Distance Learning in General
A school in the DoO has a camera for Skype. A student with a medical condition participates in some class discussion and group projects, as well as observes some lessons, via Skype from home. Letting one student participate in class from a remote location is as simple and straight forward as it gets. Now think about no kids in the classroom. They are all connecting with you and each other via video, audio, and screen shares, some recorded and some live. They are chatting in various media. They are sharing documents and completing assignments. It sounds difficult to control, and that's because it is. You don't have control over their home device settings and abilities. Even the distance learning apps won't have all the control features you desire. And yet, somehow, there is beauty and a possibility of improved productivity in the midst of this chaos. Design your lessons / assignments to be more open ended. You are not sure who will have their book or access to other material. Let the students be more creative, manage their time, and work and share ideas together in ways that show individual ownership and group synergy at the same time. When it comes to formal practice, a new form of trust will emerge between students and teacher. It truly lies with the students to practice honesty and integrity, and their future depends on it. Perhaps these are real life skills that need to be experienced at a younger age.
What will the future of education look like? High schools and colleges have embraced distance learning and hybrid variations for over a decade. I signed up for a distance track for my Master of Science in curriculum and education. I was able to travel and live in different countries, and I never missed a beat. And I got my degree in less than a year. Florida Virtual and its county subsidiaries already push down into middle and elementary grades. Schools should expect this trend to continue.
Advantages of distance learning:
- saving travel time to and from the school
- saving money on a classroom and utility bills (possibly)
- allowing the student to stay safe and sanitized in their home
- allowing a better school / life balance for students (possibly)
- allowing those who cannot travel to learn
- opportunities to digitally meet students from diverse backgrounds
- students may have more time to complete classwork and study
- there may be greater transparency of unit and lesson plans, assignments, grades, and due dates
- Classroom discussions in the form of chats and projects are already in a digital form.
- Other online tools may collect instant analytics about your class and whether or not they understood a lesson.
Depending on the school or class setup, those advantages may or may not apply to the teacher or school. The teacher may have to teach at nontraditional times. The school may require the teacher to live teach from the classroom. The school may not have planned for distance learning and still pays for classrooms and AC, and the classroom just goes unused.
Challenges of distance learning:
- The teacher has to set up a virtual classroom environment that is conducive to education
- Students still have to think and complete assignments without a strict schedule and meeting room
- Students lack physical and social interaction with other students in a traditional class environment
- Structure and organization for the teacher and students can be challenging in different ways
- Quality of instruction and focus from the student are additional concerns.
- Instruction is different for the teacher. More prep and planning are required. Clarity of instructions is even more important than in a traditional classroom.
- There may be less excitement about a lesson. How can a teacher express excitement about a lesson? How can a teacher read student reactions to a lesson?
- Hands on projects require an understanding of what is available to all students.
The changes are most drastic with younger students. Hence why this change came from college to high school to primary school. With younger kids, sometimes the entire curriculum is a self guided online program the child works through in an easy to navigate environment. But then what is the role of the teacher? A coach? A referee? A tutor? They have reduced requirements to make lessons and grade work. Is the teacher responsible for more students? The role may focus on ensuring students have computer and internet access, parental support, and maintaining a website of 24/7 accessible resources.
Distance Learning Tools
- Google Distance Learning Tools beyond Classroom
CPALMS Student Tutorials (takes a while to load)
Cisco Webex, Skype, Google Meet, Zoom
These programs allow participants to share live video and sometimes screen captures and chat. Controls are usually sub par, as these are not specifically designed for a single presenter with a quiet audience. However, that is sometimes possible. Many of these programs will record the session and leave it available to others after the meeting.
An alternative would be recording your own video, editing it, then uploading it somewhere for student access. That will allow you more control over your session, but it does not allow for live feedback and discussion from participants. Also, editing can eat up a lot of time.