They are accustomed to fostering all of this in person. But what happens when there is no classroom? With teachers and students now physically isolated from each other, educators must shift their approach to develop student voice in an online atmosphere. Using technology to inspire the power and possibilities of student voice will mitigate this temporary sense of isolation.

Collaborating with students and colleagues to ensure student voice is a driving force in effective distance learning is vital, for the students themselves and for the good of the whole. Students who believe their voices matter in learning are three times more likely to have self-worth and five times more likely to be engaged than students who believe they have no voice.

It is important to recognise that student voice is more involved than just expressing oneself. Student voice speaks for the good of the whole, offering realistic suggestions for improvement and accepting responsibility for not only what is said but what needs to be done.

Student voice is solution driven and action oriented; working with others who are also navigating this sudden change in learning is beneficial for everyone. Provide students with opportunities to stay connected - to listen to each other, learn from one another, and lead together through inquiry, creativity, and collaboration.

By working closely with students as a facilitator of learning, educators can ensure that students know that their voices matter and that their online classes are designed with their voices are the cornerstone of learning every day. Harnessing technology to accomplish this objective can be done in a variety of ways:

Choose wisely: The myriad options of online platforms can be overwhelming, not just for teachers, but for students as well. Consider this a “less is more” situation. Find out what platforms your students are familiar with, which ones they are using in other classes, and which they find effective. Involving your students in the decision to select the most effective platform demonstrates that you respect their opinions and insights, and simultaneously helps ensure their online engagement. And remember that “less” does not mean “limited”. Trying innovative techniques or platforms that enhance learning is important, but the choices should be deliberate and involve your students, bolstering both their investment in class and their confidence.

Meet face-to-face: Face-to-face communication via Zoom or Google Meet does not always have to be lesson-based. Informal moments where educators check in with their students can be a valuable opportunity to connect and learn. These moments can also serve as “brain breaks.” Teachers can ask students to share something they created, an idea they generated during a moment of boredom, or questions they have been considering about their futures. Informal face-to-face moments like this are the perfect opportunity to check in on students’ aspirations, ensuring that their dreams for the future are being supported by their actions and efforts today. We must remind students that their hopes and dreams, both short- and long-term, remain as important as ever.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: One of the most powerful ways to foster student voice is by providing students with opportunities to work with teachers and peers, both within and beyond their own schools. Educators and students everywhere are working from their homes. Ironically, the time when we are all far apart is perhaps the most important time to come together (virtually, of course!) and work with other classes, schools, districts, states, and countries. Teachers and students across the globe are impacted by COVID-19. Rely on, learn from, and support each other. A high school math class can create a tutorial for students in younger grades. A middle school language arts class can create Flipgrid messages to share with students in another district. Teachers with a passion for science can bring their classes together to co-teach a lesson, giving the students a chance to converse with and learn from their peers. Teachers across disciplines can do the same, and invite students to co-teach. There are countless ways for students to share their voices. Invite them to do just that, help them see the meaning and purpose, and dream big together!

Make feedback a priority: Feedback is always important, for learning and for fostering student voice. During this time of distance learning, feedback is a particularly essential part of bolstering students’ confidence and ownership of their learning. Written (or shall we say typed…) feedback is beneficial, but video feedback reconnects us, infusing emotion and meaning in a way that can recharge students. Screen recording platforms such as Screencastify enable teachers to provide timely feedback which can be shared with individuals or an entire class. Students can also use screen-recording technology to demonstrate their learning, to explain their learning process to their teacher, or to provide feedback to other students. Whether providing suggestions for revising a paper, responding to a student’s presentation, or letting a student know they hit the ball out of the virtual ballpark with the latest assignment, it is important for teachers to make feedback a priority. That way students will know unequivocally that they are a priority!

Encourage adventure: Many teachers have used virtual reality technology with their students before, but now is the time to take it to the next level. Google Expeditions has a bank of experiences where students can launch a web-based journey. There are also countless virtual tours of famous museums and landmarks around the world that students can visit online. If teachers would like their students to create their own journeys, Google Maps and Google Earth can be used in new ways as well. Let students use their voices and choose their destination, narrate the story of their travels, or create a guided tour. Students can even “travel” together. Collaborative tools such as Google Docs and Google Slides allow students to create together, think together, invent together, and share their collective voice. While students may never leave their seats throughout the journey, they can make a difference across the world by curating and sharing the presentations with a unified sense of accomplishment and purpose.

Let students lead: There is no time like the present to encourage students to engage in the inquiry design process, and Genius Hour can be accomplished at home. Whether inspired to begin a passion project, develop a service-learning project, or design a new helpful invention, Genius Hour uses inquiry-based learning to put students in the driver’s seat. Throughout the process, from brainstorming creative ideas, to researching information and approaches, to pitching unique proposals and overcoming obstacles, students lead the charge to make their new idea a reality and collaborate with their peers during the process. The Genius Hour model encourages sharing ideas, reaching out to experts, tracking progress, and creating a final product with a larger audience. Encouraging students to share their work using social media also provides an opportunity to celebrate their learning, as well as the power and potential of their voice.

Make competition fun: Even before students left their classrooms, platforms such as Kahoot! and Quizlet Live provided students with opportunities to collaborate through competition. Now, these same platforms have made it possible for students to gamify their learning in real time via Google Meet or Zoom. Students can work in teams on a variety of topics. Quizizz is another great option if students cannot meet with their class in real time. Teachers can set up a quiz and students can compete against their classmates on their own time. The point of these competitions is not to establish winners and losers, but rather to instill some fun and excitement into learning. A little friendly competition can often create the spark that jump starts students’ interest.

The current learning environment, shaped by COVID-19, has created many challenges for teachers and students. Yet it has also created many opportunities for growth and strengthening student voice. Technology can be inherently contradictory; it can feel somewhat insular and at the same time open up a world of connectedness like never before.

Our greatest allies in ensuring a sense of connectedness through distance learning are the students. We challenge teachers to be open to hearing students’ voices, learning from what is being shared, and collaborating with students to capitalise on the technological pieces that work best for them.

A commitment to fostering voice, coupled with creative use of the technology at hand, will allow distance learning to bring us together and enhance the learning environment in our shared virtual space. Just because we are apart does not mean we should learn alone!

 

Resources cited:

Zoom:  https://www.zoom.us/

Google Meet:  https://meet.google.com/

Flipgrid:  https://info.flipgrid.com/

Screencastify:  https://www.screencastify.com/

Google Expeditions:  https://edu.google.com/products/vr-ar/expeditions/?modal_active=none

Google Maps and Google Earth:  https://www.google.com/maps and https://www.google.com/earth/education/

Google Docs and Google Slides: https://www.google.com/docs/about/