An instructional technology specialist outlines the key principles guiding his district’s distance learning efforts in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic

4 tips to deliver distance learning effectively and efficiently

An instructional technology specialist outlines the key principles guiding his district’s distance learning efforts in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic

When everyone in our district received the message that school would be closing, many people’s first reaction was to think we simply had a long spring break. But not us educators – teachers across our district immediately got to work, learning new technologies and adjusting curriculum for our new reality: distance learning.

At the end of the day, we know it’s about the students and their learning comes first – no matter the shape or form it may take.

Related content: Bringing calm to distance learning during a pandemic

While these are certainly unprecedented times and there is no one-size fits all approach to distance learning, I’d like to share my tips for educators and districts when delivering distance learning:

Meet faculty and students where they are

Our district is approaching distance learning technology with educators the same way we look at ensuring students are prepared – the content needs to be relevant for students, and the same is said for our adult learners.

If educators in your district don’t see how the technology will help them, then it will be harder for them to use and embrace. Where possible, provide educators with resources, training, and tangible examples of how they can use the technology tools you’re providing to enhance distance learning.

We’re doing a lot of work in our district to leverage technology throughout the region, but we also recognize that teachers are in different places. One teacher may be overwhelmed and anxious that their middle school counterparts are doing more with technology, but we realize that throwing a ton of digital media at students who aren’t used to it in the classroom won’t benefit the teacher or students.

Focus on the essential standards

Distance learning can be incredibly overwhelming for many teachers, so I’d recommend having them focus on teaching “essential standards.” It’s easy to say students need to know everything, but it’s about boiling learning down to key targets and making sure materials are centered on those essential learnings that we as education community have agreed upon.

The same rule applies to adopting the technology. Comfort levels among teachers can range from using screen casting platforms to creating impromptu lessons on video. Other teachers are taking materials and putting them onto their own preferred platforms, or even communicating with students via Twitter. Remember to start with the basics and let educators go from there based on what they’re comfortable with.

Make use of digital learning spaces to connect with students and parents

We’ve received questions from educators with things such as, “How can I get this information to students?” or “Where should materials go?” That always makes me smile and say, “You all have Schoology available to you as a learning management system.” Schoology is part of PowerSchool’s Unified Classroom, and within it classes are already made–students are often already familiar with the platform, and any tool or assignments educators create are put there. While other districts may be using different LMS platforms, I highly recommend connecting with your district to find out what LMS platforms are available to you.

We have guidance counselors and social workers who need ways to keep a strong connection with target and at-risk students, so they looked at video platforms to have that face-to-face connection. It’s all about letting educators set the pace for themselves and their students, and using technology they’re most comfortable with.

Part of my job is also pulling together resources to help get parents familiar with the LMS environment, too. We have a wide variety of families in our area and we recognize that all students have different at-home experiences. We want to make sure parents are supported throughout this uncharted territory, and leveraging LMS platforms to stay connected is key in the success we’ve seen thus far.

Prioritize feedback over grades

Our superintendent made it clear that students are expected to continue learning for the remainder of the year. But it was also made clear that learning won’t include grading; instead, we will focus on giving feedback. Because we can’t control students’ environment, our district deemed it inadvisable to have any grades associated with this time period and rely instead on a feedback model. Leveraging tools like Schoology that offer formative assessment to create rubrics to identify strengths and areas of improvements can be incredibly beneficial for both students and teachers. Studies have shown that feedback is the most important part of learning, so we’re optimistic students will continue to work hard and learn throughout this time period.

If nothing else, I know that we’re all going to get through this. I hope this provides the opportunity for us all to see that digital learning can be beneficial, and we should be putting some of our professional development into digital learning to better prepare educators for future, unavoidable situations.

Through it all, remember to just keep swimming. It will get better, and educators must remember to take care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally to continue helping our students.

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