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Gotta Have It
Most of us remember the release of the first iPhone in 2007. There was rush to buy it and it seemed everyone had to have it. Of course with any release of a product there would soon be problems as glitches abound. I remember buying a new vehicle ten years ago. It was the first in the line of remodels. I was excited about it as it was new and I had a new vehicle after driving my 97 Honda for 13 years. But as it turned out this new vehicle was soon to be a record breaker in recalls, having at least one a year. Much like the iPhone which I waited considerable time to purchase and the car which I did not, is the the implementation of virtual schools.
Virtual schools have been around since 1995 with some being more effective than others. These were largely a response to provide alternatives for students or their parents who sought a different type of educational experience. With the onset of the pandemic school districts have been forced to rethink the instructional delivery process and create virtual academies to serve students who have been affected by COVID-19. In order to accommodate these students some states have mandated that students affected by the pandemic be given the option of Independent Study, or IS as it is known in the educational circles. This has created pitfalls as some districts do not have enough personnel to staff the schools, yet these schools have opened their doors. Just like the first iPhone users and myself in the newer model of a car that I thought would be an awesome ride, problems abound. We can’t recall the schools or the students, so what can be done?
I would not want to be a district-level administrator facing this issue. However, there always seems to be a reoccurring theme in education and that is the knee-jerk reaction to crisis or policy mandates. Now is the time to accept the fact that not all students desire the traditional educational experience in physical schools. Putting together a comprehensive plan to address the needs of these students takes time and there will be mistakes. Consider the 18 months with the leap into remote learning. School districts were forced to make quick decisions on the implementation of the various learning management platforms in order to serve their respective student populations. Many times as documented in the news the process was frantic and fragmented. Parents loudly voiced their displeasure that teachers were unprepared and did know what they were doing. Thus we have the rush.
Since eighteen months have now passed, school districts are faced with the fact that they will need to continue to provide virtual learning. In some cases hastily thrown together professional development sessions were implemented before the school year. Take for example California’s passage of legislation that mandates that students affected by illness that In my interactions with educators across the nation it is clear that a plan for guiding them in course design is needed. What I also find is that in the rush to address the issue very little time is given to looking who the course is serving – yes the student.
We Need It And We Need It Now
Some might remember the JD Wentworth commercial with the lines “I have a settlement and I need the money now!” That is the message that teachers face from unsettled districts as they face the mounting pressure to provide some type of online education. Here are some quick solutions for teachers:
Design a course with the student in mind remembering that they are the ones that are navigating it daily.
Provide instructional videos on how you set up the course. They can be embedded in your home page of the platform.
Keep it simple. All those fancy home pages are not going to impress the students, at least not yet. They just need a home page with the basics.
If you have the ability to set up your course with modules do it by week with each day outlined. Students will appreciate this and it will eliminate confusion.
Check in with the students periodically with students about course navigation. They are your best providers of input.
Demand training or time to work with other staff members and/or professional development providers.
Check on social media for hacks including YouTube, Facebook group pages, Twitter etc.
Virtual Learning Is Not Going Away
EdSurge published this article Remote Learning Is Not Going Away Soon. This Is How to Make It Better in November 2020. Almost a year later and many districts have come to realize that very point of the article. The author Emily Tate focused on five basic tenets:
Connect All Learners
Rethink Instructional Time
Foster Connections and Relationships
Identify Students not Being Served
Focusing on the rethinking of instructional time is key for teachers. This is one area where taking a step away from the incessant demand for meeting standardize testing criteria must be a priority. This also relates to connecting all learners and fostering relationships. I know that last school year I established deep relationships with my students through office hours and breakout room sessions during instruction. When students know you care many times their effort will increase no matter what they might be facing outside of the classroom. Instruction that connects all learners is based on the concept of student agency such as choice boards. Creating assignments that provide students the opportunity to explore based upon their interests is a must in a remote environment.
Education is changing and the needs of students are in the forefront. The iPhone 13 will soon be available. Let’s not be the users who rush to buy the product, but then complain about the usual problems that appear on any new platform, but instead be the innovators who take risks, problem solve, network, and ultimately create learning environments for all students.
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