Students who have been forced to move to remote learning due to the pandemic reported a number of changes they found difficult to adapt to, but perhaps the chief complaint is that they miss interacting with their friends.
School, especially at a young age when learning manners and social conventions and creating relations with other people is not to be taken for granted, is a testing ground where children find their first friends and develop their individual personalities in a safe and controlled environment.
Now that the online component of learning is growing and the in-person portion has been put on hold so abruptly, the loss of socialisation not only as a pleasant pastime, but also as a valuable skill is a valid concern that is being raised by students, teachers and families alike.
Read to find out how even a learning model with a strong online component can foster social and emotional learning.
1. Online does not equal alone
Unless educators and students actively seek out social interaction, online learning tends to be stripped down to its purely academic aspects and deprived of the interpersonal ones, but this can be remedied.
Video conferencing may not be a complete substitute for seeing your friends in person, but it is the next best thing when meeting face to face is deemed unsafe: reserve some time for conferences meant to connect with classmates rather than just online meetings intended as a replacement for lectures. Tools such as Google Meet and Microsoft Teams have been used to great effect during the height of the lockdown to stay in touch with friends and family and class groups are no different. In fact, online communication expands the possibility to create friendships far beyond your own school or neighbourhood.
Online assignments do not have to be a lonely pursuit, either: learning to manage a group project online is not only a great lesson in teamwork and conflict resolution, but also familiarizes students with collaboration tools such as Google Docs that they might one day find themselves using on the job.
2. Learning can be fun
Game-based learning (GBL) is the use of educational games to teach specific skills and facts through games with a full-fledged storyline and reward system that makes the learning process more engaging and increases gratification.
Sharing the experience of learning through games is a form of socialisation: whether they are comparing results and competing or sharing tips and strategies, students are, in fact, forming relationships through educational games, be they adversarial or collaborative.
Even if the storyline of the game is very simple, it provides something to talk about and a shared language (any terminology that is specific to the game, for instance) that brings the class closer together and makes students feel like a team.
3. Get your game on
Not all games with an educational value were originally meant to be educational. Minecraft is perhaps the greatest example of this: the degree of freedom that the game affords makes it adaptable to any number of school activities.
Minecraft, however, is not the only title that can hone your students’ interpersonal skills while having fun. Playing video games is often seen as something solitary, but there are plenty of games available that rely heavily on strategizing in real time with online teammates: your friends may not be in the room with you, but you are still interacting with them and establishing hierarchies and game plans via typing or voice chat.
Provided that your students are in possession of powerful enough machines that allow them to play competitively, staying home might just be the push you need to create a school esports programme for your less traditionally athletic students to enjoy the experience of being a part of a team: depending on the games they play, entering the esports arena can be a lesson in teamwork, strategic thinking, decision-making, even finance and management, and can improve their cognitive abilities, from hand-eye coordination to focus and multitasking, in measurable ways that will reflect positively on their academics. The educational value of video games may be an unintended side effect, but it is still very much real.