Using EdTech to Teach SEL— Both Remotely and In Person

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

As schools returned to in-person learning last fall, teachers identified both a student learning gap and a persistent loss of social emotional learning (SEL) skills. 

After all, when students are in a classroom with their peers, they collaborate, share, and find their place in a learning community. Unfortunately, remote education meant that students didn’t have the same opportunities to practice these skills. 

That means it’s up to teachers to find new ways to address students’ SEL needs to avoid student stress, frustration, and burn-out. Thankfully, edTech has the power to help. We can design digital tools that build students’ SEL skills and support teachers with professional learning content. 

Whether you’re designing a remote learning tool, a product for in-person classrooms, or edTech that helps teachers switch seamlessly between learning environments, here’s everything you need to know about using edTech to teach SEL.

How to Integrate SEL Features into Remote Learning Tools

SEL skills are compatible with every subject area, and they’re especially important to integrate into features for remote-first products. To be even more valuable to teachers and administrators looking for SEL solutions, here are three things your remote learning tools should do:

1. Encourage Multi-Modal Responses and Student Collaboration

Many in-person teaching strategies that promote SEL growth translate well to remote learning. This includes project-based learning and other collaborative tools that offer students the ability to create responses in their preferred medium.

Take Flipgrid, for example. In this tool, students answer academic questions in multiple modes, from video to written response. The ability to respond in different media encourages students to engage in creative expression, a key component of social emotional learning. Teachers can also easily build a collaborative element into Flipgrid assignments, further strengthening students’ SEL skills.

Tools like Flipgrid offer important lessons for edTech companies looking to expand how students respond to digital assignments and collaborate with their peers online. When students are able to choose the response medium, they have more agency over their own learning. This leads to more engagement with your tool—and with their course work.

2. Provide More Opportunities to Teach Digital Citizenship

Online student interactions are completely different from discussions that take place in classrooms. They’re most often asynchronous, written, and mediated by teachers or skilled facilitators. 

Whether they’re commenting on other students’ work or contributing to a digital discussion, students must still practice important SEL skills online, like social awareness and building relationships with their peers. 

These elements of digital instruction have advantages for teachers, too. Threaded discussion boards and other types of digital interactions provide teachers with visible records of their students’ work. 

These records are especially helpful when teachers have to translate SEL lessons into a digital environment.  

The best tech tools designed specifically for education support teachers as they examine student interactions and provide opportunities for them to offer formal lessons on digital citizenship to their class.

3. Level the Playing Field for Students with Special Needs

Our turn to technology during remote learning has, in some instances, leveled the playing field for our most vulnerable students. 

Unlike in a physical classroom, digital intervention tools don’t highlight differences because students are working from home. Students with different social preferences have more options for how they interact with their fellow classmates, perhaps by using the chat function, turning their camera off, or taking computer breaks during class. 

Meanwhile, students with learning differences can take advantage of intervention tools more regularly. For example, a reader who struggles with dyslexia might stay at grade level by listening to audio books. Ultimately, the more proactive you are in designing for special needs, the more accessible your remote learning tools will be for all users.

Teaching SEL with edTech During In-Person Learning 

It’s not easy to manage a classroom. With the right SEL features, your edTech tools can better support teachers working in small groups or integrating academic games into their individual learning time. The best tools for teaching crucial SEL skills provide students with positive feedback, opportunities to make decisions, and chances to reflect.

  • Building Student Confidence

    From prep work to individual interventions, teachers have so many responsibilities that they can’t necessarily check in with each student every day. edTech tools can take at least some of this burden off of teachers by providing immediate feedback or rewards for student effort. Whether students are working toward a badge or tracking a habit, receiving immediate positive reinforcement makes a big difference in student resilience and confidence.

    Even with support from edTech tools, teachers still play a crucial role in helping students develop SEL skills like grit. This is especially true when students are using academic games during individual learning time. For example, teachers might ask which skills a discouraged student can use to overcome a challenge in gameplay. The more students are asked to develop creative solutions to problems instead of giving up, the stronger their SEL skills become.

  • Encouraging Agency

    When teachers use edTech products during in-person lessons, they should be able to easily integrate student agency into learning. Students might be encouraged to follow a pathway of their own choosing through an academic game, for example. By making their own choices, students have more ownership over their learning, a key component of SEL. Where can your product better support a students’ need for choice?

  • Building in Moments of Reflection

    Reflection, in the form of journal prompts, reading logs, or other assignments is also a key component of SEL. By stopping to consider their own progress or the challenges they face with material, students become more aware of what they’re learning and how those skills might be applied in different contexts.

    Reflection can be integrated into digital tools with any kind of learning content, from math to reading to science. Whether you ask students to journal directly within your product or offer curriculum prompts to teachers, edTech can easily address the need for student reflection.

Supporting SEL Needs with More Responsive edTech

Well into 2021, teachers faced uncertainty about whether their lessons would take place in person or virtually. Many teachers also had students cycling out of in-person classrooms to isolate or quarantine and recorded in-person instruction for asynchronous learners. 

This reality required teachers to design “high-flex lessons,” or lessons that could be taught both remotely and in-person with few changes. edTech that helps teachers shift seamlessly between asynchronous and synchronous learning and lesson planning will continue to be valuable for teachers and school districts in 2022.

Solutions can be as simple as improving product integration with existing communication tools like Slack. In a learning environment for high school or college students, Slack can facilitate peer-to-peer learning by encouraging discussion, Q&A, and other forms of student response. Both asker and respondee learn SEL skills—just as they would in a traditional classroom.

Digital conversations can also become focal points of whole class or in-person instruction, helping teachers to build out a more flexible lesson plan. When a facilitator is able to point out important moments in any type of student conversation, other students learn from those interactions—and the ideas captured within them. 

Throughout 2022, we’ll continue to see a big push from educators and administrators for learning tools that address SEL. The pandemic made it more important than ever for product owners to understand how teachers integrate SEL skills into their instruction—and to find effective ways to support SEL instruction digitally. 

Are you designing a new SEL feature for your learning tool? Contact us below to find out how we can help!

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