What Can We (Should We) Learn From This “Experiment” in Remote Learning

Uncategorized / May 30, 2020

-Tom Whitby, Shawn Thomas, Harvey Alvy-


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Tom Whitby:
Welcome to EdChat Radio. I’m Tom Whitby. Hello, and welcome to this edition of the EdChat Radio Show. Joining my call is Shawn Thomas and I, we have one of our moderators, Harvey Alvy, and we had quite a complicated topic this week, and it deals with a lot of what’s going on in this crisis education we’re dealing with, and the topic was, Are the remote learning practices currently being employed by teachers in schools helping or hurting efforts to harness the power of technology for strengthening learning, and enhancing teaching? That’s a mouthful of words, and to tell you the truth, there was a lot of activity in the chat this week. So Shawn, as usual, I’m going to turn to you to start us off.

Shawn Thomas:
Yeah, I think one of the most important things that was brought up in the chat, I was actually late to the chat, so I didn’t get to see everyone, but I do feel like someone was saying this is not really the time to try to assess whether remote learning practices are really helping or hurting, because this is, as we keep saying, crisis teaching; this is not just us trying to use new technology, and use different tools; we’re just kind of having to do the best we can with what we have. So I think that that was a point that I saw brought up that was good. Harvey, what did you think?

Harvey Alvy:
Well, I think when we look at the scope of the whole situation, and thinking about the question, will this help, or will this hurt, in terms of harnessing technology? It can only help if we learn from what we’re doing right, and from what we’re doing wrong. Then it could help. If on the other hand, we don’t learn from this situation, then it’s going to hurt. So I think as a basic kind of goal for schools, if we’re going to have good PD and all that, we have to learn from the situation. That I think is number one. If we’re under too much pressure and teachers feel they have to get it right the first time, then we’re not going to learn from this situation. So I put a lot of the burden on school leadership, on school principals, on administrators, and IT people to, as Shawn would say, show grace, and help folks to try to get this right. And that includes parents.

One of the great things that was on our chat was people talked about workshops for parents, for example, and helping them also navigate through this situation. And I think another thing that’s kind of new, and I saw this actually with Profit, the University of Georgia, Bettina Love mentioned that since standardized tests are not required by the states during this particular period, that teachers really can depend on their pedagogy. So pedagogy is going to come first, and not preparing for standardized tests. So that also opens up the possibility for the situation.

Tom Whitby:
Well, I don’t necessarily agree with all of that. One of the things that I’ve said right from the beginning of this, for years we talked about blended learning, and how teaching online could enhance what we do in the classroom. And we talked about it for years saying that this will work, it’s a wonderful thing, and it’s great. But that whole premise depended on everybody being trained to do that, and onboard to do that. You can be trained to do something, but if you don’t believe in it, it’s just not going to work. And now what we have done is we’ve taken that idea of remote teaching, and remote learning, and we’ve thrown everybody into the deep end of the pool with it, but we didn’t take the time to train anybody.

The professional development that we’ve been working on for centuries now, doesn’t work as true professional development. It hasn’t worked successfully for 200 years. It’s the one thing teachers across the board agree on. They’re never satisfied with the professional development that they get. But, to get back to my original point, we’ve thrown all of the teachers and students and parents, without proper training into this dynamic, and now we’re going to look at it and say, “Oh, this works well,” or, “Oh, this doesn’t work well.” The answer is going to be obvious, it’s not working as well as it could be if everybody was trained and onboard, and the culture supported what we were doing.

Shawn Thomas:
My district, we have, or at least my cluster, we have had this in place. So what I’m finding more that it’s just the amount of work, people are having a hard time finding the right balance, because when it’s just a one day a week for homework, or if it’s just every once in a while doing this, but I’m finding people are not really understanding how much balance they need to assign students. And then also taking into consideration, if you have multiple families with one or two devices, making sure everyone has an opportunity to get on. And something else Harvey had mentioned about the parents, and I really wish we could do something to survey parents and say, “Okay, we’re five weeks in. What changes do you see that we need to make?” Because I feel like if parents actually could say it’s too much, which is what I’m always preaching to my teachers, then I feel like then perhaps they would say, “Okay, let’s back off a little bit.”

Tom Whitby:
And to too many teachers, more work means more learning, and that’s not true. That’s something that people buy into, and I don’t understand why. Just because you’re giving kids worksheets, and I don’t agree with worksheets to begin with, but by giving them more worksheets, doesn’t mean that they’re learning more. It doesn’t work that way. If anything comes out of this, one of the things that should come out of it is that we have to change our model of professional development. Not everybody knows what it is they don’t know. So I think we’re going to have to guide more and more people to be trained, and more knowledgeable, and more comfortable with technology, so we can have remote learning, and remote teaching. I don’t see it going away, to tell you the truth. It’s got to get better.

Harvey Alvy:
I think your point’s correct on that. And then regarding the PD, the professional development, certainly it has to be differentiated. There were some who are comfortable and familiar with what’s going on. And the other thing that has to happen is the cadre of new teachers coming up, certainly more needs to be done in terms of remote learning.

Tom Whitby:
And we’ve discussed this before, too. Those teachers are still being trained to be classroom teachers. And we’ve got to change the way colleges are approaching their teacher preparation courses, so that they’re teaching more technology for remote teaching, and more leadership. We need more leaders in education, but when we come back from this coronavirus, we’re going to have to think about social distancing in classes, possibly A days and B days, maybe we can do remote learning every other day, just to keep class sizes down. Things like that are going to have to be discussed and looked at. There are other possibilities than cramming 35 to 40 kids into a classroom, and standing up in front of them, giving a lecture, or using direct instruction. There are other ways that learning can take place. And these are the things that we have to look at. We’ve got to consider that. But we’re losing time here. So we’re going to have to go to some final statements. Harvey, let’s start off with you.

Harvey Alvy:
Well, I’m weighing everything that we’re saying today, and this is pretty heavy stuff. This is a very tragic period because of what’s going on. But I do hope that one of the things that will come out of it is that the schools of education regarding the training of teachers, and regarding the training of administrators, that we do do a better job for the online world. But I would also add that we have to be careful because there’ll be companies out there, there’ll be vendors out there that’ll say, “Everything should be remote learning now.” And educators have a tendency to go for fads, and there’ll be some material that’s not going to be in the best interest of students.

Shawn Thomas:
This is an opportunity for us to learn what’s working, to find out from parents what worked and what didn’t, so that going forward, we can know the kind of PD we need to have. We can know how we need to train students from the very beginning of the year in all the technology tools that we’re going to use. So if something like this were to happen again, we would all be a little bit more prepared.

Tom Whitby:
Well, in times of crisis, light is shined on many of the good aspects, and the bad aspects of things. We learned through this crisis that we have huge gaps in infrastructure. We have huge gaps in the way teachers are trained, professional development. We’ve got huge gaps in the ability for students to even access the internet. On the other hand, there’s a light being shined on how teachers are now looking at social and emotional learning, and trying to deal with helping their students through all of this, and the sacrifices that they’re making that go that extra mile to make everybody comfortable and feel safe. So that being said, I’d like to thank both Shawn Thomas and Harvey Alvy for joining me here on the EdChat Radio Show. And I’d like to thank BAM Radio Network for supporting us. Once again, remember that EdChat takes place every Tuesday at 7:00 PM. So please join us in the chat, and then follow up by listening to the EdChat radio show right here on the BAM Radio.

Join us as we discuss the ideas in the article with educators around the global at the Second Wave Summit | 2020

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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