For teachers and students alike, the advancements in technological tools and devices have helped pave the way for innovative creativity in the classroom. From Minecraft: Education Edition, which helps students learn how to code, to the Windows Ink program that can help compile student’s handwritten notes into a more organized collection.
Now, as the United States continues to battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have made the switch to virtual learning to reduce the spread of the disease.
Learning as We Go
In the beginning, many schools and teachers were underprepared to move every lesson and school resource to an online platform, especially overnight. Students were also unprepared as many found themselves at home without a reliable internet connection or essential devices such as a laptop.
After months of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the next school year is now quickly approaching, and some are feeling a bit more prepared and familiar with their virtual classrooms. However, this new virtual learning environment does present the question: How can educators still encourage and promote creativity while working from a screen?
Try Switching Things Up
For educators unfamiliar with online teaching platforms, trying to juggle remote teaching duties along with everything else can be a real challenge. This kind of juggling tends to leave little room for spontaneity and can interrupt the creative flow of the entire class.
Consider for a moment what is lost when teaching virtually. For one, it’s much harder to pick up on students’ non-verbal communication and students can struggle with being active listeners while online. It can also be much more difficult to provide personalized help with tasks. This is where you’re likely seeing students become frustrated and defeated as a result of these disadvantages of virtual learning. Without in-person guidance and monitoring, some students might find themselves getting stuck or lost with the lessons and thus, coming to one dead end after another, failing to meet learning goals.
Do It Often
To foster a better online experience, the University of Southern California (USC) suggests switching between tasks to promote creative thinking. Task-switching provides more freedom for students and can downplay particular weaknesses while building up their strengths. USC recommends setting hard-stops and working in short bursts. They also explain that switching between projects multiple times, instead of focusing on one thing, allows a fresh perspective and inspires more creativity.
While task-switching certainly isn’t a new concept to most teachers, teaching online to such a degree is. At the start of the pandemic, teachers may have found that sticking to one task at a time was much simpler and easier to manage. Now that some time has passed and there have been more opportunities to learn about the ins and outs of your virtual classroom, it’s time to switch things up to get the creativity flowing once again.
Encourage Better Habits Before and After Class
Towards the end of the last school year, you likely noticed students struggling to complete tasks, participate, and have creative input during discussions and projects. The newness of online learning had worn off, and it felt as though there was a fresh wave of bad news every day. This has certainly taken a toll on everyone, but especially on kids.
A lot of what happens in the classroom connects to what students are doing outside of class. In 2020, students have few outlets to help them recharge. There aren’t hallways filled with friends to chat with, bustling lunch rooms, gym classes to encourage physical activity, plays to star in, dances to get all dressed up for, and the list goes on.
Remember to Reconnect with the Outdoors
All of the restrictions and stress kids are experiencing during the pandemic are going to reflect in their work and creativity. One way you can help combat this is by encouraging students to take regular breaks outside of their houses, away from screens. There are numerous scientifically-proven benefits of spending time outdoors, some of which include:
- Improved Mental Health: Taking a walk, going for a hike, or riding a bike are all great ways to lower negative thinking, as well as reduce feelings of anxiety and improve your mood.
- Higher-Quality Sleep: Educators and parents already know a lot of kids don’t get enough quality sleep. Now that many are trapped inside nearly all day long, sleep can be even more evasive. Getting outdoors and enjoying more physical activities can improve sleep quality, helping kids be more alert.
- Enhanced Creativity: The great outdoors can be massively inspiring, increase cognitive functions, and rejuvenate the creative mind.
Encourage students to venture out or create an assignment that involves spending time outside for a bit. Of course, always remind students of COVID-19 safety measures and to practice social distancing and to wear their face coverings. It seems simple, but with everything that’s happening within the world, it might be the only chance students have to take a break and reconnect with their environment.
It might go without saying, but so far, this year has been extremely stressful. Whether you’re a teacher, student, or parent, these past several months have been mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. This is worth keeping in mind as you plan the next creative move in your classroom.
As advancements in virtual learning continue to expand, educators might find themselves having to learn new tricks. There are unique challenges to face, both as students and as teachers. Promoting creativity in a virtual classroom is undoubtedly one of them. And with the right technology, tools, and motivation, teachers can help inspire students to overcome these unprecedented times and find their creative spark once more.