5 Healthy Habits of Successful Online Learners

I had an online conversation with a parent yesterday. The mother shared her concern about how her child has been skipping meals to fully focus on completing required assessment tasks the school has set. I also had a similar discussion with a cousin who is feeling overwhelmed with the bulk of work the university has sort of dumped on her. Thus, I thought it would help to put together what different institutions have shared so students could stay healthy while adjusting to the learning scheme which is pretty new for the majority. I thank all the pages I linked here as my references to create this short post.

Get enough sleep. This requirement is included in almost all pages that talk about study and healthy habits every student should take heed. I agree with Oxbridge Academy when they stressed how sufficient sleep allows the brain “to assimilate knowledge acquired during the day.” Post University also pointed out the need to reduce exposure to blue light and even recommended the use of traditional alarm clock instead of mobile phones that only tempt users “to browse Instagram [or Facebook] for hours instead of getting much-needed sleep.” In this same vein, Education Corner emphasized how every student should not attempt to cram all of his/her studying into one session. This echoes my previous post on time management. Learners are typically given new sets of assessment tasks to work on every start of the week and deadlines typically set by the end of the same week. This is to help students build a routine so they would not need to wait for teachers to upload new assignments at random hours or remember too many deadlines. Building a study schedule promotes some peace of mind that trickles down to better time management where quality sleep is prioritized.

Eat well. Do we all not get a headache if we keep on working for hours without nibbling on some snacks? Food fuels and nourishes our brain cells. Oxbridge Academy highlighted how small, healthy snacks curb hunger, keep blood sugar stable, and our minds active for longer. Post University also reminded us to avoid processed food. They reiterated that when we increase produce intake we “feel more energetic throughout the day.” I guess it is time for me to prepare more kimchi.

Stay hydrated. I used to have a water alarm. I found myself snoozing it instead of leaving my seat to grab a glass of water. Now, I set my mobile phone to alarm every 60 minutes. How is this different from the water alarm? (1) I manually reset the timer to sound again after 60 minutes. (2) I check my games to earn “coins.” Incorporating these extra steps to drink water pushes me to really take a break which again is part of what the University of Texas highly discouraged students from doing – long periods of sitting.

Stretch and walk. This can be part of the need to be hydrated. Since my work station is not next to the water dispenser, I obviously need to stand and walk. After about an hour of being on the computer, do we all not feel the need to stretch? to yawn? and even to look outside and focus on the greenery? On this same idea, Post University noted how we should remember to fix our posture especially when we feel aches and pains too often. So, let us stretch and sort of make our muscles breathe.

Choose not to be alone. Online or distant education carries isolating repercussions. This is considered a tragic fate for personalities who love to socialize. It is actually haven for the introverts. Let us remember the old adage “no man is an island.” When the notion of loneliness becomes unbearable, instead of inviting more depressing thoughts, it is healthier and is actually part of our responsibility to open all possible virtual windows and doors to keep in touch with family, relatives, and friends and even make new friends. University of Texas shared how students can organize virtual study groups or chat with their peers and make use of different collaboration tools together.

Let us always keep these five healthy habits in mind and remain optimistic as we know and learn more about our small, ever-changing world.

On Time Management

After opening several pages, I opted to collate information these three shared. They are pretty general and self-explanatory. We know how to do them to help us manage time better. How we apply and adapt them (religiously) is another story.

Why should we bother building on our time management skills? Here is what Lungiswa Nyatyowa of Oxbridge Academy shares.

  • Planning makes us more organized. We could stay on top of assignments, exams, and study times. We can schedule our time day by day and right down to hour by hour for a more detailed approach. Planning gives us an overview of everything we need to do and how we will accomplish it. Following a plan gives us a peace of mind and helps us enjoy the learning process.
  • Time management skills build good reputation. Effective time management makes us honor appointments and meet deadlines. When we do such, we will be known for being reliable. Showing we have good time management skills helps build good reputation and shows we can be trusted with responsibility. This is indeed a life skill.
  • We can be more focused. Time management can provide relief from stress resulting from procrastination or falling behind school work. Good time management skills help us become effective learners and avoid constantly feeling as though we have too little time. Proper time management helps us tackle tasks in a timely manner and helps us to focus better on the task at hand without feeling stressed. Managing time properly allows us to concentrate on one task at a time, instead of trying to get everything done at once. When we are focused, we deliver quality work and set goals, plan how to reach, and achieve them.
  • Good time management helps us “get a life. To enjoy life while studying, it is important that we maintain a good balance between studies and social life. We need to take time out from school work to relax and have fun with friends and family. However, this can only happen if we have good time management skills. Good time management will help us plan our down time and study time well in advance, so that we can really enjoy that down time without worrying about work that needs to be done.

What are some ways to build effective time management skills? Here are points from Lauren Frost of Oxbridge Academy and other tips from Grade Power.

  • Have a morning routine. Whether we start the day with an exercise or a meditation, we have to make sure we get some alone time in the morning before facing the chaotic world.
  • Do the most important work first. Research suggests that the most productive time to work is within the first two hours after we wake up. This is why most top performers tackle big projects first thing in the morning.
  • Embrace teamwork. Learn to collaborate and how to collaborate better. Let us be willing to accept ideas and work with other people.
  • Keep all deadlines in one place. This is one of the reasons why we have learning management systems (LMS). We have to keep track of our schedule and priorities. One suggestion: we should only have one device to document all important events and deadlines.
  • Find time to unwind. Tony Schwartz, founder and CEO of The Energy Project wrote that not finding time to relax will lead to less productivity and eventually burn us out.
  • Eliminate distractions. When attending online classes or doing school work, we should make sure that our phones, social media accounts, and other gadgets are far from our easily tempted hands and minds. This suggestion calls for self discipline.
  • Study in shorter bursts. For every 30 minutes of school work, we should schedule a short 10-15 minute break to recharge. Trying to work on one thing for too long can actually cause our minds to wander more. Taking short breaks is a good way to give our brain a chance to recharge so we can come back more focused.
  • Get enough quality sleep. Getting enough sleep is important to recharge our mind and have the energy needed to stay on track the next day. We should add to our plans a cut-off time to do school work and a set bedtime. Following this routine will help us find time to unwind at the end of each day and get the sleep we need.

Let us give these suggestions a try and see how they could change the way we get things done.

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Preparing for Day 1 of Online Classes

No matter how much we worry about not knowing what to have and which one to prepare first and how much we wish for the government to keep on pushing the start of the new academic year, we would still face “Day 1” fair and square. While I was pondering on what to work on first, I thought I could share with you pages I found useful in organizing my virtual classroom.

I first reviewed pages about the best practices for teaching online. What Stanford University shared might be heavy text wise (not a very inviting page), but really helpful. Their Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online encapsulates the main ingredients every teacher should prepare to cook and serve a splendid Day 1 experience with learners who are also new to this type of learning. Takeaways from their list are

  • Our students should feel our ever present presence most importantly during scheduled synchronous sessions. Knowing that we are always there as expected during working hours extends a sense of belonging that they are not lost and that we are always there to give them feedback.
  • Online or onsite, setting clear expectations is a nonnegotiable. Whenever I write classroom expectations I always ask myself, “Would I want to stay in my class if I was the student?” If we cannot tolerate or make sense out of what we prepared, we should press delete.
  • Combining concept learning with personalized learning means that we have to know our students very well. We have to upgrade our glasses to see them more than the most advanced holograms. We have to be keen listeners to keep them interested and truly productive. This is the aspect where I always think of those Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings.

My next stop was on back to school activities. I needed to make sure I wrote “online” or “virtual” on the search bar to avoid those pages that are about to be forgotten. I got hooked with the name of the teacher running the blog. She is called Miss G which is very close to how my students call me. Back to School Activities for Virtual Distance Learning has fun and unique tasks that both teachers and students will surely enjoy. Takeaways from her list are

  • Instead of the “get to know the teacher” mantra, Miss G suggested that students “investigate the teacher.” We can imagine our students virtually scurrying on the web to find answers. We can incorporate a little bit of digital literacy as we guide their “stalking” task to refer to reliable sources.
  • I love running learning stations in my classes. It feels good to see how those stations can be converted into their online version. The idea is to present the lesson into yummier bite-sized chunks. Considering gender sensitivity, it works for everyone when instructions are laid out or questions are asked one by one.
  • Adding a venue where students can share their responses is a must. Remembering that communicating with students through our online classrooms is prone to more barriers, we cannot simply eat a 15, 30, or even a 60-minute synchronous session simply by rendering a one-way audiovisual lecture. Let us imagine running a one hour music playlist. What usually happens? It is either we stay until the end (like our very hardworking kids who would survive it); we switch to another list (the camera only shows what our students want to show, not the complete picture); or we simply doze off (more so when our voice and overall projection bring in some magical sleeping effects). Thus, venues where students can give us and their peer feedback must be utilized to the fullest.

My last stop was not as heavy as the first two pages. Holly Clark of Infused Classroom has a very straightforward info-graphic presentation on 8 Fun Activities for Virtual Learning Meetings. I could only hope that some of our “heads” read this post. Takeaways from her suggestions are

  • To have fun teaching and learning means careful and wise planning. No teacher could run any of the activities listed without prior knowledge of the class members and without preparing materials. Let us take for example the “Movie and Netflix Reviews.” Sections of one review should be divided and assigned to different groups. How to get groups working together in a virtual classroom can be a challenge at first. Thanks to fast-changing technology, we have now several options from fancy forum threads, Padlet, to simple shared Google Doc or Slide.
  • “Hot or Not” is an interesting activity. The most important part where students could showcase the depth of their understanding is their explanation. At least they hear and experience another way of answering the not-so-favorite “why.”
  • With the majority of the population relying on visual cues, the 8th activity can be simplified to present a photo that can be vague, but relevant enough to anchor an online discussion.

Did this post just help get us excited now knowing where to start or our list has just gotten longer yet we have a smile on our face because we know we are on the right track? The world has indeed taken one ugly somersault and it is still midway doing the action so no one could tell yet which side is up or down. We all need to find ways to keep our sanity and our bodies healthy. We have to carry on!

Why do we need an AUP?

I have been teaching in a blended learning format for several years. I still remember how some students called me as the “techie” English teacher. I have always made it a point to incorporate the use of information technology in my classes.

In terms of teaching through an online learning platform, I started with Moodle. I still remember all the conversations I had with Alfredo Papaseit (the school librarian at that time) who introduced it to the faculty. I remember long hours of setting all the rights and how the program sort of paused when no one in the IT department remembered to press the button to refresh the server after a power interruption that happened after school hours or over the weekend. Moodle has a lot of features that may be overwhelming if an educator is new to the online teaching club. It is a grand learning platform that is suitable for higher education and for big universities.

My second stop was Schoology and Course Director (the older brother of Google Classroom). I was happier using Schoology because it had a similar interface with Facebook. Then, the idea of flipped classroom came and teachers had too many different virtual classrooms and students needed to remember too many passwords and too many shortcuts. It was during this time when I tried Google Classroom, too. It did not have as many features as Schoology, but was only clicks away for a school using Google Suite. Soon after, a group of students proposed that the faculty chooses only one to avoid confusion and to be able to monitor their progress better. Few months later, it became a requirement for teachers to run Google Classroom side-by-side onsite classes. I still remember how we were made to stay outside our physical teaching areas, away from our students, to mimic an “online session.” That was the school’s online class rehearsal.

Early in March 2020, I got to apply my online teaching skills to respond to a real demand when schools were made to suspend classes. I came across new issues though. I came to wonder how my former experience was smooth and productive. I did not receive ridiculous alibis from students (e.g., cannot open PDF files because they are unsupported and cannot open any Google Form because the page says “This site cannot be reached”) and other rude and weird online learning scenarios. I asked myself What am I missing? The answer is a question which is the title of this post. Freaking out with the world when COVID-19 hit, I forgot to share with the school administration the need to have a clear and fair policy laid out. These expectations were presented when I had those online class rehearsals. These policies are absolutely essential.

Scholastic says that having a technology policy is valuable “to harness this [referring to the Internet] powerful tool so that it is effective and safe for student use.” I love how Scholastic listed the components every school IT policy should include. They also provided examples.

Kajeet in their article entitled Why Acceptable Use Policies are Critical for Education highlighted how an agreement supports students’ safety online. They have two main big ideas to stress the importance of an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) – “protecting students” and “providing students.” They mentioned a student-centered approach and shared links to other AUP materials.

School administrators may need to see the bigger picture though. Now that online teaching and learning has taken the front seat as the world continues to fight off an unprecedented health and economic pandemic, how to keep the whole school population safe must be a heavy load on their shoulders. The Internet Society in 2017 defined Key considerations for policy makers. They identified “five priorities for Internet and education.” These are infrastructure and access, vision and policy, content and devices, capacity, and inclusion.

Of course, there are institutions that have gone ahead of this game. No one needs to reinvent the wheel. From my online teaching experience, I am fully aware that these policies are imperative. Administrators and support teams must find time to collaborate and establish one for their community. Schools must continue to cater to their learners’ needs far beyond the sharing of class codes, modules, activities, and materials. Students must also learn, grow, and become responsible digital citizens.

Google Certified Educator Level 1

I took the three-hour online Level 1 exam on Friday, May 8th. I did not expect receiving a very prompt response. The Google for Education team must have been working doubly hard these days. In less than 48 hours after a very comprehensive examination experience, I got the results. With God’s mercy and Google’s guidance, I passed.

If teachers are familiar with when, how, and why they use different apps in Google Suite as educators who incorporate the use of information technology in an onsite or blended learning environment, they are more than ready to take the Level 1 test to be Google Certified Educators. The whole examination is a thorough evaluation of a teacher’s use and understanding of applications in Google Suite like (1) Gmail, (2) Drive, (3) Classroom, (4) Calendar, (5) Chrome, (6) Sites, (7) Tasks, (8) Translate, (9) Docs, (10) Sheets, (11) Forms, (12) Slides, (13) Meet, (14) Groups, and (15) YouTube. The exam has questions on the most recent version of these applications; making the three-year certification logical and supportive of professional development. The test has two parts of teaching scenarios: multiple choice and application. Three hours is fair amount of time to work on all given questions.    

Every candidate signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Agreeing or signing it is part of the preliminary questions test takers have to answer right after they open the exam account Google sets. Via Gmail, Google sends relevant information and a quick, helpful overview to be ready for the exam which applicants should take no later than seven days after forwarding payment of US $10 for Level 1. It has been a shared advice not to forward payment if one does not feel confident to complete the exam within a week. Forwarding my payment pushed me to have a go and I am happy I did.

The exam will need to access the web camera. I took time to set my camera before the test schedule. Google needed me to grant them permission to turn it on during the whole duration of the exam. The camera served as my proctor. I linked my phone mobile data to my laptop. I made sure I had credits more than enough to keep the Internet connection running for three hours. I chose non-peak hours. I was online from 2200H to 0100H when the majority goes to bed. I made sure my laptop was fully charged. I locked myself in the bedroom to avoid distractions. I emptied my bladder before the exam started to avoid the need to go to the bathroom (consider doing the same especially when your body responds in such a way whenever you get anxious). I kept myself focused during the whole duration and used the given time wisely. I highly recommend keeping track and budgeting time really well. In fact, I came across a challenging scenario. It was taking me some time to figure it out. So, I skipped and went back to it when I reviewed my output before clicking the final “Submit” button and the page went saying “Validating your exam” which I waited to load for five minutes and closed when it was not showing anything. Well, the page also assured me that my answers were already recorded; that I would only need to wait for Google‘s email for the exam results. 

The examination made me realize that there are still a lot more to learn in Google Suite. The challenge to complete steps accurately and to find the right buttons made me forget about the camera and about the fact that I was taking a test. If you have used Google Suite apps in teaching, consider taking this self-assessment opportunity. It would surely be one of those rare tests you would find enjoyable.