With schools, colleges, universities, and training institutes facing the heat of the lockdown, course completion and continuity of studies, in general, have gone for a toss. It did not take long to turn to the only viable solution at hand – online virtual classes. As surprising as it might seem, in many countries, online education is yet to see mainstream adoption even in this era of digitalization, IoT, and whatnot. Traditional and age-old physical classrooms are preferred at most levels of education. Classroom management plans are an integral part of the curriculum now.
It is not hard to understand that the transition from the usual brick-and-mortar classroom to the online one, for the most part, has been a bumpy ride. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of alternatives. But then again, the show (read: studies) must go on. So the majority of schools and colleges understandably took their teaching online. Mere classroom management strategies have to be changed to online compatibility now. It is worth noting that despite all the hurdles, effective online classroom management strategies can go a long way in smoothening out the learning process.
What is Classroom Management?
Classroom management has been defined by an expert going by the name of Annette M. Iverson as the process of conditioning and supervising behaviours, interpersonal relationships, and instructional parameters for learners. She went on to explain that classroom management is an essential activity that helps curb discipline problems and promotes a healthy learning atmosphere.
Len A. Froyen and Annette M. Iverson in their 1999 book “Schoolwide and Classroom Management: The Reflective Educator-leader” revealed that classroom management strategies have the following three mandatory components: Content Management, Conduct Management, and Conduct Management.
1. Content management
This is the management of space, materials, equipment by the instructor as well as the movement of lessons and learners who are part of a curriculum or program.
Example – Some students are working in tandem on an assignment, and the teacher monitors the group by physically circulating around the room and providing feedback and assistance as and when necessary.
2. Conduct Management
This is the collection of technical skills that lecturers utilize to address and resolve discipline problems in the classroom.
Example – A certain student is mocking or disrupting other students’ work or showing some kind of superiority complex. The teacher responds by reminding that student or even all of the students to respect each other’s work while passing positive comments on student’s actions thus far, if applicable. The particular student in question gets a lesson gently to be assistive and not disruptive.
3. Covenant management
This is concerned with the classroom as a whole, treating them like a mini social system that has its own customized features. These ‘features’ are to be taken into account by the lecturer when attempting to manage or in some cases, even dictate interpersonal relationships in the classroom with the sole motive of providing a near-perfect learning environment. Thus you can understand the importance of classroom management plans.
Example – A set of learners is working individually on a critical problem. The teacher then addresses the class to work together to find a solution. Later he or she commends the group for their effort irrespective of whether they can derive the answer or not.
Researches indicate that classroom management plays a central role in student excellence. Instructors should provide the learners with a great learning environment that aims to encourage active participation and healthy competition among them. The classroom management style of the teacher should be student-centric if successful learning is the objective.
Effective classroom management
Effective classroom management should be one of the first and foremost responsibilities of the teacher, whether it’s an online or a traditional classroom. The students must be made aware of the need to behave appropriately, and the lecturer should exercise some sort of control over all of them so that any unwanted issues can be nipped in the bud. Effective classroom management is far more than just a list of dos and don’ts, though.
Okay so, what do I exactly mean by ‘effective online classroom management strategies’? If you’re a teacher, and an experienced one at that, you probably think what’s the big deal? It’s just the change of scenery! Teaching is, after all, the same right? Well yes and no. It’s one thing to be able to teach well but a completely different thing to be able to perform effective classroom management online.
Online vs Offline Classes
In light of the current situation, effective classroom management calls for a crystal clear knowledge of the exact differences between an online and offline classroom, especially in the Indian context.
How exactly are virtual classrooms different from traditional classrooms, and how do they affect classroom management styles? Or do they differ at all beneath the surface? Let’s examine.
If you compare on face value, both virtual and regular classroom training have the same agenda. In both cases, the teacher will present instructions in an easy to understand manner to the students and periodically test their understanding and retention of the same. But there are key differences that need to be understood.
Classroom Management Strategies
The first and foremost difference lies in classroom management which in-turn affects classroom management techniques. In a traditional classroom, the concerned teacher is at liberty to physically move the students around. This grouping and re-grouping of the learners in various ways can help break up unwanted camaraderies amongst students who often prove to be detrimental to lecture delivery. Also, mixing and matching the layout of the seating can foster a sense of teamwork, especially in lessons or assignments that demand some. This ensures that learning remains interactive and fun.
On the other hand, virtual classes are done using some video conferencing software that facilitates interaction between the student and the teacher and additionally, between students themselves when the need arises. But here the grouping makes little sense as the teaching is mostly one-to-one even though limited communication as a group may be possible. As a result, virtual classes work best when the audience is limited to a specified number of people. But in the case of recorded classes having little to no instructor interaction whatsoever, such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), class size may be kept unlimited.
Use of back channels
The next big dissimilarity comes in the usage of ‘back channels’. Back channels are well known when it comes to lectures. Here the listeners are expected to sit for quite some time. Traditionally speaking, especially in India, lecturers normally ban phones and other gadgets from the class, but in the present context, the situation has reversed. Teachers are even setting up social media hashtags as a backchannel for the audience in order to serve as reminders or even attract more listeners.
Virtual classrooms from popular platforms normally have some sort of functionality built-in to act as a backchannel for the listeners for even more engagement. It’s thus common to witness both the main presenter as well as a host in online lecture sessions. Thus virtual classroom management is of utmost importance.
Lack of Visual Feedback
Lack of some sort of visual feedback is an obvious challenge for instructors. When lecturing directly to an audience inside a single classroom, the teacher is able to adapt his or her delivery based on visual feedback from his students.
For example, a room full of bored faces is an indicator that they need to be introduced something more interesting or engaging to make the session more fruitful. But such provisions are non-existent during an online session wherein the obvious lack of personal touch is a considerable barrier.
Anonymity of students
Online classes differ in the sense that the identity of the learners is not liable to be always disclosed. Anonymity resulting from not being physically present in a classroom can be a benefit to students attending online sessions. Students who might hesitate to speak up or raise their doubts in a physical classroom can feel more secure if their identity to not revealed to other members of the class.
Also, specially-abled students are at no disadvantage in a virtual classroom where their participation is not hindered by any kind of disability, unlike in physical classrooms.
Getting Started with Online Classroom Management
An end to this pandemic situation is nowhere in sight so it can be safely stated that online classes will be the new normal for the foreseeable future – be it school, colleges, universities, or training institutes. Therefore the current situation calls for devising aggressive yet effective online classroom management strategies that will keep education accessible even during these trying times.
If you’re a teacher then you must realize in order to get most of your students on-board (and happily so) when teaching remotely you need to make the sessions enjoyable and let your students have fun within the boundaries of the discipline. They need to be put at ease. After all virtual classroom behaviour management techniques are centred around those students themselves, it’s your job to make them feel engaged, comfortable and valued even if they make mistakes which some of them surely will.
It will take some learners a bit longer than others to adjust. But sooner or later, better results will be produced with a supportive and caring approach. You need to make them come back to your class the next day on their own, instead of forcing things down their throat. After all, let’s face it, teachers have lesser control over proceedings in an online classroom compared to a regular one.
Even if it sounds counterintuitive, a step back from the teacher may lead to two steps forward from his or her students.
Classroom management styles should be devised keeping open the possibility that learners will not only learn the subject matter but develop socio-emotion skills as well – especially how to go about behaving in such online platforms for maximum productivity.
Want some curated online classroom management tips? Read on.
Online classroom management strategies
1. Sort out the technicalities
Okay, so first things first – it’s an online classroom, right? And online classroom involves a lot of gadgets, software, internet connection, and all that stuff what are prone to break, get out of order, or otherwise hamper the session in whatsoever way. Some online classroom management tips will definitely help you in the long run.
Sorting out the technicalities right at the beginning is at the heart of whatever online classroom management strategies you’ve thought of. Some of your students will definitely be less tech-savvy than others. Make sure you are in control of the software, the UI, know basic troubleshooting and just can figure out stuff if and when they go wrong. Keep Murphy’s Law in mind, always prepare for the worst.
It should be your foremost duty as the instructor to tweak your classroom management strategies to accommodate technical glitches and be able to come up with quick solutions when needed.
2. Engagement, Engagement, Engagement
Engagement is always nice to have. We would like to engage our students. But if it’s to be a trade-off between participation and standards or engagement and order, then engagement surely loses out. Here comes something called classroom behaviour management. If the students do not find the lesson engaging, classroom behaviour management becomes an issue.
When teaching online, the classroom management strategy gets flipped. If you as a teacher cannot engage your students, they may stop showing up. And if they stop showing up, we may not get them back although all that engagement should not come in the way of lecture delivery. That’s why virtual classroom behaviour management is of utmost importance.
3. Start Slowly
The shift to online learning has been rather sudden. We bet many of your students even feel that this mode has been shoved down their throat all of a sudden – but nothing doing amidst the pandemic.
You have to realize that the first few days (or even the first week itself) is going to be focussed more on the dos and don’t of online learning rather than learning itself. Your students will eventually adjust to the new normal and also to your own flavour of online classroom management style and then gradually ease off into real studies.
And when the lessons start, you have to remember slow, and steady wins the race. If you start like a cheetah, it will get ugly. Your audience will get overwhelmed, or worse yet, lose interest altogether. Some might leave as well. And before you know it, they’ll be less attentive, less motivated, and way more distracted.
Make sure you keep it fun, interactive, and enjoyable, especially in the initial stages. You have to be aiming to not only contribute to their subject matter learning but also to their holistic development, on keeping it fun, easy, and supportive. You can always up the ante once they are comfortable with you and the whole online learning process.
4. Real-Time Communication
Recorded videos can only do so much. Yes, they are beneficial in certain aspects, but if you talk about proper classroom management strategies, it’s always better to connect with them in real-time.
This serves two main purposes. Firstly, it helps set a particular classroom management style. Your students will associate that with you, further building your uniqueness among them.
Secondly, making pre-recorded videos that are also engaging are kind of difficult. There are already a lot of them in the wild. You run the risk of repetition and inducing boredom.
What students need from their instructors at this critical juncture now, more than ever, is a personal connection. Presence of an entire class and individual attention to their academics as well as mental well-being is necessary just to create that sense of normalcy. Or, small group sessions to allow discussion, not necessarily always about studies. To round it off, one-on-one sessions to guide students set mini-goals and stay motivated.
5. Develop Student Responsibility
Developing student accountability is part and parcel of any online classroom management strategy. As teachers, you should offer options and opportunities to students for learning. But then again, you cannot spoonfeed everything. At the end of the day, your classroom management plan should include making your beloved students responsible and accountable for their plans and actions.
Students feel more in control of their own learning when they are able to set their own waypoints and have choices about how and when they learn what they learn.
6. Establish Ground Rules
Virtual classroom management is different from physical classroom management in the ways we have discussed before. Thus classroom management strategies play a very important role here. Be that as it may, one thing is common – rules have to set from the ground up. These rules can be academic, behavioural, and/or disciplinary. If you are worried about syllabus completion within the stipulated time and dread those unnecessary disciplinary or behavioural issues which can disrupt your schedule, you as the teacher should lay down strict rules and nip any possible evil in the bud.
Consider establishing norms early on in your schedule. Involve your students in the process too. If they know they can have a say in the rules, they will be more than likely to follow the same. It’s basic human psychology.
Also, be aware and make your students aware that norms are not static; they may and will evolve. Having a fun “norms” check-in every week at a particular day can provide both structure and variety to your sessions.