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Archive for March, 2020

With the cloud of the Corona Virus hanging over us and growing by the hour, it is difficult to see any silver lining. Health and safety are our greatest concerns. The stakes are high and the consequences may be fatal to too many. Anything I discuss here should not in any way diminish the seriousness of our condition. The consequences of our nationwide quarantine however, may be having a profound positive effect on our education system. From an education perspective, there may be a silver lining to one of the darkest clouds to ever cover this country.

In the past, many discussions by several education leaders have sometimes suggested the idea of education reform needing to blow up the current education system in order to affect any real change. In March of 2020 in response to a life-threatening pandemic, our education system, as we have known it for centuries, was blown up. Schools across the nation closed their doors, but required their teachers to try to carry on educating their students using online technology. Overnight, discussions, which were in many cases theoretical about online teaching and learning, became a reality. It was a “ready or not, here we come” event.

Educators, who were trained and programmed to teach face-to-face with students in classrooms with a support staff within a larger school building, found themselves alone at home face-to-face with a blank computer screen. This nationwide experience exposed and underscored a number of deficiencies and shortcomings in the system that can now be addressed in many positive ways. How we respond to what we now know may very well evolve the education system in ways not possible before the nationwide lockdown blew it up. From chaos we now have opportunity.

The earliest indications of our preparedness to meet the online challenge to educators underscored the gap that exists in professional development for educators. Teaching online is not the same as teaching in the classroom. Many educators have not been updated in the use of technology and more specifically, online instruction. Of course the system until now was not dependent on online learning, but technology implementation is essential in our computer-driven society. Now that we have exposed the importance of technology in education, we can use this experience to push for more required, universal, and effective professional development. We can also more convincingly support PD with time, money, and structured follow-up.

We are more aware of the basic needs of kids to have a better working knowledge of technology skills. It is an opportunity to evaluate and evolve how we introduce kids to technology and how we incorporate those skills to enhance their learning. We need to develop their ability to be self-reliant in their learning to become lifelong learners.

We are also more aware of the need for a dependable online infrastructure, one that offers access to all. The digital divide must be addressed. Zip codes can no longer be the driving force of quality education.

Social distancing is a new concept for our country. It should be called physical distancing to be a more accurate description. Online we have all gotten closer through connections with colleagues and students. The idea of sharing ideas, and sources has grown as a result of educators needing to quickly grow and communicate effectively online. Another benefit from this collegial connection is a new appreciation, if not discovery for some, of online content. The use of online sources can enhance a text-based curriculum, or even replace it.

In order to change any system the first changes have to be made to the culture. With schools shut down parents have become more involved with their kids’ education. What parents see and experience, with their children learning through technology, goes a long way in educating parents as to what education in today’s world is all about. Of course this does not work as effectively if there are no online connections between educators and students for parents to experience.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this crisis in education is the absolute need for social and emotional learning for kids. We need to address physical and emotional needs before kids can learn. Maslow must always come before Bloom. Priorities need to be readjusted. We see schools adjusting their grading policies. Maybe grades aren’t what we have believed them to be for centuries? It may be time to reassess and adjust. Many schools have cancelled their need to give standardized tests. Again, maybe they need to move down on the list of education priorities. Let’s take the opportunity to talk it through and consider our experiences.

After each and every catastrophic experience this country has endured, it has reassessed, adjusted, and made positive changes for the benefit of all. Beyond the obvious health and safety issues that must be addressed, we need to address the issues of education. The kids who we are educating today will make the decisions of health and safety moving forward. We can’t educate them with the knowledge and skills that brought us to this point. They need more knowledge and more relevant skills to get beyond our limited capabilities. They will be living in a different world. This horrible event that we are now facing has actually given us the greatest opportunity yet to evolve our education system. We need to reassess, reevaluate and prioritize. This opportunity is the silver lining of that very dark Coronavirus cloud hanging over us.

Stay Healthy!

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With the rapid spread of the Corona Virus, there has been a clarion call for schools to close and immediately shift to online learning in the interest of health and safety. With all that has been written and talked about in regard to “online learning” over the last decade, the perception is that now is a great time to put tech to work and implement this modern methodology to address our current situation and limit face-to-face exposure in order to self-quarantine a huge portion of our population. Online learning will do all of this, and kids won’t miss a beat in their education. That is a great picture of progressive ideas in education coupling with the advancing strides of evolving technologies to carry us to the next level in the evolution of education. That may get us a short way away from the flying cars that we have always been promised for generations. Of course before any of this can happen we need to address several questions to determine the viability of this wondrous solution.

Is the infrastructure in place for online learning? In order for this to work, we need the teacher to be able to connect with the student. That takes computer equipment for both, as well as some capacity for connecting them. Of course that connection would need to be made for each and every student for which each teacher is responsible. Assuming that the schools are closed to teachers, as well as students, the school will have very little to do with what devices teachers or students have, as well as what internet accessibility is available. Schools having issued each student a computer would have more control.

Do the teachers have lessons prepared specifically for “Online Learning”? Teaching online is not the same as teaching face to face in the classroom. The class is far less captive with many more distractions in each student’s personal environment. The lessons need to be far more engaging. Feedback from every participant is more important with online learning. Summative assessment is essential and must be ongoing. Learning is not a passive exercise online. Interaction is the key. Teachers need to be more aware and more demanding of student participation. These are only a few of the needs that teachers must address in “online teaching”

Does each teacher have the mindset to be an online teacher? Being forced into a situation that effects one’s livelihood and challenges lifelong beliefs is not a good way to introduce a person to a new way to perform his or her job. A longstanding fear of educators is that some day they will be replaced by computers. Personally, I don’t believe that will ever happen, because education is best served through strong relationships of students and teachers. Technology however, will change the way those relationships take place. Forcing people into performing a job they don’t believe in cannot have a positive outcome for anyone. A majority of teachers have never been trained to teach online. They have been taught how to teach in a classroom. Kids sitting in rows where a teacher can see them is not the same as connecting with students online.

Will a knee-jerk decision for a quick fix to a problem with the Corona Virus have a lasting effect on education? My overriding fear about this situation that we find ourselves in, is the long-term effect it will have on education. If schools close and mandate online learning to carry them through the period of time such as this crisis requires, will the resulting failure of education be blamed on the teachers, the technology, or the folks who pushed for an ill-considered idea? I fear the teachers and technology will unfairly bear the brunt of the blame. Of course the folks who pushed the ill-considered idea are also the judges.

When will online learning be a reality? I truly believe we will move to a methodology that uses both face-to-face and online learning. This will only happen as teachers are taught what online learning is and how it works best. This is still a new and developing methodology. We also need to teach students how to use it before they are thrown into it. Most importantly we need to instruct parents on the benefits of it as well. They did not grow up with online learning, so they will need to be sold on its value. Before we can change the system, we need to change the culture. Mandating online learning before the infrastructure, methodology and mindset of educators and students are all in the proper place, the endeavor will ultimately fail. That would be a setback for an evolving education system.

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