When the pandemic first started and we were hunkered down at home, my tennis lessons were cancelled. My coach asked if I wanted to purchase a license for a virtual tennis site where I could watch videos to learn from instructors and practice drills on my own at home. It sounded like a good idea, so I decided to pay for a subscription. It started off well, but after a few lessons, my enthusiasm waned. It wasn’t the same as taking an actual lesson which I looked forward to every week. It was boring, and I had no feedback about whether I was doing the drill correctly. So I stopped watching those videos.
Due to the pandemic, many students in our country are starting the school year off doing virtual learning. What will it take to ensure that students are meaningfully engaged in their lessons and that they will make steady progress towards their learning goals? What will we do for those students who need extra assistance? How can technology be leveraged to individualize learning while ensuring that students are meeting the required goals? There’s a lot to think about.
My virtual tennis lessons could be compared to some of the programs that schools have purchased for students to do at home during this pandemic. There might be a pre-assessment and students are then provided with assignments that are supposed to be what they need in order to achieve the grade level standards. It sounds easy to implement if students are motivated and need minimal adult supervision, but from experience, this is often not the case. Usage at home was spotty or varied greatly from classroom to classroom. It was difficult to gauge the effectiveness of an on-line program when students were not engaged in the lessons. As a principal, I received lots of sales pitches from representatives promising positive results if we purchased their programs, and earlier this year, I wrote a blog, Ed Tech Challenges, I believe it is appropriate today as schools scramble to implement virtual learning.
Here are some questions schools need to think about if they choose to purchase a program for virtual learning. Will there be a positive and trusting relationship between the teacher and students? Will the students feel comfortable asking questions if they don’t understand? How do students reflect on their progress and how does the teacher provide feedback to keep students moving forward in their learning goals? How does the teacher supplement these lessons to individualize the learning experiences for students? Does the teacher allow students choice in activities to keep them engaged in their own learning? Are there other options for students to learn the content besides the on-line program? Is the teacher allowed to deviate from the program and make decisions regarding what is best for students?
I am optimistic. Many teachers are reaching out to others in their own schools as well as through social media to share ideas and to help each other to overcome obstacles with content as well as technology. Many teachers and schools are designing their own virtual learning lessons rather than relying on an on-line learning program. Virtual school allows teachers to learn from each other and to share strategies that focus on what’s best for their learners. Building relationships is still essential if we want our students to achieve their goals, and teachers can do this in a virtual environment just as they would in a face-to-face classroom. Teaching virtually is definitely challenging, but there are resources from educators who are willing to share their experiences and to problem-solve together.
Some educators have been preparing for the possibility of virtual learning since schools closed in March. They have been working with their school teams throughout the summer to implement activities and projects that give students more ownership over their own learning. I was blown away by this Tweet from one of my educator friends:
And here’s a Facebook post from a principal that made me want to tear up as well:
Clearly, some of our schools are doing quality virtual learning with their students. Let’s learn from them!