Why the Two Most Important Online Teaching Skills Today Are Grace and Choice

Lead Features April 20 / April 30, 2020

 – Carl Hooker with Michele Eaton –

As schools around the world scrambled to make a rapid transition to online learning, a highly respected education technologist is telling teachers to think twice about all the free new technology offers. Instead, she is encouraging educators to focus on the social and emotional needs of students and each other. Listen to the 11-minute discussion or read the transcript below.

 

Guest:

Michele Eaton is the director of virtual and blended learning for the MSD of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, Indiana. She focuses on staff and course development for Achieve Virtual Education Academy and the district’s various blended initiatives and programs, from elementary to adult education. Eaton is a Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) and 2016 Next Generation Leader, 2018 EdWeek Leader to Learn From, president-elect of the ISTE Online Learning Network, conference chair for Indiana Connected Educators (an ISTE affiliate), member of the EdTech Heroes and moderator for the #INeLearn chat.

 

Transcript

Carl Hooker:

Online learning is not a new thing, and it hasn’t been for several, several years; however, I think with recent events, we’ve now found it kind of thrust upon us in many ways. And today, I’m excited to have a guest who knows a little bit about online learning as you’ll find out in just a minute. Her book is The Perfect Blend: A Practical Guide to Designing Student-Centered Learning Experiences. This is Michele Eaton, everybody. Say hello, Michele.

Michele Eaton:

Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me.

Carl Hooker:

I imagine with a title like Director of Virtual and Blended Learning, that’s right in your wheelhouse for what everything that’s happening now, but I imagine you are probably getting pulled in multiple directions at this very moment.

Michele Eaton:

You know I’m healthy, and so I can’t complain. It’s been great to be able to help my districts during a time like this, so it’s meaningful work, but yes, very busy.

Carl Hooker:

Of course, your book is awesome and right in line with everything we’re talking about. Now, obviously you’re talking more of a blended approach which would have some sort of physical involvement, which we don’t have right now in a lot of our schools. So let’s start there though, how would you define blended learning first of all?

Michele Eaton:

I think simply blended learning is any combination of online instruction and traditional face-to-face instruction, and that being kind of a vague definition. I like to think about it on a spectrum, where on one end of the spectrum you have mostly online learning with just a little bit of that traditional face-to-face instruction, and then the other side would be a pretty traditional setting with leveraging online learning in smaller ways to make changes in your classroom. So anywhere on that spectrum you can find blended learning, it’s really just about using technology, not just as an all-class activity but as a way to deliver instruction and assessment that changes the way that teaching and learning looks in the classroom.

Carl Hooker:

And this is something that you can’t happen overnight, although we’re now kind of thrust into this. So with thousands of districts shifting to strictly online across the country, what would be maybe a couple of quick tips you could give like a teacher that, so like here locally in Austin, we’ve had a few schools just yesterday started trying this with their students. What would be a couple tips you’d maybe give some teachers like trying to figure this out, let’s say by Monday? Like, “Okay, what am I going to do? How am I going to do this?” Just a couple of things for those teachers out there listening.

Michele Eaton:

Right, that is the challenge, the 48 hours to go from nothing to completely remote learning. For us, when we were ramping up, so we’ve done one week of completely remote learning in our district. And for us, I think some of the big things that I’ve just been repeating is one, first and foremost, this is a completely different kind of experience. This is not an online learning day that you’ve planned because of inclement weather, this is a pandemic, and so there’s so much stress and anxiety on top of having to learn this new thing, but I think the best thing you can do is to give yourself a little bit of grace and your students and to understand that this is completely unprecedented. Then when as you’re designing, the other thing that I’ve found is over the last few weeks we’ve all received an email from every company, website, organization we’ve ever even thought about, about how they’re handling it.

Carl Hooker:

It’s all free. It’s all free all of a sudden, right?

Michele Eaton:

Right.

Carl Hooker:

Yeah, lots of free apps, lot of great tools, usually I’ll see this.

Michele Eaton:

It’s one of the most overwhelming things I’ve experienced; it’s so wonderful that all of these organizations are wanting to help teachers and students during this time, but now is probably not the time to introduce something brand new. The thing I think that you can do that’s best for you and for your students is to try to stick to those few things that you were already using with them. We often get stuck in this trap of referring to our students as digital natives, and then just naively assuming that because our kids live in digital world that they’re going to be really great at using technology for learning, and they have to learn it just like we do. So just to limit it to those tools that you’re most familiar with, I think that’s generally best practice anyway when you’re designing online. When I’m working inside of a learning management system, I’m going to leverage as much the functionality of that LMS. Even if there’s like a flashy or cooler tool out there that I could direct students to, the simpler I can keep it the more centralized I can keep the learning with fewer clicks to get away generally is best. And so I think that’s probably the biggest thing, is to give yourself a little grace, leverage the things that you already know how to do, don’t introduce too many new things. And then I guess finally just remember that learning is social even if that learning happens remotely. So one of the best things you can do as you’re designing is to intentionally design experiences for us to connect, especially during this time where most of us are stuck in our homes and isolated from other people. If you can create those web conference, virtual meeting rooms or if you can create opportunities for students to engage with each other on the Flipgrid or on a Padlet or whatever tool it is that you’re using, making sure that this isn’t just this passive experience of taking in information and then taking a quiz or finishing some sort of assessment that there are opportunities for communication, for connection and sometimes it doesn’t even have to be academic.

Carl Hooker:

I love that, that is true, and I think the social part of that is something that gets left behind in a lot of this. We talk a lot about content, retrieval and how do we get things out to kids and get stuff back, but that social part it’s affecting them, it’s affecting all of us. I’m thinking like it’s Friday here when we’re recording this, and actually, I’m going to tonight for the first time ever take part in a virtual happy hour, which I don’t even know what that means. But I guess we’re going to sit around and look at each other on camera and have conversation. But there’s a lot of this taking place, we’re all redefining what it means to be social, and I think you mentioned also in your book this idea of pace, path, time, and place. I want to focus specifically on pace because I haven’t heard anyone else mention this. I’ve heard a lot of like, “Oh here’s some tools, do this, retrieve this,” and I’ve heard some of the SEL and the social part of that, but the pacing is interesting like districts are taking it different ways. Like some are saying every day is going to be just a repeat of what the regular day was, except now it’s virtual, and others are saying, “No, we’re going to give you kind of a weeklong project.” So talk to me specifically about pace, and what’s your advice for districts that are trying to figure that out when it comes to delivering this quickly?

Michele Eaton:

Well, I don’t think that there’s necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer for this. I do when I’m designing online; I really struggle to think about it in terms of this is day one’s learning. We tend to actually, what we imagine is one hour of learning online ends up probably being taking longer for our students than we imagine what we’re designing. So that’s something to keep in mind as you are designing as you were setting guidelines for teachers, that happens really easily. But more importantly, I think one of the biggest benefits of online learning, whether you’re using it in your traditional classroom and when we give back to our physical buildings again or now, is that we have the opportunity to help make sure that all of our students are reaching mastery of the material that we’re giving them because we’re no longer held to these arbitrary times, class periods that you can create learning that students can move through at their own pace and not move on to the next activity until they’ve demonstrated competency, and that’s really, really powerful when we can adjust pace and give our students the flexibility to learn at a speed and at a pace that works for them. Then we’re no longer creating these holes or gaps and their understanding, which when we design a teacher-paced lesson, we can do the best that we can differentiating and providing remediation but ultimately some of our kids get left behind, and they move on to the next lesson. And some subjects like math, for instance, when we create those gaps in mastering and competency it makes it even more difficult to understand the next lesson that we’re doing. And so this is a great opportunity to throw that seat time idea out of the window and really focus on skills and the content we need students to learn and help them learn that at whatever pace it takes for them to get there.

Carl Hooker:

And I think this leads right into a lot of your second chapter, which is about student agency, and I think that is something that we struggle within schools anyway. But I feel like in an online environment that’s even more important like how do you… So tell me about the role of student agency and what does that look like in a remote learning situation like we have now?

Michele Eaton:

Right, so when I think about student agency, really it’s thinking about student voice and choice. So having them have some autonomy in the learning that happens. And you’re right. I think especially important online, we can fall into the trap more designing online of making this an even more rigid experience than a traditional classroom. If we’re all going to watch the same video and then we’re all going to complete the same assessment and whether you ace that quiz or completely fail it, we’re all going to move on to the next lesson. So we have to work design intentionally to make sure that we’re creating those opportunities for students to actively engage in their learning. One of the easier steps is to incorporate choice, to think about ways that we can give students just a little bit of control over how they learn material or how they demonstrate mastery. And so instead of what I’m designing, a simple thing that I’ll do is instead of just saying we’re all going to watch this one video, I might provide three different resources. And I try to make sure that they’re different mediums. So like I’ll show a video and then maybe have a tech space resource and then maybe something interactive, and have the students select two to explore and then to move on to the assessment.

Carl Hooker:

Now more than ever, definitely schools should be definitely thinking about all the things you mentioned Michele, the agency, the pace, how we’re doing online instruction. And I would encourage all of you out there that are listening to check out Michele’s book The Perfect Blend: A Practical Guide to Designing Student-Centered Learning Experience. And I will say, we don’t know what the future holds but I do think a lot of what you’ve captured in this book will have an application to whatever our new future looks like in schools. And I think there’s going to have to be the discussion of blended or online in some capacity. So Michele, thank you so much for joining me today.






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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