This week my school decided to transition to online-only education for at least a week following our Spring Break, which is this week. I am sure that many of you are in the same situation. Because of the rapid nature of this transition due to societal events, there is a lot of angst over what this could/should look like in our schools.
As the events of this week unfolded, I started keeping a mental list of basic premises that might apply to this transition for schools of all types and grade levels. These are general considerations and not tools reviews or instructional how-tos. Rather, I hope this list is helpful as a thought provoker as you begin this process.
Here are some of these basic premises:
- We must all be thinking about what is the most important content is to prepare our students for the future. In other words, some academic triage should take place. In my view, if everyone tries to simply place all their regular content in an online format. Students could quickly become overwhelmed and hate the learning process. What is needed to prepare students for the rest of the year, next year, etc? This makes sense not only from a research perspective but also from the practical experiences of our friends in Asia who have been conducting online learning for nearly two months.
- Think deeply about how we can be building community with our students and families and continue to minister to them in extraordinary times. That includes strategizing to use audio and video tools to our advantage.
- Attempt, as much as possible, to keep in mind the end-user and their experience, recognizing that the experiences of our students will be varied. Some parents who work in health care professions might be working long hours and overwhelmed, adding stress to the family. Some students might be burdened with practical worries, such as watching siblings. Some might struggle with the amount of unstructured time on their hands. And some may not have the personal technology or home infrastructure to allow them to be successful in the next several weeks.
- Emphasize communication from both students and parents. What’s working? What isn’t? While planning is important, so will be nimbleness. Striking a balance will be a challenge.
- Start with a slow and measured pace. If all teachers embrace this process furiously then students will become overwhelmed quickly. Applicable educational research in addition to the practical experiences from our education friends in Asia that have already been embracing online-only education show that it is easy to move too quickly in our quest to do this well. Slow down! Go through the educational triage process suggested above? Elicit substantive feedback from your students about what is happening and how they are feeling. Adjust as appropriate, perhaps pushing a bit faster at some point or slowing down significantly if necessary.
- Plan for illness, not only for students but also for you or staff members. How will you carry on if someone ended up sick enough not to be able to proceed for a while?
- Think through how we might be able to encourage students to get away from the computer at times since they potentially could be spending a lot more time in front of technology.
- The teaching staff should all be committed to sharing what we are learning with each other as much as possible. Be intentional about capturing those ideas for the future.
This is by no means a comprehensive starting list for an online education transition, and each of you serves unique communities with specific needs and circumstances. But I hope this thought exercise is a helpful primer for teachers, schools, and organizations that are in the midst of this transition.