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The key to achieving the best of each learning session is if the students are feeling motivated and involved.  Can you imagine this kind of classroom where all students feel inspired? Can you imagine an online setting where all students feel engaged in the learning process? The term for this “feeling” is called “well-being”.

In this article I share with you my layout of a remote learning session, a layout that transforms a learning session into a well-being one. I believe that it doesn’t matter the learning subject or the study level, it only matters how the session is being structured so that each student feels that is part of it.

Defining a well-being learning environment

It goes without saying that any learning session should be a well-being experience for students, regardless of the learning setting (remote or classroom), the learning subject (creative or technical), or even the difficulty level (beginner or advanced).

A well-being learning environment is a holistic environment where students must have a sense of progress by learning new things together with a sense of social belonging by being part of a group.

Therefore, a well-being environment is an exchange of information and emotions.

  • The exchange of information provides the setup for knowledge and resources.
  • The exchange of emotions helps students to find value in the learning process.
pie chart showing the structure of a well-being learning, 50%-50% ratio between shared information and emotions

There are some general practices that make a learning session to be engaging and enjoyable for all participants. So here are a few key pointers considered to be the most relevant for any learning process.

Practices in regards to the exchange of information, done by the tutor 

  • Structuring the session effectively, everything is organized logically and in one place.
  • Sharing a clear outline indicating what is expected per each session or assignment. But also having in mind the long progression of the entire course.
  • Setting up goals according to a certain time frame. Goals can simply be defined as macro and micro goals.
  • Sharing relevant and inspiring materials, from different perspectives and from different sources.
  • Showing practical examples or how-to demos that will set up the key elements.
  • Sharing practical tips and tricks that solve specific problems.

Practices in regards to the exchange of emotions, done together teacher and student.

  • Discussions that address specific students’ challenges (finding solutions).
  • Progressive and constructive feedback that keeps students on track.
  • Inspiring talks, using interesting examples, speaking in an engaging way.
  • Incorporating multimedia tools and resources, explain things from different angles.
  • Encouraging students to ask questions, even the “silly” ones.
  • Showing personal passion relevant to the topic, personal experiences, and discoveries.
  • Using humor, smiling, and always using a calm and confident voice.

Next, I’ll be sharing 4-progressive steps of a remote learning session. I assume the allotted time per session is about 45-60 min and there are about 8-12 students per class.

timeline sheet of a remote learning session of 45-60min lenght

I adapted this structure in teaching a mix of subjects, from creative art (making visual artwork), project management (writing documentation), or technical subjects (involving technical software).

So let’s break down each step.

Part 1 – Introduction. Presenting the learning objectives.

  • Allocated time: 5 min
  • Purpose: explain the settings of the learning objectives
  • Method: spreadsheet

The learning session starts with a short but organized overview. It has to clearly define its purpose and schedule along with the required time-frame.

The tutor lays down a clear foundation and structure that explains 3 key points: What, Why, and How much is expected to be delivered. It simply creates the base for productivity by guiding through the checkpoints that lead to a final goal.

There should be one or two learning objectives (goals). If there are more, it’s very likely to have too much information in less exploration-time, and students may feel overwhelmed.

The introduction presented as a simple spreadsheet must explain:

  • Goal (objectives): a specific goal needs to be set up per each learning session so that each student can easily follow. It has to be finite and measurable within the time frame of one session.
  • Topic (concepts): a brief connection needs to be made with the course materials (previous lectures or handbooks) by explaining what concept will be practically explored. The topics can be laid out as key principles or even keywords.
  • Outcome (results): every goal must be supported by finite results, not just some ideas. The outcome can be presented as a written pitch, a visual sheet, a template, a prototype, a research board, etc
  • Requirements: there might be technical requirements that stand up as a general framework such as software settings or tools. Or it may be something like files organization such as a naming convention, file resolution, word count, types of delivery files, etc.

Part 2 – Getting Ready. The storytelling of raw ideas.

  • Allocated time: 10 min
  • Purpose: building a common library of resources, finding and organizing raw ideas, inspiring students to action
  • Method: interactive pin-boards (web-based pin-boards), visual note-making, schematic key-wording

Next, it’s about the process of generating group ideas and concepts in order to gain class creativity-momentum.

This part is mainly given by the tutor however, students are encouraged to bring their own unique ideas. The tutor breaks down ideas into simple keywords and starts to explore possibilities. It’s like a short brainstorm session where ideas are not being interrupted but explored.

At this point, the focus is on sketching out possibilities. This is how to generate group ideas:

  • Intro ideas are initial suggestions given by the tutor so that the students can pick-up and polish throughout the session. Represent the core value of the task and it must engage students’ imagination.
  • Inspiring resources are specific materials given by the tutor in order to support start-up ideas. Are well organized and engaging in order to create an impact. For example, the use of visual materials is more effective than text, especially in the short time frame of a session.

The key is to organize all the ideas, suggestions, or just thoughts. The tools I usually use are at easy-hand for everyone:

  • Google Drive: files sharing system which allows group comments in real-time.
  • Pinterest: web-based pin-boards for images and videos, allows multiple contributors, and also the option to keep the board private.

There’s a difference between visual note-making and mind mapping. Putting together a mind map is not the purpose here however, a visual note-making system is extremely practical and inspiring for students.

Here are my suggested tools for doing a simple visual note-making (in real-time with screen sharing).

  • Mind Meister. This one is actually my favorite idea-making system. It’s a web-based visual-thinking system, intuitive to use and combines key-wording with branching. I’m the editor however, students are passing their ideas and in the end we’ll have a map of raw ideas for everyone to easily access.
  • Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. Even though this is a drawing app, it’s very natural, flexible for making visual notes. Written notes can be manipulated through scaling, layering, or just moving things on the screen. It feels like a free-hand digital whiteboard. (remember that a digital pen is required).

Part 3 – Create your own work. Independent activity.

  • Allocated time: 20 min
  • Purpose: hands-on experience, individual experimentation, specific-based activity
  • Method: very short check-ups, listening to the student’s needs, keeping students on track

This is the largest time frame of the session, it’s the learn-by-doing activity where students are working, asking questions, and making decisions.

Even though students are asked to go along with their own ideas (as discussed earlier) some of them may need more help. Others need just a little push in making the decisions.

The tutor will take short rounds and the help should be specific and according to the students’ needs, for example:

  • To block ideas in order to establish the focal point.
  • To creatively frame and crop the key aspects.
  • To guide the mapping of the details.
  • To simplify complex ideas or time-consuming explorations.

In the meantime, the process of the students’ experimentation should be guided into 3 short and simple stages. The purpose is to gain progress, any kind of progress, from micro to macro.

  • Stage 1. Observe the initial layout, goal, and ideas.
  • Stage 2. Deconstruct the large task into smaller ones.
  • Stage 3. Reconstruct everything by putting the pieces together.

Part 4 – Share your work. Constructive feedback.

  • Allocated time: 10-15 min, 2-3 min per student
  • Purpose: critical thinking, group interaction
  • Method: conversational and productive discussion, students partake in the feedback, each student present his/her own work, specific tips and tricks, specific information, must be energetic and with of course a sense of humor

Lastly, each student will share his/her findings or struggles. This is the perfect time to use feedback in order to enhance the trust relationship as well.

Feedback is a constructive communication channel between tutor – students, students – students. I have previously written about my system of constructive feedback but to simply present it, a constructive feedback means:

  • A harmony between the goal (given at the beginning) and the specific information (given now for future improvement).
  • A communication channel that facilitates both professional and personal growth.
  • A bed of creativity and inspiration where everyone is doing their best possible.

Feedback can generally be address as a range of aspects such as:

  • Time management according to the given achievements and goals.
  • Specific project development or step-by-step process.
  • Problems vs solutions.
  • Future implementations and new expansions of ideas.

This open discussion is also a reflection of improvement over the outcome. Nevertheless, it should be energetic, playful, and yet professional. Questions are asked to students in order to boost their self-reflection, for example:

  • How do you feel about the outcome, any likes, or dislikes?
  • Is there anything that should go differently, in a different direction?
  • How far do you think you are before reaching your goal?

Also there’s an important factor to always remember and that is, each student is on his/her own journey. Therefore the feedback has to be given in a way that the student resolves the problem (outcome) by him/herself because in their journeys students will also learn how:

  • To trust themselves.
  • To expand their imagination.
  • To push themselves forward.

Takeaway

I have used this structure in teaching a mix of subjects, from creative subjects, group work, documentation to technical subjects. Of course, it can be adapted or scaled but it’s really a framework that works in any kind of learning environment: remote, campus, or hybrid.

Remember that at the end of each learning session it’s all about trust and cooperation. This is what a “well-being” means afterward. And it does take time and patience to build up a relationship and a connection with students. It’s not just one single session or a certain time, it’s about the consistency and all the little things that people are doing as humans to connect and to communicate.

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

I teach digital art courses online and on-location. My mission is to challenge students to reach their maximum potential for creativity and authenticity.

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