Friday, November 27, 2020
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Getting Ready to Teach Next Year

There’s a lot of uncertainty about the 2020–21 school year, but planning for a mix of remote and in-person instruction will help educators be ready.

Covid-19 has made the 2019–20 school year one we will never forget. With no notice or preparation, teachers were forced to pivot to online teaching. They have performed heroically. This isn’t just my assessment it’s the consensus of the many students who have shared their experience of learning from home via technology.

These students and their teachers whom I’ve also interviewed over the last six weeks are far less sanguine about online learning, however, with real concerns about its quality and effectiveness. Yet as school districts begin to plan the 2020–21 academic year, online learning will most likely play a prominent role in recovery efforts as many districts will shift to a system that combines online and in-person instruction.

As we move beyond crisis management to purposefully planning these systems, we can look to the successes and problems of emergency online teaching. The following four recommendations, which draw on the experiences of teachers and students with whom I’ve talked, offer strategies to consider.

DESIGN FOR THE ONLINE MEDIUM

For many of the students I interviewed, their first foray into online learning raised issues about pacing, structure, and the lack of interactivity and rigor, and the sometimes confusing plethora of communication and instructional channels (Google Classroom, Zoom, YouTube, email, and various apps). Most found the largely asynchronous nature of learning a “lonely” experience.

Technology alone cannot make learning engaging, so in developing online systems, schools will need to map out their curricula, ensure articulation and complementarity between face-to-face and online learning, and intentionally design for both these environments, seeking a balance between:

  • learning activities that capitalize best on the online medium and those done best in a classroom,
  • synchronous and asynchronous learning,
  • structure and flexibility, and
  • activities that can be done alone and those best done with others.

As always, teachers will want to figure out what students will learn from the teacher, from content, from activities, and from each other. To ensure that all communication and instruction are consistent and coherent, schools may need to shift to a learning management system where all content, discussions, assessments, and web-conferencing can be housed.

For the students I interviewed about their experience learning online, well-designed online classes would include several design elements:

“High touch” learning: involving more collaborative activities and synchronous interaction with teachers and classmates.

Greater interactivity: games, web-based simulations, and interactive videos and fewer worksheets.

Personalized learning: a range of activities that address students’ skills, abilities, interests, and home situations from choice boards to personalized learning pathways to individual projects.

More challenging activities: projects and activities that address real-world challenges and involve students creating versus simply consuming information.