Toggle open
Learning Library Blog 9 tips for organizing a virtual learning environment
Expand breadcrumbs

9 tips for organizing a virtual learning environment

By Julie Fletcher and Matthew Gower
March 31, 2020
Remote learning surface 1083 Version Id T La Ma3 Eda3 OMG Eb Y3jxyik S Jnh3 EP Mo T

The Innovator Solutions section includes contributions from corporate sponsors and advertisers representing education organizations, businesses, policy-making bodies and other influencers dedicated to transforming education. This blog post was provided by Microsoft in Education.

#RemoteLearning has been trending globally, with many educators across the world moving into unknown digital territory.

In our ICT department at Ysgol Y Strade, in Wales, UK, we had been preparing for this change since going paperless at the start of this academic year. The model that has been adopted daily by teachers of the department, designed to improve students’ digital competence, has offered students a seamless transition to continue to work remotely.  

Because of our consistent and frequent use of Microsoft Teams (through our national Hwb learning platform), remote learning for our department is the same daily practice, without the teacher giving face to face instruction and support.

The assignments will be set as usual, hand-ins will be dealt with as usual and messages, posts and file sharing will continue as usual. PowerPoint screen recording has replaced face-to-face instruction, with videos being added as an additional resource to a Teams assignment.

Numerous departments across the school have also introduced Microsoft Teams alongside traditional teaching, proving that remote learning is not subject-specific.

Going paperless using Microsoft Teams

Why did we want to go paperless you might ask? For us, going paperless reduced a large amount of printing and photocopying, saving paper and associated costs for the school and environment. These savings can be better spent on hardware and other areas of the curriculum.

Another key influencer in the decision was our vision to develop independent student learners, who could access learning on multiple devices away from the classroom. We were confident that this would increase engagement.

Our department is now paperless’for every year group except students earning their general certificate of secondary education, who must undertake a controlled assignment and complete written examination papers (as set out in the examination board specification).

The change has been well received by both teachers and students. We embrace the updates from Microsoft and continually evolve our practice.

Here are some keep points we have learnt on our journey, that might be useful for teachers and schools that are on a similar path or just at the starting point of introducing a classroom virtual learning environment:

1. Keep it simple and familiar

We do not introduce new apps during a time of closure, in order to keep students’ focus on the learning content in a familiar setting. We believe It is important to spend time in lessons before closure ensuring students are confident with the digital learning environment that they will be expected to use from home.

2. Use the browser not desktop app in Lessons

Microsoft Teams offers a desktop app, but we do not promote its use in school, opting to ask students to use the browser version. Why you might ask? Our students can access the Hwb platform and Office 365 from various devices, so we wanted to ensure that the interface was a constant. Our students have the exact same user interface experience at home as the classroom, an important factor to ensure confident learners, ready to contribute.

3. Use the @mention feature

As a rule, a whole team or individual students will be @mentioned in a message or announcement to ensure that the members receive notification and email alerts of this activity. Without including the @mention, important posts can be missed by students who are not periodically checking their Team.

4. Scheduling assignments in batches

Teachers have enjoyed scheduling assignments, which allows them to create bulk assignments at once and distribute them at different set times. This provides teachers flexibility in planning work and promotes a better work-life balance.

5. Encourage self-monitoring and ownership of learning #Winning

We encourage students to self-monitor and take ownership over their progress. To do this in Microsoft Teams, we promote ‘#Winning’. Once all assignments have been submitted, the interface shows a message indicating there are no tasks left to complete and displays the text #Winning. Students are competitive and proud; they are keen to boast their #Winning status.

6. Collaborate to develop rubrics

Within our department, we share rubrics for assessed tasks to ensure all teachers are using consistent assessment. We use rubrics on key tasks to ensure that students are aware of the success and grading criteria before submission.

7. Auto grading tests to measure understanding

Adding a Microsoft Forms quiz to a Teams assignment facilitates auto grading and instant feedback to the student on completion. A well-designed Microsoft Forms quiz would also include feedback on incorrect answers, which would also appear automatically on the quiz score summary.

8. Microsoft Teams mobile app for notifications

Students appreciate the instant notifications on the mobile app. Unlikely to complete assignments on the mobile app, students will read messages and announcements on the go.

9. Promoting digital well-being

Student well-being is a core concern for most teachers, and healthy screen time is important. In the mobile app in Teams students are encouraged to amend the “quiet hours” in the settings. For example, we try to encourage students to set quiet hours between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., which mutes notifications during these times.

Keep the learning going during COVID-19! Explore the resources.

Julie Fletcher is head of information technology and digital coordinator at Ysgol Y Strade. She’s a Microsoft in Education (MIE) Expert and MIE Trainer, and she’s passionate about driving forward digital transformation across the school to increase student engagement and attainment. She represented the UK at E2 in Paris last year, showcasing the use of Sway to create effective, accessible revision aids and units of work.

Matthew Gower is information technology and business teacher at Ysgol Strade. A Microsoft in Education Expert, he’s keen to support students and colleagues in using digital tools effectively and efficiently to work smarter. He has a strong interest in promoting healthy digital well-being and actively supports senior leaders to develop student voice across the school.