This week a few members of the STEM Minds team, Nicole, Emma, Rob, and Sam sat down to chat about all things online teaching and learning and talked about the lessons we have learned having to pivot the business completely online. The blog below is a very brief version of what we spoke about regarding our learnings in online teaching. Watch the interview to see our full thoughts and more tips for teachers!

How has our business model changed as a result of school closures?

Nicole: Typically we run in-school workshops and lunch time/after school programs as well as in-person programs at our headquarters in Aurora. Now we have pivoted to an exclusively online environment. Over the last year we had already been working on our STEM Minds Online Academy (SMOA) which is the online version of our over 20 in person programs. When our facilities had to close we were able to move a lot of that content we had already built and translate that to our virtual STEM camps where students can join our teachers in live classes over video conference. This has been a great opportunity to test out something that we already had been working on and explore virtual workshops so that we can reach an audience beyond where we can go in-person! (Whenever we are safely able to do so).

It is also important for us to be able to provide students with high-quality STEM experiences and provide students the opportunity to connect with each other. Being able to join a virtual STEM camp is a great opportunity for students to connect with others who have similar interests to them and make them feel like they are part of a learning community even if they are doing it from home. Over the last 9 weeks we have been able to run our camps for students across Canada and even in other countries, like Brazil and China, for over 700 students so far!

What were your prior experiences with online teaching? How have those feelings changed?

Sam: I had never done online teaching before, but when I did my teaching program we had explored what an online or blended model of teaching may look like. We also looked at how we may integrate technology in a way that is comfortable for students and in a way that they can still be engaging for them. Obviously I prefer the face to face teaching because it is nice to actually interact with the kids but it has been very rewarding and interesting for my own professional development to take the concepts we already do in an in-person class and move it online.

Rob: I also did not have any online teaching experience before this but I did think it was a really interesting concept and would be something that was going to become very relevant in the future with how technology is evolving, it seemed like the next step in teaching to me. As far as how my feelings have changed, I still think it is a great resource for students and allows students to actually get to see other people besides those in their family during social distancing. You can tell they are looking for that connection, so it has been great to see so many returning students and get to talk to them!

Do you think online learning is for everyone? Rob: Online learning is not necessarily for everyone, there is definitely a personality that best suits online learning. Looking at a computer screen for over an hour and a half can be very tiring for some students, especially younger students. But it definitely is something that everyone should try to see if it is for you.

Sam: Online learning has the potential to be effective for many students, but there are a lot of structures that need to be in place in order for this to happen. Not everyone has access to technology and high-speed internet and this can make online learning very difficult if not impossible. For some students who have exceptionalities and who maybe have more support in school, online learning can be difficult because it is so self-motivated. When teaching in person you can more easily notice if a student needs some help and offer them assistance, but this is not always possible online.

We also need to recognize, both as teachers and students, that as much as we try to replicate the best parts of in-person teaching, moving online is not a direct transfer and has its own unique challenges for teachers and students.

What skill gaps are we seeing in our students?

Nicole: So far we have been seeing a lot of gaps in general computer knowledge. Many students and parents are not used to having to move between multiple windows easily, have split screens etc. Also, many students have limited experience with typing and so they may have low typing skills, which can make some activities more challenging for them. However, in our students that have been coming back for multiple classes we have been so impressed with how quickly they are progressing in those skills.

Rob: It’s been amazing that over the last 9 weeks we have had a lot of repeat students which is amazing! But if one student has already done a certain skill and they come back, we also have some students in the same class who have never coded before. So it can be tricky in an online experience to make sure that students who have a lot of experience as well as students with less experience get what they need and build new skills.

How do you feel that student engagement has been?

Sam: The engagement has been great, and a lot better than I thought it would be. When you can’t see the students it can be very difficult to know if they are engaged or not. But we have students who are returning week after week and we have students who are so eager to share their work at the end of the class, it proves that it is working and that the students are interested in continuing their learning!

What does the future hold for our online presence?

Nicole: We will definitely continue in the online space, but we do not ever want to lose those powerful in-person learning experiences. This is especially important since some of our content cannot easily be done in a live class. For example, when doing film and photography we haven’t really figured out a way to do that in a virtual workshop, so there will always be things that make more sense in person. But we are hoping to bring STEM learning experiences that are powerful, intentional, and well thought through to an audience that is far wider than we can go in person.

Looking to give your child experience in the world of online teaching and learning? Check out our Virtual STEM Camps, STEAM @ Home, and Virtual Summer Camp programs. Stay tuned for more videos coming soon!