Essential Tech Support for Teachers Switching to Online Learning Overnight

Editors Features March 20 / March 29, 2020

— Jon Harper —

With schools being shut down all over the world, many teachers have had to transition to online instruction. And while the technology available is very exciting and powerful, it can also be frustrating. Today on Teacher’s Aid, I’m joined by Debbie Atwater, the Director of Digital Learning and Library Services for Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, and Kyle Hamstra, a STEM teacher at Davis Drive Elementary. Debbie and Kyle, thanks so much for joining me today on Teacher’s Aid.

Jon Harper:

Kyle, some teachers have never used the apps, platforms and websites that they are now required to use. This can be nerve-wracking. How should teachers approach this brand new adventure?

Kyle Hamstra:

One word in your question was required. I think it’s really important for all educators really to seek guidance from their district leaders, and their technology leaders to see what’s required, or what’s expected, or what’s being provided first as for instruction or supplemental and then go from there. I think we really need to focus on the learning first and then that will inform the kinds of tools that we use.

Jon Harper:

Okay. Debbie, now you’re in charge, basically, of technology for a whole district. What do you think about what Kyle said? And do you have any other suggestions?

Debbie Atwater:

Well, I do agree with Kyle. I think that the learning does come first. The content that you would normally teach needs to come first. I do believe, however, that you also have to start with what you already know and what you already use. For example, if you are somebody that uses a platform like a SISA or Google Classroom or looking at Clip Grid, those are the kinds of things you want to start with as you have assessment tools possibly like I-Ready, or whatever it would be. You are using what you already know.

You don’t start with something you don’t [know], if possible. But you do want to think about your learning goals first, and then figure out how the technology is going to support those. So what we’re doing in our district is looking at our priority standards, and starting from there as we’re trying to develop some planning templates for our teachers. We also have to think about our younger students and our older students. So they’re going to need different platforms and so forth. Some of them are going to need more paper-based.

Debbie Atwater:

Also, for our older students, we do want to have technology, but we also want to encourage teachers to be able to have a blended model. So even though technology is being used to connect with the students, to be able to push assignments to students, if we also want to make sure that we blend that as much as possible with offline opportunities as well. We have packets that we have started out with, and with our elementary students, and then we’re using the same platforms they’re used to using at the secondary level.

Jon Harper:

No, I mean that makes sense because some districts, there’s kids, they have a lot of kids who aren’t even on wifi. And some districts might not even have a tech coordinator, they might not have your position, or as many people working in that department. Some of it is paper and some of it is online. What are some tech issues that you anticipate teachers having, and how do you suggest they get through them?

Debbie Atwater:

Well, I think first of all, you are, and we’re in a situation now where we have to help teachers transition to an offline to an online-only environment. So our first tech issues are really helping our teachers with professional learning and providing resources for them to make that transition. And even if they use anything technology-based, they have to figure out how to do so in an environment where they need to connect to their students quite easily. So if they are using the technology as far as Google Classroom or Canvas or any other learning management system, you’re sitting here thinking, “Okay, how do I make sure I still have that connection with my students,” and then, of course, then how do I work on making sure they receive the content that they need in order to continue their learning.

Jon Harper:

And Kyle, how about you? What are some tech issues that maybe you’ve had, or you anticipate having as you go through the next couple of weeks?

Kyle Hamstra:

Well, even in just trying to connect with you on this call, I had problems. And I’m a self-proclaimed ed tech enthusiast, and I really thought I could do this very quickly and easily. And it turns out there was a challenge really in just connecting. I think part of it is because we have so many different devices, different resources, or maybe even no devices or no resources. And so it can be a challenge just to connect in the first place. I love how Debbie said connection. For me, that’s what this is all about. Distance learning includes the entire learning experience, which includes your social-emotional learning. It includes offline activities like Debbie was talking about.

Kyle Hamstra:

This is making all of the learning experience challenges in the comprehensive learning experience very transparent. It’s very interesting to watch it unfold on social media where distance-learning or remote-learning does not just mean sitting in front of a screen for eight hours a day. That’s one piece of a much larger learning experience puzzle to me.

Debbie Atwater:

And I’d like to add to this, the basic tech issues are trying to figure out if we can get technology into students’ hands. We can’t take advantage of the fact that students have a device or they have internet access.

Jon Harper:

Right.

Debbie Atwater:

So we’re working towards trying to figure out what we have and what we can supply to our students. So, for example, we are fortunate enough in my district, we have a secondary one-to-one program at middle and high school. We don’t have that at elementary. All of our teachers are required to connect to their students. They were supposed to do that this last week. So every single student has gotten a phone call. They’re having conversations with the parents and asking questions around do you have access to a computer? Do you have access to reliable internet?

 

And then we’re actually collecting all of that data, and determining how many we actually need to provide for. So how many computers do we need? Who needs to have internet? And then we’re trying to figure out what to do with that piece. So our first tech issue really is making sure all kids have access. And how are we going to make that all happen is where we are now in our planning. So we’re talking about getting drive-through, going through a drive-through process for parents who have identified that they need, they’ll be contacted. We’ll designate days where they can pick up a device, and then we’re hoping to be able to also provide hotspots.

Debbie Atwater:

We have a hotspot program, internet hotspot program already in our secondary, for those that need, we’re going to have to expand it for elementary as well. So funding and all of that is also having to be considered as far as what that looks like. It’s not possible everywhere. So I know some districts that are working on putting buses with hotspots into neighborhoods. They’re also, I mean we’re tearing apart, those that have or fortunate enough to have computer cards and iPad cards. They’re taking those apart and trying to create packages for students that need that.

 

So it’s really, a lot about connectivity and access and then we have, of course, they can get to the instructional pieces. When we actually have everybody connected, now it’s a matter of everybody learning how to use the software and use the applications to stay connected to their teachers, and the teachers to their students. So I feel like a simple phone call is possible, when you just need to make sure that you are connecting. So I think the expectations from administrators and from districts where teachers are expected to make sure they make that connection at least once a week with their students. Whether that’s a simple phone call, whether that’s on the online platforms, it’s really important to make sure the kids know that you are still there for them, even if you are at a distance.

Jon Harper:

No, I mean that’s a great point. And getting those computers in the hands of your elementary students, I think that’s going to make a big difference. And so I think there’s going to come a time where maybe sometime during the next few weeks, or maybe during the next few months, when teachers just throw up their hands. Maybe it’s a connectivity issue. Maybe one of the kids doesn’t have a laptop. They’ve lost their laptop. The teachers are just getting ready to lose it and they say, “Just enough, enough of this right now, I want to get back in the building.”

 

But they can’t. They’ve still got to do this via tech. What do you to tell them? Kyle, I want to start with you. What do you tell the teachers then? I mean, because they’ve had it. They’ve been doing this for weeks or maybe a month or two. I hope not. But maybe. What would you tell a teacher?

Kyle Hamstra:

Wow, Jon. I would say balance your work and your life in general. But I’m partially going to disagree with your question because I don’t believe that time will come. Educators have such heart, and they’re problem solvers, and they’re dedicated, and they’re in this for the learners. They love students. Look at what’s already happened. Look how many ways teachers have adapted to solve problems. It gives me such great hope moving forward.

Jon Harper:

That’s a good point. Okay, so I’m going to turn it a little bit then Debbie to you. Because I agree with Kyle. Teachers are amazing. But this is Teacher’s Aid and I’m looking out for the teachers, and there’s going to come a point where they’re going to be frustrated and then this is where you come in Debbie. I mean what can you do to help teachers feel better? What are you doing to help teachers feel better and to get through these tough times?

Debbie Atwater:

Well, on top of our professional learning that we’re trying to pull together sessions for teachers to be able to connect to. So we’re going to have Google Meets where we have different topics that our instructional technology team is going to be offering as well as other teachers in our district. We are working on also just establishing the fact that we need to give each other grace, and we cannot expect teachers to replicate the six to seven hours they have with their students in the classroom, equaling six to seven hours in an online environment.

We’re used to having transition times, right, between lessons, between classes. And so we have to actually like go back a little bit and realize, okay, maybe my 45-minute lesson needs to actually be 20 minutes instead. Right. And trying to understand that it’s not going to be a one for one type of an experience. Maybe your due dates are a little more loose, you’re not expecting everything at the end of the week or if you are, you let people just give their assignments to you as they can, because some kids don’t have the parental supports right there that they need or they are trying to whether they’re doing so independently or whether they only have certain hours they can do so.

Debbie Atwater:

So we just have to give each other grace. Our district also is working on making sure our families see that the teachers too, I mean you don’t know what the teacher’s home situation is right now. Somebody may be sick.

Jon Harper:

True.

Debbie Atwater:

Somebody may also have connectivity issues. That’s something else we’re dealing with is we’re realizing some teachers don’t have internet at home that’s stable and able to handle this kind of learning.

Jon Harper:

Right.

Debbie Atwater:

So we have to just give each other some grace and allow that to happen, and not try to do a one for one kind of situation where what I would do in a traditional classroom is exactly I need to do in the online. That’s not feasible, and I think you have to take care of yourself and realize that your mental wellbeing if you’re strong there, you’re going to be able be stronger as a teacher.

Jon Harper:

That’s it right there. I think the grace and taking care of yourself as a teacher. Debbie and Kyle, thanks so much for coming on Teacher’s Aid.

 

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Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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