Right now, millions of children across the United States are learning from their teachers from their own kitchens, living rooms, and backyards. The reality is beginning to set in that children might not be returning to school for a while. Teachers are working hard to pivot from in-person instruction to an online approach, attempting to continue to serve the individual needs of their students using web chats, email, phone calls, and screen sharing applications.
This is not the teaching and learning experience that we were expecting to be in at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. However, during this time of distance learning and school closures, we are learning what is working from a distance learning perspective and what needs to be re-examined.
Here are 5 ways lessons learned from the past several months of distance teaching and learning:
1. Blended Learning Might Be Here to Stay
Health experts are already weighing in on what we might be in for come this Fall and Winter. We might be looking at a second wave of COVID-19. We very well might be looking at intermittent closures during the 2020-21 school year. We also might see students coming to school in shifts; some in morning, others in the afternoon or on select days of the week …
It will be important for both teachers and students to utilize blended learning strategies. This will be even more important if teachers only see their students every other day. Schools will need to create online libraries of content ready for distribution to students and also ensure that online textbook accounts are current and working properly.
2. Equal Access to Technology
Districts have spent millions of dollars getting tablets, laptops, and Wi-Fi hotspots in the hands of families. This work will continue as districts funnel more and more money into distance learning solutions. A tremendous amount of effort has already been accomplished in this area. The nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has spent over $50 million dollars in teacher professional development and equipment for distance learning. That money and work will not be forgotten even if on-campus classes resume in the Fall. It is time to ensure that every child has access to a device and a hot-spot. If not, the digital divide will continue to feed the achievement gap.
3. ALL Teachers Will Need To Be Properly Trained to Use Instructional Technology
For the past few decades, teachers have been learning new tools, programs, and digital solutions in order to enhance their instruction. However, there have been hold-outs who continue to use the phrase, “I’m just not good with technology”, or “I don’t use technology”. With every teacher in the country leading their classes from home, it is safe to say that every teacher is now using technology more than they ever had in the past. There will always be teachers who naturally gravitate to technology and those who are scared by it. Moving forward, districts will need to ensure that all of their teachers understand and utilize instruction technology in order to ensure that all students have a teacher who is prepared to deliver blended or distance learning in an effective manner. Professional development will need to be focused on getting all teachers ready for future distance learning episodes. Other topics will need to take a back seat.
4. We Need Get Comfortable With Web Conferencing Tools
This is a tough one for many teachers. Being on camera delivering instruction or just meeting up with students can create enormous anxiety for teachers, even if they are completely comfortable standing up in front of their students in the classroom. Teachers will need to get proficient at navigating web camera tools like Zoom, WebEx, and Google Meets.
Most web conferencing tools have features such as “raise your hand”, “polling”, “break-out rooms”, and “chats”. With the prospect of another wave of COVID-19, teachers will need to become more familiar and more comfortable with these tools as they will serve as the main connection to their students who are stuck sheltering at home. It is vital that students get to see their teachers’ faces and interact with them online.
5. Teacher Devices Need To Be Updated
One of the biggest challenges for teachers in conducting distance learning is that their own laptops and devices are old and out-of-date. There are wide-spread reports of teachers using laptops without working cameras and microphones. This makes connecting with students for a web conference or recording a screencast impossible. Districts will need to ensure that all teacher laptops and devices are in good working condition and are set up with all the features and tools they will need to effectively conduct distance learning.
Dr. David Franklin, CEO of The Principal’s Desk, is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.principalsdesk.org.