In the days ahead, the hallways of many schools in the U.S. will turn from corridors buzzing with activity into ghost towns due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even amid the forced isolation and social distancing in our communities, online instruction can not only bridge the gap until schools are back up and running, but also can do so in effective ways, while maintaining quality standards. Just as important, we can use online technology to help maintain a sense of community among teachers and students—something we will all need during these unsettling times.
Simply providing the technology and then expecting effective online learning and instruction is not a given. Without setting clear expectations for both teachers and students, as well as providing them with the necessary training and support, there are no guarantees that taking classes online will go smoothly. Here are a few quick tips for district administrators who are facing the warp-speed jump from face-to-face to online learning.
We’re all in this together
First, administrators need to show leadership by setting a tone of compassion and commitment. In communications to the district, administrators should ask for patience and flexibility as everyone navigates these uncharted waters together. Even in the best of situations, challenges are inevitable when switching over to an entirely new delivery model. This is not the time for students, teachers and parents to be rigid or demanding. What we need now is a sense of camaraderie and teamwork.
Providing training as soon as possible and setting up just-in-time support as teachers and students get up to speed are crucial strategies for success.
Provide training resources to teachers and students
Making sure your teachers and students have access to some basic training right away on the technology platforms your district will be using. This can make all the difference. The companies that developed those tools and systems are your best resources. Chances are they have developed great online tutorials and instructions for teachers and students. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel; use what’s out there.
Do you have teachers in your district who already have experience and proficiency using the technology tools? Why not host live online sessions and let those teachers share their best practices with their peers.
Will you be transitioning to synchronous or asynchronous online learning? The distinction is crucial as these are two very different delivery models. Both require training, but synchronous video sessions are similar to traditional face-to-face instruction, whereas asynchronous learning is a departure from most teachers’ current teaching practices and comfort zones. It will be important to provide training on topics such as: how to best facilitate text-based online discussions; and how to employ the right tone and voice as well as build community in an asynchronous environment (if that is the model you select).
Don’t be intimidated: A few small tips can go a long way. And assuming you have set a tone of “we’re all in this together,” there will be some tolerance on everyone’s part to give it some time.
Regardless of the model, providing training as soon as possible and setting up just-in-time support as teachers and students get up to speed are crucial strategies for success.
Finally, in addition to connectivity and bandwidth considerations, pay special attention to students who need extra support. The most popular online learning technologies have come a long way toward providing functionality to address the needs of students who are hard of hearing or have visual or other impairments, but it will be especially important for administrators to reach out to ensure that their most vulnerable students are supported.
In this time of uncertainty, many teachers and students will have higher levels of anxiety. The more support we provide and compassion we show may just be our defining moment as educators.
John Englander is the associate dean of humanities at VHS Learning.