At Digital Adventures, we recently made the decision to shift our entire programs over to an online format. Instead of hosting classes & camps for kids in our state-of-the-art technology learning studio, we have now shifted to a online livestream format using video conferencing technology. Since we started the company in 2015, our instructors have taught thousands of kid. In the process, we have earned 150 5 Star reviews (100% 5 Star) from parents, educators and partners. So, we thought it would be helpful to share our early lessons and hopefully open up a dialogue that can help other educators as we collectively navigate this new new normal.
Most online programs have optimized for scalability, and in the process, forced humans to bend themselves to fit the technology instead of the other way around. The result is that a lot of online courses can reach a lot of people at no marginal cost. Unfortunately, that means that 90% of people don’t learn well in those environments. So, you’ve created a scalable product that doesn’t work well which feels like a waste. These products may work well as a supplement, the same way a textbook supplements the rich learning that happens in-person. But, they are not substitutes for an in-person environment. At Digital Adventures, we have also prioritized a high quality educational experience for our students. As we planned for the shift online, we wanted to make sure that we maintained similar quality standards.
Our Tech Platform & Educational Approach
While we think that software can help automate some aspects of instruction, we optimize for learning first by integrating technology only if it improves learning outcomes. Human connection drives our learning environment design, since teaching and learning is fundamentally a social process for most people. So, we’ve made sure that our online program includes many of that same aspects that make our in-personal classes great: group discussions, warm-up activities, active Q&A through the lesson, and opportunities for students to show off finished projects to each other. But, since instructors can’t be everywhere at once, we’ve also created an online platform that instructors can use to unlock challenges and references materials for students on the fly, so students can work at their own pace. Instructors are then freed up to spend their time on 1:1 or small group Q&A instead of lecture.
We’ve combined the best parts of a social, in-person classroom experience, with the personalized, self-paced progression that technology enables.
Our Instructors Tips
Connor (Lead Instructor Lincoln Park Studio) goes Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends & Influence People” - Be sure to use student names effectively. It makes switching between students seamless and helps students learn video conferencing norms.
Miki (Lead Instructor Wilmette Studio) suggests mastering the video conferencing controls to make things easier - Utilize the mute all and chat function to balance the background noise levels and create more order within the virtual classroom.
Arjun (Co-Founder & Head of Product) brings his background as a Chicago Public Schools teacher and adjunct professor at University of Chicago & Northwestern to focus on the right classroom structure - The most important thing is to create structure. What that structure looks like might be different depending on the size of the class, the age of students and the personalities in a specific group. But screen-mediated conversation is different from in-person conversation in some ways that are expected, like limited non-verbal cues, and unexpected, like the constant volume of all participants. Making sure that everyone knows and agrees on the rules of the conversation will make everything go much smoother. If you expect things to just fall into place, they'll fall apart instead.
Jim (Co-Founder & Instructor Emeritus)who has always advocated that we should stream instruction and piloted our very first livestream during the Polar Vortex in 2018 focuses on managing instructor rest and endurance - Take a break between sessions. The instruction, web platform and livestream technology results in an increased cognitive load. If you need to host several sessions throughout the day, make sure that you have at least 15-30 minutes between each of them. Otherwise, your performance may degrade over time.
Caroline (Lead Instructor School Programs) recommends that knowledge of the video conferencing tools can help minimize student frustration - Helping students learn how to use videoconferencing tools well from the start so that they don't have to think about it as they learn and they don't get frustrated.
While many of us are early days when it comes to these new videoconferencing tools and managing instruction virtually, we think these tips will help you get off to a good start. What are other strategies that you have seen work well? What are some strategies that you tried that didn’t go so well? Let us know so that we can add to the list.