Our classrooms of today have added a technology element that has big impacts on our classroom communities. Living in a technology-rich classroom has changed the landscape, but have we given any thought to how to introduce our students to these tools and how to best use them to keep our classes running like that well-oiled machine? When you walk into any classroom these days, the automatic assumption usually made is that every single child in that room has more tech knowledge and skills than the average adult. Teachers believe that all we need to do is hand our students a device and they are off and running. I suppose that is true if we are asking the students to use Snapchat, post on Instagram or create a playlist on Spotify. However, if we want them to use their devices for teaching and learning, there is a good chance that they need to be onboarded into our classroom’s digital environment.
Think about your experience as an educator. When you adopted an LMS like Schoology or Canvas or began using a content delivery system like Google Classroom, you probably (hopefully) received some sort of professional development to help get you started. Even if it wasn’t anything official from your school or district, you most likely watched the introductory training videos or read the quick start guide offered by the programs themselves. Now, look back to the first time you had your students work inside one of these systems. Did you talk to them about what to expect when they are working within the system? Did you walk them through the steps necessary to log in? Did you show them how to access the content you are sharing? Turn in their assignments? Add it as a favorite to their browser? Did you have any discussions about digital citizenship and your expectations for how each student should represent themselves in a digital environment? If you haven’t had these discussions with the students, I am not sure they know how to live in the digital space you are using. Just like you needed a little guidance to get started, so do your students. I am not advocating for long drawn out sessions of direct training, but the first few times that you have assignments in Classroom or in your LMS, walk students through access, creation and turn-in options so that they know how to effectively interact with the environment. When you see students writing “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy everybody, I am so crazy!” on your Classroom stream, think about how you can discuss appropriate sharing in a digital space.
My district is a Google district and I spend a lot of time in different classrooms with students. The funny thing about our students these days is that they are able to figure out how to use just about any flashy tool that they stumble across, but if I ask them to create a Slide or Doc, there is a pause and students scatter to create in a weird variety of ways. I have watched students Google the words ‘Slides’ or ‘Docs’ and then randomly click on whichever search result is at the top of the list, even if it isn’t a Google product. When we are working on something on one day and I want them to access it on another day, they aren’t entirely sure where to find it. It has become apparent to me that I need to onboard these students by quickly showing them how to access their Google apps via the app finder (we call it the ‘waffle’), how to navigate to Google Drive, how to create folders in Drive and how to create within the folders for easy access at a later date. These are not all stand-alone lessons that take a bulk of the class time. Rather, these skills are what I show them when I model the set-up and routines expected in my class. They are not limited in their choice of creation tool, but at the very least, I know that they know how to organize their creations and share them with me.
When you create a digital environment for your students to live in, onboard them by defining:
- How to access the environment:
- How do they login? Username and password?
- Can they access it from home?
- Digital citizenship expectations:
- Are they free to comment and express themselves in the environment?
- What are expectations for interacting with peers?
- When digital media is created, how are images found and used and how are citations displayed?
- What external sites are ok for use in the digital environment?
- How do students access assignments?
- How do students turn in assignments (share vs dropbox vs “turn in” features)
- Will your assignments be posted on a calendar or should students look in another location?
- If you are using Clasroom, are students expected to mark their assignments “done” even if they have turned in a physical copy instead of a digital copy?
- When you are collaborating and giving feedback on student work before it reaches the final form, how will that workflow be managed?
- Let the students (and parents) know how you will communicate with them digitally. Will you be using the announcement feature in Classroom or Schoology? Will you use an app like Remind?
- Let them know how feedback will be delivered to them for different assignments. Should they look in the private comments in Classroom, comments within a Google Doc or Slide, video links, handwritten on sticky notes? If they know what they are looking for, it will be easier for them to interact with your feedback.
- If you give grades, where will the students see the grades? On the assignment? In the Schoology grade book? On ProgressBook? Written on the top of a paper?
In my mind, these are the essentials your students need to know in order to be properly onboarded into your digital learning space. Just like you take some time at the beginning of the year to discuss how to leave the room to go to the bathroom and that your students should call you Queen of Awesomeness (just me?!?), you should spend some time making sure they are comfortable and prepared to learn in both a physical and digital space.
How do you onboard your students? What essentials did I miss? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments!