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Online Learning in the Time of Coronavirus

How administrators can help teachers and students adapt quickly to online learning

By John Englander

In the days ahead, the hallways of many schools in the U.S. will turn from corridors buzzing with activity, into ghost towns.  The current pandemic is an unprecedented event in our lifetimes. But so is the fact that in 2020, we have the technology to keep our schools running, even amidst 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 can do so in surprisingly effective ways, while maintaining quality standards. Just as importantly, 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.

 

Unfortunately, simply providing the technology and then expecting effective online learning and instruction is not a given.  In fact, without setting clear expectations for both teachers and students, as well as providing them with the necessary training and support, there are no guarantees this whole online thing will go smoothly! Here are a couple quick tips for district administrators who find themselves facing the warp speed jump from face-to-face to online learning.

 

“We’re all in this together!”

First and foremost, administrators need to show leadership in these uncertain times by setting a tone of compassion and commitment. In communications to the district, administrators need to 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.

 

Provide training resources to teachers and students: The resources are out there!

Making sure your teachers and students have access to some basic training right away on the technology platforms your district will be using, can make all the difference.  The companies that developed those tools and systems are your best resources: chances are they have developed lots of great online tutorials and instructions for teachers and students.  So 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, represents a significant departure from most teachers’ current teaching practices and comfort zones. It will be important to provide some training on such topics as: how to best facilitate text-based online discussions; how to employ the right tone and voice for asynchronous learning; and how to build community in an asynchronous environment.  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.

 

Don’t forget about accessibility!

Finally, please pay special attention to students who need extra support. The most popular online learning technologies have come a long way towards 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 their most vulnerable students to make sure they are getting the learning they deserve.

 

In this time of such fear and uncertainty, lots of our teachers and students will have high levels of anxiety around this pandemic. The support we provide them and compassion we show may just be our defining moment as educators.

 

John Englander is the Associate Dean of Humanities at VHS Learning.