Imagine yourself sitting on a beautiful beach in the Philippines, enjoying a relaxing week off from school when your phone buzzes with messages. Your flight back to China has been cancelled. Your school is closed. You need to be ready to support teachers thousands of miles away who must start “home-based learning” on Monday.
That’s what happened to me, and as much as I wanted to chuck my phone into the ocean and go back to my coconut drink and my Michael Connelly novel, I knew I needed to get to work. The coronavirus had caught us by surprise and as a technology coach I knew I needed to work with our administrators, teachers, and learning support team to figure out a way to use the digital tools we had at our disposal to piece together an experience that would enable us to keep students connecting and learning from home.
That was over a month ago. My school, based in Shanghai, China, still does not have a set date as to when campus instruction will resume. But as our home-based learning program has gone through numerous changes, tweaks, and modifications, we’ve effectively “built a plane in the air” and have learned quite a bit.
As many American technology coaches now find themselves in the same position I was a month ago, I encourage you to consider the following as you create your own home-based learning program and build your own airplane mid-flight:
1. “You must put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” – You are no good to your students if you do not take care of yourself first. This is a stressful time. In our situation, we have teachers all over the world staying at hotels, bunking with friends or family, and responsible for providing home school for their own children as well as preparing lessons for home-based learning. You need to self-advocate for your own care and know your limits. Reach out to your team when you are overwhelmed and work together to share the load. If you are an administrator, make sure you ask your teachers about their situation and ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable.
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2. “Anticipate delays and turbulence”– Initially we tried to make home-based learning match the daily school schedule and quickly learned that students were spending up to 12 hours a day working on assignments. Not all students were submitting work on time. Many assignments were missed. I encourage you to keep the larger learning goal in mind. Focus on the overall learning goals instead of daily work. Understand that this is a stressful time for students too. Be reasonable with your expectations, and flexible with your deadlines. Maslow before Bloom.
3. “Stow your portable electronic devices when appropriate” – About three weeks in, we started hearing concern from parents over the amount time their children were spending in front of a screen. We encourage our teachers to provide activities or projects students can work on offline. Think about things your students can make or write away from the computer, then allow them to submit photos or video of their work for review and assessment.
4. “You are not alone” – The home-based learning journey can be a lonely one. Students stuck at home need to connect with their teacher and with each other. Use a tool like Zoom to provide virtual office hours so you can check in and see how they are doing, answer questions. Let your students see your face. Let them know you miss them and remind them that you care.
Preparing for your journey
I know this is a trip that none of us want to take, but now we can look back and see things we WISH we had done. Hindsight is always 20/20. If I could go back six months and talk to my past self, this is the advice I would give teachers:
5. Learn how to make video! – Teachers who understand how to “flip” their classroom are much more prepared to work in a virtual school environment. A key part of that is making short, succinct videos that address your teaching concepts. Those could be as simple as you in front of your webcam and a whiteboard talking to your class or it could be a screencast of what you want to show. With a tool like ScreenCastOMatic, you can record your screen and have a little window with your face in it for kids to see. Videos should be short–no more than 4-7 minutes. If you have multiple teaching points, make multiple videos.
6. Learn how to export and compress your video – One of our big issues early on was BIG videos. We had teachers record a 7 minute teaching video on their iPad and try to upload it for sharing. The problem was, that iPad video was set to 4K as default and the resulting video was almost a Gigabyte in size. For sharing videos online, export in the lowest resolution or compress your video using a free online tool like HandBrake.
7. Learn how to use the tools you already have – At our school we have several online platforms like SeeSaw and Canvas, but many teachers were not aware of, or didn’t use, many of the interactive features and tools. Training and practice using discussion boards, conferences, and multimedia tools will better prepare teachers for online learning.
Tools for creating online learning environments
We have also discovered that many teachers were unaware of the online content and media resources we have available to them and their students. Resources like BrainPop and Discovery Education are valuable travel companions on this journey into online learning. Even if your school is not a subscriber, these and numerous other online services have been made available for schools closed due to COVID-19. See the short list of tools below, and check online for more.
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