AUM College of Education students adapt to online learning and teaching during social distancing | AUM

AUM College of Education students adapt to online learning and teaching during social distancing

Virtual learning is not a concept that Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) elementary education major Tayler Taunton had ever given much thought to before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

COE student Tayler Taunton
COE student Tayler Taunton

She is not alone. Globally, educators are having to reinvent how they teach due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines in place to prevent its spread. Colleges and universities, including AUM, have responded to the global pandemic by transitioning students to online courses, giving rise to a new way of learning in virtual settings for both educators and students.

For AUM College of Education students, like Taunton, fulfilling student teaching requirements to complete their degrees, the change has called for being innovative and using technology in new ways to not only learn but teach elementary and preschool students in virtual classroom settings.

“Learning to teach online has its difficulties,” said Taunton, who plans to graduate in December. “With that being said, online teaching has impacted my field experience in a great way. You never know when this could happen again. If it were to happen in the future, we now have some kind of knowledge on what to expect and do.”

With AUM’s move to online courses in mid-March, College of Education faculty began looking to technology to keep education majors like Taunton on track to graduate, said Assistant Professor of Elementary Education Kelli Smith, who is learning to navigate the video conferencing platform Zoom for the first time to communicate and interact with her students.

“Before COVID-19, I had never used Zoom with my students so there is no doubt that our nation’s current pandemic crisis has affected higher education,” said Smith, who teaches literacy education to pre-service elementary education majors. “With remote teaching, we have had to get creative with student internships, practicum observation, and teaching hours. Technology is providing much assistance in helping us finish up the semester.”

While online learning presents its difficulties for students pursuing degrees in fields that require students to have real-world experience working in professions such as education, Smith said she is proud to see how her students are adjusting.

“Students have to be flexible, which will help them be better teachers in the long run,” Smith said.

Reaching preschoolers

COE student Faith Roth instructs preschoolers on YouTube 

As a panda flashes across a computer screen on the online video-sharing platform YouTube, elementary education major Faith Roth interacts with preschoolers by reading a children’s book, demonstrating “yoga panda” poses, and asking questions about where the fuzzy, black and white animals are found. The goal is to stimulate learning in her students using questioning techniques, listening and critical thinking skills, Roth said.

“Creativity is in my blood,” said Roth, who plans to teach fourth and sixth grade math after she graduates in December. “While I have previous experience teaching toddlers, I have found remote teaching using videos fun and so much easier than trying to hold the attention of a physical class.”

Smith said she challenged Roth and other preservice student teachers to research and develop interactive video lesson plans around zoo animals to show it’s possible to be innovative in the absence of face-to-face instruction.

“Students completed activities for the lesson all online by creating engaging instruction using children’s literature to interact with students as if they were sitting in front of them in a classroom,” Smith said. “You can’t take the place of face-to-face classroom teaching, but our preservice student teachers are finding innovative approaches to provide vital instruction and teacher-student interaction.”

In today’s new norm of social distancing, the students’ videos are also valuable learning tools for other campus programs, Smith said. AUM’s Early Learning Center, which prepares preschool students for kindergarten, is using the videos to facilitate learning for its preschool students while they are off campus because of COVID-19, she said.

“We were able to send the videos to the parents of ELC preschool students to help them learn at home,” she said. “Even though this type of teaching is unprecedented and does not take the place of face-to-face instruction, it is serving a purpose for both preschoolers and preservice student teachers. We’re excited about the creativity and amount of resources available for our pre-service student teachers to build on these lessons and continue to produce high-quality instruction in video format.”

“My hope is that in the future, professors who teach preservice education students will consider using online technology to practice instructional techniques, observe in-service teachers through Zoom or other online communities, and complete field experience requirements.”

Online teaching is an art that many educators can bring their own innovation and creativity to, said Taunton, who created a video on turtles for preschoolers and plans to find ways to incorporate virtual learning in her teaching moving forward.

“Adapting to teaching online is maintainable,” she said. “You may run into trouble and difficulty with a student not having the materials, access to the work, a computer or printer, but there are ways around those problems and you have to reach out and take that extra step to help those students. That’s what teaching is all about.”