Learning is more than the exposure to facts and the acquisition of knowledge. Schools provide a host of academic opportunities that are built into the DNA of their existence. Switching to remote teaching and learning is a dramatic change from ‘business as usual’ for institutions that have provided a consistent experience for generations.
However, recent events have shown us that much like fire, tornado and safety drills, schools must also now plan for instruction to continue when students (and staff) are unable to meet in person.
That said, we recommend schools consider the 3 Cs when examining remote learning: Content, Communication and Control.
Content is probably the easiest factor to control. Now, more than ever, there is a tremendous amount of information available for free or at a very low cost. The “what” of instruction has never been easier to access both in-person and from afar. As a matter of fact, it’s now easier to get overwhelmed with too much content.
Schools have curriculum and content standards that help outline the content being covered and pace when that content is being delivered to students. Many vendors offer the traditional print content in electronic format and there are several sources for standards-based content for free of charge or at affordable prices. Khan Academy has been a leader in supplemental resources for years. Vendors such as Scholastic have opened up their vast resources for teachers and families to access during this current crisis. Additionally, several states offer resources from their departments of education.
Communication becomes a bit more complicated, but in the second decade of the 21st century, options have come a long way from mail-in correspondence class. However, the digital divide varies within communities and therefore mail-based options still have a place in the communication spectrum. However, there are more options available for schools to communicate between staff and students than ever before. Just like in the classroom, a teacher needs to decide when to deliver instruction to the whole class. For small groups and individualized, the same thing can happen remotely.
An easy-to-access tool is Google Classroom. Some people say it’s not a full learning management system, but that’s exactly why it’s so appealing to so many teachers. Other tools such as Slack offer communication across multiple platforms in asynchronous time and video conferencing tools such as Zoom allow teachers to create whole, small and individual groups. Recorded (and even live) events can be saved on a school’s YouTube channel and students can access it live or come back to it later when they need a refresher.
Control is always the art that goes into the science of teaching. Control of time, content, and classroom is what you find in a master teacher. Most teachers are not trained in transferring these same skills from the in-person classroom to the online classroom. Experience and the right tools make a tremendous difference. Online learning is much more than just accessing the content. Deeper checking for understanding online can be much more difficult for teachers remotely than it can be in person. One tool to help with this management is CrossBraining, which allows teachers to manage not only the content, but the individual and group responsibilities for the activity. Students and the instructor get live-time updates of progress and can communicate within the app. At the end, a short 45-second video provides evidence of their understanding.
Harnessing the power of technology is an ongoing challenge in the best of times. In times of uncertainty, it’s even more important to take the time to understand the problem and be deliberate about an appropriate plan.
The plan can always change based on updated data, but it’s important to understand that the transition to remote learning is not as simple as providing access to a device or a website.