With the Frozen soundtrack blaring from “Alexa,” I thought how timely the song was.
Over the past weeks, educators have been thrown into the woods due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They are on a quest to adapt their traditional classrooms to “virtual classrooms” for online learning. This is to be done with no formal training, no previous exposure to online platforms and applications, and without choice. Educators across the globe are now “virtual” teachers, creating distance learning “on the fly.”
I have seen this from three lenses: The first lens is that of a professional who specializes in implementation of virtual and blended online learning programs. This space is my jam. This is what I specialize in, and it seems almost second nature to teach other educators the pedagogy of virtual education. The second lens is that of an educator. I also teach a course at the state university where I live. This course is an activity-based education course for teachers and was not designed to be a virtual course. I was tasked with converting this class to a virtual course for online learning. The final lens is that of a parent. My daughter is in the second half of her third-grade year. I, along with many other parents in this country, experience the frustration of “wait” as districts clammer to design distance and online learning information for parents and students.
Virtual Learning from The Professional Lens
ADVANTAGES Digital Solutions has beamed into the realm of virtual education with grace and quality. Our goal was to make it seamless and easy to implement virtual or blended online learning programs. We train, support and guide our partners through the process of virtual education. We also administer our own accredited school, where students can take full diploma or ala cart courses. Through our experience, we also built our own proprietary SIS/LMS/CMS, ASSIST. The ASSIST Platform can host both a brick and mortar school and a virtual school in one, bringing together the ability for students to take courses anywhere, even if their school does not offer the course. Our goal is to expand quality online learning across the globe, to allow students anywhere access to challenging coursework with the guidance and support of experienced teachers and staff. With states “sheltering in place,” schools across the world are trying to turn into a virtual school “on the fly.” As I watched this unfold, I wondered why more consultants or companies were not brought in to help digitize programs more quickly and offer crash courses of training on how to work in the virtual space, while still promoting connection and motivation to students? From my professional standpoint, we were not prepared, and many schools have reservations on distance learning. What if… what if… we prepared districts for situations like these? What if we allowed choice within our larger public school systems to offer “distance learning” as a choice for parents and students, what if we worked together to help each other instead of working separately? I have no doubt some schools are collaborating, but many are not. Many are working independently, rushing to create work for students and parents to administer at home. We need to be proactive, not reactive. Let us learn from this and reach out to the professionals and work together for the good of our kids.
The Educator Lens to Online Learning
4 days… 4 days is what I was given to transfer an in person, activity-based course to an online course. The advantage was that the university system already delivered online courses, so resources were abundant. From an LMS ready to go with course building modules and online assessments to virtual meeting software, I did not have to worry about the bones of my online course; what I did have to worry about was making an activity-based class just as dynamic online as it would have been in-person. I felt ready for this challenge. This is what I do, so converting the lecture-based material to online content was relatively easy. I loved creating polls and seeing my students in a virtual meeting space. The crux was delivering the content online that was really meant to be done as field-based activities. The students cannot gather out of class to do group work, nor can they complete school observations or peer teaching. So we open discussion, we talk about why it is hard, and what professionals in their desired area are doing right now to make learning happen all over the world. If this was happening five years from now, these students would be the ones creating the learning opportunities for students via distance and online learning. They would be searching through the woods. What we can do now is use this space to discuss the how, the when, the what ifs. Our job is to prepare the educators of tomorrow for the times we are going through today, to use this to launch their mindset to think differently about their subject matter, to integrate technology into their lessons so they can be prepared. This issue forced us as educators to think differently and adapt. This is an invaluable lesson for all of us, a lesson we need to keep pursuing and perfecting.
Online Learning From The Parent Lens
Seeing the issue through this lens has probably been the most challenging. I have watched a school struggle to design distance learning. In the beginning we received so many emails with different information my head began to spin. I understand that the school was just trying to get any kind of information out to the parents; it was the reactivity of the situation. Looking back, it would have been nicer, as a parent, to get all the communication from one person… my child’s teacher. So many resources were rolled out and the confusion was abundant. I was able to put it together and navigate the online learning resources, but that is my job. Many parents did not sign up to be a homeschool teacher. Many parents cannot spend the days teaching their kids. Parents still have to work, and may have other children at home. We have just put a crazy expectation on the parents of this country/world. We can hope that most students are doing something and some students are doing everything, but the reality is that many students may be doing nothing because of their situation or access to materials. Schools have been giving students access to technology, but that does not mean every student who needs it takes advantage of it. For some students, school is a respite, and home is a nightmare. Those students might be in survival mode, and gone are their teachers and counselors who they can see daily to help them get through. They might have missed the technology distribution or do not have access to hear about what is going on. Let us not forget about the kids who need more, the parents with special needs students who once had an aid at school but now do not, the kids who miss their friends and socialization of school. Let’s do our best and come together as families and communities to help support our students and families who need that.
This is our time to lean on those who can help, to create a virtual classroom where students feel supported and heard, and to open the door to understanding online learning, not just for today, but for tomorrow and the days to come. Let’s integrate distance learning as part of our school, as an access for all students.