2020 News Stories

How parents can support their K-12 student in online learning

Father and daughter using laptop together

Published April 3, 2020

For many parents, the sudden leap into online learning brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic may be an additional challenge presented during an already stressful time. Students who were previously receiving their education in-person with a full-time teacher may not be comfortable navigating the applications and software now being used to receive their lessons and complete assignments.

While USF moved into fully online instruction on March 23, there are school districts across the state of Florida who are still completing the transition. James Hatten, PhD, an instructor in USF’s Instructional Technology program, says the development of an online course usually takes a much longer amount of time than school districts were afforded with the pandemic.

“Remember, we’re just trying to keep education together,” Dr. Hatten says. “This is not ideal, but it’s also phenomenal. What people have been able to put together in two and a half weeks, that should’ve taken a year and a half to be ready and is beyond phenomenal.”

The goal for online learning during current times, he says, is to help students remain engaged academically, so they can retain some of the knowledge they’ve gained throughout the school year.

“We’re trying to (keep students on track) so that they don’t lag in their education,” Dr. Hatten says. “What we learn in education is when you hit summer or any break, there’s backpedaling that happens.” 

While older students can be reasonably expected to navigate online learning independently, Dr. Hatten says students at younger grade levels will need their parent’s help in navigating what may be a confusing and unfamiliar platform.

“The college students—we’re expecting them to do it on their own, but a seventh-grade student needs to have their parent guide that and set that up,” Dr. Hatten says. “It would be good if they did that together, instead of a parent just imposing that on a kid.”

In his role at USF, Dr. Hatten teaches courses in the Florida Digital/Virtual Educator graduate certificate, a program that prepares educators to transform learning environments and support student learning in ways that could not be done without technology. Below are some tips Dr. Hatten’s shares for parents who are currently learning how to best support their child’s success in a newly created online classroom.

Allow for frequent breaks between lessons

During a normal school day, students receive frequent breaks through activities such as recess and class period changes. Mirroring these breaks at home, Dr. Hatten says, is a key component to making sure a student can focus during their online studies.

“Let them get up,” he says. “They need to move their bodies or take fresh air in or get a snack.”

Creating a rewards system, he says, can also help separate lessons that require long periods of sitting at a desk or in front of screen.  

Create a study schedule that best supports your child’s needs

There are benefits to online, asynchronous learning and it can be effective for many people, Dr. Hatten says. For example, if a student prefers to sleep-in and get started on schoolwork later in the day, online learning can provide the flexibility for them to do so.

In the online courses he teaches at USF, Dr. Hatten makes the same recommendation for his students. However, with younger learners, this process should be completed collaboratively, by the student and parent together.

“If you’re a parent helping your kid setup their schedule, sit down with them and setup that schedule,” he says. 

Supplement virtual field trips with tasks for students to complete

While online experiences such as virtual field trips and tours can be a fun activity for students who are otherwise at home all day, the way to make these work well, Dr. Hatten says, is to have an educational task that’s involved with it.

Creating meaningful interactions, such as giving a child a list of questions to answer or having them complete an assignment alongside the online activity can help a student pay attention and gain useful knowledge during the experience

“That’s how those virtual field trips have to work,” Dr. Hatten says. “Otherwise, it’s just a kid clicking, and they may get bored.”

Stay positive—even through technical difficulties

While having to quickly learn a new suite of online tools to support your child’s learning can be a daunting task, Dr. Hatten says maintaining a positive attitude will help your child keep calm through what may be a new and nerve-racking experience.

“You need to model calm, positive behavior (while online learning), because it’s new to them,” Dr. Hatten says. “They’re worried, they’re scared and they don’t know what it is.”

Dr. Hatten emphasizes it’s important to not assume that just because your child uses technology outside of school for entertainment or social interaction that it means they are fully prepared for the sudden shift into online learning.

“They might not know how to do this,” he says. “That doesn’t mean they won’t pick it up fast.”

Acknowledge when your student does well and encourage them

While a parent can’t expect their child to excel at online learning right away, Dr. Hatten says it’s important to acknowledge when a student is excelling and to positively reinforce their behavior while doing so.

When a student excels at a task, parents should serve as a “positive affirmation coach” and encourage their child to continue what they’re doing. This behavior will create a supportive learning environment that motivates the student and can lead to future success in their studies.

“I think it’s the biggest thing for parents to remember—that there’s steps to (the learning process), and you can’t just chew kids out,” Dr. Hatten says. “They’re just doing their best.”

Below are some additional resources and virtual field trips recommended by faculty in the USF College of Education:

Additional At-Home Activities: