Educators in the Pandemic: From the Inside Out

By Larissa Rector
SPRING 2021

I am no stranger to technology, and I already had plenty of experience using Zoom for various school-wide meetings. However, when I learned that I would finish the remainder of the school year by creating virtual classes for my sixth-grade ELA students, I worried that I would not be able to adequately create an online learning environment that not only addressed the state standards, but created a culture where students felt safe and free to think for themselves—one that invited students to learn and discover meaning through books, ideas, and tasks . . . completely . . . 100% . . . virtually.

That is no small task when you are talking about keeping 85 middle school students engaged through a computer screen, but one that I tackled head on. That is what educators do: We dive right in and face challenges, always acting in the best interest of our students.

The Switch to Online Learning

Instead of going back to the drawing board, I decided to use the online platform my students were already familiar with: Google Classroom. This is where it began to get tricky. Before the switch to online learning, my students were already familiar with their assignments being listed on our class page each day. They knew how to access the various documents that I would attach for the lessons being taught and how to maneuver through different pages on a site. However, it was one thing keeping students interested and engaged in person; doing it online was a complete game changer.

Giving the Classroom Back

To create an online learning experience that would keep my students active and engaged, I decided to reach out to each child individually. I asked questions such as:

  • What has your online learning experience been like so far?
  • How does it compare with your experience as a student in a physical classroom?
  • What would you change about our online learning?
  • What do you want to see more/less of?

The answers to these questions made me realize that what the students needed most was support and understanding. They needed to feel comfortable getting on our Zoom meetings each day. They wanted to be actively involved with me, as well as their classmates. I began to realize that this new online platform that I was creating was not just about continuing to meet the standards that I was expected to teach. In all actuality, it was not even a fraction of what I needed to be establishing for my students. They wanted a say in the process.

So, essentially, I gave the classroom back to the students. I established a framework for the content I would continue to teach and let the students decide which activities they wanted to do during our time together. Collaboratively, we found several sites that allowed the students to play games for the skills we were learning that stimulated cooperation and/or competition among them as they worked toward achieving their classroom goals. All our assessments came from online quizzes and were comprised of a compilation of the literacy standards we covered each week. Together we had created an online learning environment that fit the needs and voices of all the students.

Concluding Thoughts

Whether we are teaching in a school building or through a virtual classroom, the underlying goal is the same: student success. Our role as educators is to encourage students to have a say in their own learning. We want them to exercise problem-solving and decision-making skills in order to achieve their individual goals. I believe that each student is capable of excellence, and with the right guidance and support, they will develop the avenues needed to succeed in school, as well as find happiness and a place of belonging in our society. To be able to help students discover and cultivate these educational and vocational potentialities, we have to ask. We have to listen. We have to give our students a voice.

Each individual child brings something unique to the table. They each have deeply ingrained social habits, identities, dispositions, and learning behaviors—all of which contribute to their academic success. We as educators need to start embracing these differences, as well as each child’s culture and experiences, in order to offer them the best educational opportunities. A student’s voice inspires and empowers them to begin taking ownership over their own education. Learning does not start with the teacher. It begins with the student. And even in a virtual world, learning comes from the inside out.

Ms. Rector is currently a Grade 6 English teacher at Prescott South Middle School in Cookeville, TN. Her teaching experience is distinguished by more than 13 years of service across different grade levels. Her passion is creating a positive classroom culture that increases student learning.

Further Resources:

Kahoot.com

Flipgrid.com

Baamboozle.com

Arcade Game Generator.com

Quizizz.com

Quizlet.com

Tips for developing online learning: Establish a homepage, such as Google Classroom. Develop a routine and stick to it. Make sure students are given breaks during class time. Create activities, like experiments or games that will keep children engaged.

Collaboration and Communication: Teaching During the Pandemic

By Leana R. Malinowsky
SPRING 2021

My second grade class of 2019–2020 was a dynamic group of students. Curious, social, energetic, and carefree would not suffice in describing their full character or potential. I’m grateful that spring of 2020 showed me they also were resilient, the most significant trait they needed as we shifted from the classroom to remote learning. Along on this voyage came my co-teacher (special education), their ESL/ESL bilingual teacher, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, two counselors, two RTI (Response to Intervention) teachers, four related arts teachers, and, of course, the students’ families. As the captain of this crew, I knew the ship had to weather the storm. Inspired by their kindred spirits and eager nature, I grabbed the helm for one of the most challenging experiences of my 12-year career.

Communication with families and as an educational team is important enough in a typical academic year. During all-virtual learning, it became even more critical to continue this positive interaction and not let the uncertainty act as an anchor. Maximizing collaboration with support staff naturally created positive communication with families.

 “Co-teachers must be good communicators, respect each other, have similar teaching philosophies, be willing to spend time planning together, and at times be willing to drop their own ideas and go with the other person’s plans. Good communication with parents is also essential” (Murdock et al., 2015, pp. 46–47).

When navigating uncharted waters teaching virtually, use this guide for peer collaboration to enhance communication with families. These are key elements for success during a time when many families are managing virtual learning.

Compass Points

  • Flexibility is key. The virtual classroom has many unexpected challenges such as additional steps to deliver instruction and set up meetings through technology . Give colleagues and families flexibility on when to meet and plan. This allows everyone to access necessary resources and offers the opportunity to work as a team.
  • Make planning a priority. Set times to meet with support staff individually and as a group to discuss the structure of virtual lessons, scheduling, and methods of communication, and decide which families need additional support systems for success. Make sure the team communicates about ongoing plans and anticipates adjustments.
  • Debrief regularly. Educational teams need to utilize the same practices virtually as they would in the classroom to discuss student needs, understanding, roles, and differentiated lessons. Take advantage of others’ perspectives on lessons and student performance. This allows everyone to be objective and offer suggestions. Debriefing should be frequent and consistent based on scheduling flexibility.
  • Have dependable communication. Speaking with families frequently ensures they are aware of assignments and important information, and that their child is receiving all required resources and services. This refines and builds the trust of family members, especially those who might have language barriers. Invite ESL teachers to meetings for families who need translation. With this support, family members can communicate freely and have an active voice in the conversation.
  • Utilize shared spaces. Use a shared space to brainstorm, such as Google Keep or a Google Doc for all teachers and support staff to share ideas, concerns, and questions, and plan meetings, and so on. Implement a communication app such Class Dojo (Google Classroom or other related apps) to post general information to families to see collectively. Much like a weekly or monthly newsletter, this disseminates information quickly, and many apps offer translation. It also allows multiple teachers to post messages to parents and have them shared quickly. Shared spaces can help extend planning and communication beyond meeting times.
  • Set schedules. Create a personalized schedule for students who receive additional remediation and support services. Include dates, times, and any needed materials. Share the schedule with families and update it frequently. Schedules benefit everyone in and out of the classroom. They provide structure in a learning space that has the potential to become unfastened.

Rising to the challenge of remote learning was certainly not easy, especially with limited time to prepare. I knew I had to implement best practices, creativity, collaboration, and communication together in order to sail successfully through the remainder of the year. It was imperative we stayed on course and worked together as we learned new platforms. I learned much more in the last few months of school than I ever anticipated; however, my skills have stretched beyond the horizon. My compass points provided guidance and offered possibilities for teaching in the future, both virtually and in the classroom. Keep these points in a captain’s log for a guide on the next voyage, wherever it may be!

Ms. Malinowsky is an elementary educator at Carteret Public Schools and has more than 13 years of experience teaching general education, special education, ESL students, and reading intervention. Ms. Malinowsky is a certified reading specialist. She is the Associate Counselor for the KDP chapter at Kean University and is passionate about working with preservice teachers and teacher leadership.

Reference

Murdock, L., Finneran, D., & Theve, K. (2015). Co-teaching to reach every learner. Educational Leadership, 73(4), 42–47.

Socially Just Technology Access in the Post-COVID Era

By Rebecca J. Blankenship
SPRING 2021

Since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s among radical criminologists, social-justice research has certainly evolved from the initial focus on injustices and inequities within the criminal-justice system to become a peripheral research interest among other disciplines. Within the field of education, social justice through equal access to technology has become a research area of particular focus as existing and emerging technologies have significantly changed teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Although the increase in technology use has, for the most part, significantly impacted pedagogy and instructional practice in a positive way, issues of equitable access frequently overshadow the anticipated benefits of providing students with alternative ways to engage with instructors while enhancing deeper cognitive development. This is particularly the case when engaging with vulnerable (marginalized) student populations, which has certainly changed the focus of the instructional technology and pedagogic narrative among educators and educational researchers.

These inequities in technology access require the redefinition of equitable engagement, understanding the current state of technology access among vulnerable populations and persistent barriers to access including hidden curricula, and proffer a change in the narrative towards more sustainable and equitable practices as educational theory and technologies continue to evolve in the new decade. Accordingly, the conversation among teacher preparation programs, especially in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and transition to complete remote instruction in the spring of 2020, has shifted from preparing future educators to implement best face-to-face practices to how teachers can translate those practices into a virtual classroom setting.

Additional considerations in terms of online best teaching practices parallel the narrative of equal technology access from the standpoint that many students transitioning to online learning did not have a computer or Internet access in their home. Further, for a large percentage of marginalized students, their only opportunity to interact with computers and mobile technologies is in the face-to-face school setting, which results in an imbalanced technical skill set for them compared to their non-marginalized counterparts.

Thus, the transfer to remote instruction created three imbalances in teaching and learning:

  1. Classroom teachers must now teach traditional face-to-face content in a virtual setting,
  2. Classroom teachers must now teach digital-literacy skills so that all students can actively engage with content, and
  3. Classroom teachers/school administrators must now ensure that marginalized students have equitable access to technology in addition to enhanced support services in order to actively and positively participate in the virtual classroom setting.
  4. Classroom teachers/school administrators cannot work in isolation.  In order to move forward, it is imperative that all stakeholders work in tandem with local, state, and federal agencies to secure funding and support services through specialized grants and programs that direct funds specifically to address the ongoing educational and technology access among historically underserved populations.  

Thus, teacher preparation programs moving forward in the new post-COVID era of virtual instruction are now charged not only with helping pre-service and beginning educators implement best online teaching practices, but also to do so in such a way as to ensure their practices are equitable for all students, especially those most vulnerable among marginalized students. Suggestions for program changes moving forward include:

  • Provide additional field clinical experiences that include working with sociocultural and socioeconomically diverse student populations,
  • Provide enhanced field clinical experiences that include working in more Title I and similar schools with large marginalized populations,
  • Redesign existing technology—key assignments to include more assistive technologies for marginalized students, and
  • Provide ongoing support especially for beginning teachers navigating the uncertainties of teaching marginalized populations face-to-face and virtually in the post-COVID era.

Additional Reading

Bridging an engagement gap: towards equitable, community-based technology leadership practice. International Journal of Leadership in Education, by E. Chang. (2019)

Cruel optimism in edtech: When the digital data practices of educational technology providers inadvertently hinder educational equity. Learning, Media and Technology, by F. Macgilchrist. (2019) 

Equitable access to education and development in a knowledgeable society as advocated by UNESCO. Educational Research and Reviews, by C. M. Jemeli and A. M. Fakandu. (2019) 

“Just access”? Questions of equity in access and funding for assistive technology. Ethics & Behavior, by E. Durocher, R. H. Wang, J. Bickenbach, D. Schreiber and M. G. Wilson. (2019)

Technology for equity and social justice in education: Introduction to the special issue. International Journal of Multicultural Education, by S. Marx and Y. Kim. (2019)

Working toward equitable access and affordability: “How private schools and microschools seek to serve middle-and low-income students.” Bellwether Education Partners, by J. Squire, M. S. King, and J. Trinidad. (2019)

Dr. Blankenship is an Associate Professor and TESOL Program Director in the College of Education at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Dr. Blankenship teaches ESOL Endorsement and Compliance courses required by the state for professional certification. Dr. Blankenship’s research interests include the development of virtual training environments for pre-service teacher candidates, the digital agency and literacy development of pre-service teachers and university faculty, and the effects of politics and social media on the teaching profession.

Teaching (Calmly) During a Pandemic

By Kayla Oscarson and Susan Trostle Brand
SPRING 2021

On Friday, March 13, 2020, Mrs. Peecher’s world changed. As a kindergarten teacher, she and other teachers in her building and throughout the nation listened with astonishment to the intercom announcement, “Please pack up your belongings and take them home today. Prepare to teach from your computer for the foreseeable future.”

Teaching virtually during a pandemic is definitely not in the New Teacher Manual. During these uncertain and turbulent times, teachers, parents, caregivers, and children alike have been forced to learn a new way of teaching, learning, and coping. For many parents, assuming the role of teacher opened up a plethora of stressful factors, including emotional, physical, social, and economic considerations (Shea, 2020). For students, the pandemic and school closures have signaled a decline in opportunities for cultivating new friendships and sustaining old ones.

In the past, while at school, students learned how to make new friends, control impulses, delay gratification, see others’ perspectives, assume responsibility for their work, adhere to a regular schedule, and show respect to their teachers and classmates (Ho & Funk, 2018; Kostelnik et al., 2015). Darling-Churchill and Lippman (2016, p. 2) added, “Interactions with other children and adults early in life set the stage for future academic and personal outcomes.” A plethora of skills emerge from students’ experiences in school.

With the advent of learning from home and the need for isolation, students devote approximately 4–5 hours to computer time each day, and rarely if ever see their classmates aside from onscreen. Therefore, consider the importance of students’ social–emotional skills in the context of virtual teaching and learning.

Creating Virtual Teaching and Learning Success

The following suggestions may support the delicate balance between achieving academic goals and maintaining emotional and physical well-being for teachers and students alike.

  • Understand the family/home dynamic.
  • Learn families’ schedules. Find out when they are available to support learning and with whom the students spend their days.
  • Review a plan of action. Consider caretakers’ native language.
  • Ensure that families and students understand how to navigate interactive assignments.
  • Establish a routine and stress the importance of consistency.
  • Provide daily communication hours.
  • Check in with students and families at the end of each week; showing that you are thinking about them goes a long way!
  • Keep track of students in a spreadsheet regarding work completion, attendance, participation in Zoom, and scores on assignments.
  • Create a plan of action for those who are difficult to contact.
  • Provide meaningful feedback and effective, focused praise.
  • Identify best ways to learn, track data, and incorporate differentiation.
  • Consider students requiring additional supports, and ensure those supports are provided.
  • Incorporate frequent body breaks in interactive assignments.
  • Make suggestions for multiple ways to complete an assignment.
  • Include challenges within assignments for those who are higher-level thinkers.
  • Include character education and promote positive thinking.
  • Recognize their hard work by posting a weekly “shout-out” or certificate.
  • Create suggested scavenger hunts and STEM or STEAM projects.
  • Offer an Author’s Share, Joke Day, or Show and Tell.
  • Schedule “Make a Difference Mondays,” sharing stories about how they spread kindness.
  • Read stories with protagonists whose emotions match those of the students.
  • Follow up stories with related activities.
  • Use mistakes as learning experiences and ways to improve your distance teaching.
  • Brush up on your tech skills and collaborate with other teachers to share ideas and knowledge.
  • Take time to check in with yourself and reflect on your experiences.

The Silver Linings of Distance Learning

  • More opportunities and time for one-on-one teaching
  • New technology skills for teachers and students
  • Enhanced family involvement with students’ learning
  • Strengthened home–school connections through daily communication
  • Savings on costs of travel to and from the school building
  • Flexible schedules for students and teachers

Concluding Thoughts

Students mirror their teachers’ dedication, enthusiasm, and love for learning, whether in the face-to-face or virtual classroom. In these uncertain times, teachers need to stay calm and continue on.

Ms. Oscarson is a second-grade teacher. She has her master’s in Early Childhood Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kayla has been teaching for more than 10 years. She specializes in the psychology of teaching, and social–emotional well-being. Kayla also runs workshops devoted to mentoring new teachers.

Dr. Brand is a Professor of Early Childhood Education and Social Justice. A 35-year counselor of the Iota Sigma Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at the University of Rhode Island, Dr. Brand is the author of four education textbooks and numerous articles and chapters. She served on the KDP Executive Board as Vice-President and President-Elect.

References

Darling-Churchill, K.G., & Lippman, L. (2016). Early childhood social and emotional development: Advancing the field of measurement. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 45, 1–7.

Ho, J., & Funk, S. (2018). Promoting young children’s social and emotional health. Young Children, 73(1), 1–12.

Kostelnik, M., Whiren, A., Soderman, A., Rupiper, M. L., & Gregory, K. (2015). Developmentally appropriate curriculum. Cengage.

Shea, S. (2020. April 22). How parents can help children cope with mental health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Massachusetts General Hospital. https://www.massgeneral.org/children/coronavirus/how-parents-can-help-children-cope-withmental-health-concerns-during-the-covid-19-pandemic .

Increase Student Engagement While Teaching Online

By Will Perry and Clinton Smith
SPRING 2021

Moving to an online learning environment is scary for teachers, students, administrators, and parents alike. Although blended and online learning have become online fads in education in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic turned “I’d like to try that” into “You don’t have a choice.” The move to an online setting has sent many teachers—brand new and veteran—into a panic of how to teach in the new environment. Teachers have scrambled to keep students engaged without having them in a face-to-face learning environment.

Building student relationships is one of the tools to ensure student engagement in an online environment, and it is not a new innovation. Student relationships are key to being successful in an online setting. Strong relationships enable teachers to engage students and lead them to success in their learning. Quin (2017) found that strong teacher–student relationships correlate positively to higher levels of engagement, better grades, higher attendance, less disruptive behaviors, and lower dropout rates.

In our brick-and-mortar classrooms, we naturally found ways to build relationships with our students but, with some strategic planning, teachers can build strong relationships with their students online, too. If you are still teaching exclusively online, remember these principles to build strong relationships with your students and keep them actively engaged.

Stay connected.

You are not a computer that posts assignments and assigns grades. As the cliché goes, students “don’t care what you know until they know you care.” That’s overly simplified, but within those words lay the keys to success. Let students and their families know who you are by providing some of your background and interests. Take the time to get to know your students. Get to know their likes and dislikes and try to incorporate them into your lessons. Let students know that you care about them and their well-being, distress, and trauma. We need to make sure the basic needs of our students are being met.

  • Create virtual opportunities for students to connect with one another and with you. Schedule one-on-one check-ins to make that personal connection with students just as you would in the classroom.
  • Enrich your lessons by using personal examples and anecdotes, and encourage students to do the same.
  • Send weekly updates for due dates and important events through newsletters or blogs.
  • Provide opportunities through virtual games such as Quizlet, Kahoot, or activities such as show and tell, comedy time, charades, or a scavenger hunt.

Consider student needs.

Consider your students’ basic human needs before getting wrapped up in academic content. Pearlman (2020) says we need to consider Maslow before Bloom. The pandemic may have caused students to experience grief, distress, and trauma. We may need to make sure the basic needs of our students are being met.

  • Ask students regularly how they and their families are doing. Students have missed important events such as sporting games and seasons, graduations, band concerts, and other school activities, not to mention normal activities they’ve grown accustomed to, such as birthday parties, holidays, eating in restaurants, or taking their yearly vacation to the beach. Worse, others have experienced the illness or loss of family members or friends to COVID-19.
  • Listen to them. Students are missing out on daily interpersonal connections with their peers and their teachers. Consider a “virtual hangout,” where you share about the good things your students are doing during online learning.
  • Look for opportunities for students to talk about their lives, their concerns, and any problems they may be having with the lesson.

Provide opportunities for engagement.

Students who are engaged are more likely to experience academic success.

  • Consider formative assessment strategies such as using journal entries or exit tickets to engage students.
  • Increase questioning during lessons, like “How would you feel if this were you?” “What’s something that’s happened in your life that’s similar to this character?”
  • Create writing opportunities for students to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Examine crises through stories or historical analysis, and ask students to describe similar experiences and if they can relate to how the characters feel.
  • Moderate a classroom chat or discussion board.
  • Create funny videos of a science experiment, read a children’s book, or take them on a virtual field trip.

Concluding Thoughts

Teachers are master relationship builders, so don’t let an online environment be a barrier to building student relationships. If you expect your students to be engaged, show them that you care about them, even from afar. Teaching in an online environment may be challenging, but focus on building strong relationships with your students and increase student engagement. Your students are depending on you!

Dr. Perry is Associate Director of Philanthropy at Vanderbilt University and a former high school Spanish teacher.

Dr. Smith is Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Tennessee at Martin and the KDP Public Policy Chair.

The New Classroom: Pros and Cons From the Students’ Perspective

By Saundra Shillingstad and Sheryl L. McGlamery
SPRING 2021

On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 was officially a pandemic. The outbreak of the coronavirus prompted universities to make radical changes in scheduling and delivery of classes. An announcement was made on March 13 that the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) would allow students to take a 2-week break from campus and online classes. UNO started spring break early, March 14, and the semester resumed March 30. Course delivery shifted at UNO to become online for the remainder of the spring and summer semesters.

The disruption of going from face-to-face class meetings to online course delivery affected both students and teachers across the nation. For those of us who had never taught a course online, and for students who hadn’t participated in an online course, the learning curve seemed very steep. My colleague and I got busy getting ready to work and teach online. We had 2 weeks. The preparation evoked a bit of fear and anxiety in both of us. However, as we soon realized, we had nothing to fear.

The UNO College of Education, the Teacher Education Department, the Office of Digital Learning, and the Center for Faculty Excellence provided faculty and staff with numerous workshops for remote and online learning in an effort to prepare faculty and staff with guides for moving courses online as well as workshops for advanced support features and resources. We participated in the workshops, acquired the skills to navigate the online tools available to us, and were ready when classes resumed March 30.

During the 6 weeks of online course delivery, my colleague and I touched base with each other frequently. Our conversations often turned to how the students were adjusting and feeling about the move to online course delivery. Before the semester’s end, we asked students the open-ended question: What are the pros and cons of online course delivery via Zoom? We collected and reviewed their responses regarding the abrupt change from on-campus course delivery to online course delivery via Zoom. Here is what the students had to say:

Pros:

Convenient

  • “I love not having to travel to campus or worry about getting from building to building safely.”
  • “Taking the course from home was the only way I could have done it with my kids out of school.”
  • “No commute!”

Access

  • “Having the course delivered in Canvas (which we already use) made the transition to online pretty easy.”
  • “I loved having access to the recorded lectures. Instead of having to send an email if I had a question, I could quickly access the video and review what I had forgotten or needed clarified.”
  • “I love ‘anywhere’ learning. I had to move back home (my family lives in California). I am grateful we were able to finish the class online.”

Cons:

Attention

  • “The struggle is real. It is sometimes hard to understand the content and stay focused.”
  • “Large-group discussions are difficult. I am still trying to figure out how to insert oneself into the conversation.”
  • “Recorded class sessions were available for review when I did not pay attention.”

Distractions

  • “Classmates not muting their microphones was a major distraction”.
  • “People! Put your kid down, turn off your TV and music, stop looking at your phone, get out of bed, stop slurping and eating—you are driving me crazy!”
  • “Classmates need to figure out how to be professional when ‘live’ on Zoom (does everyone realize I can ‘see’ what you are doing?). PAY ATTENTION!”

Technology

  • “It stressed me out when my Internet service was unreliable or weak.”
  • “I disliked it when I would lose connection and have to figure out how to rejoin the class session.”

Socialization

  • “I missed conversing with my classmates, something that is SORELY lacking in this online environment.”
  • “We miss out on networking with classmates and finding friendly faces that we can connect with in upcoming semesters.”
  • “Missing the socialization period before and after class, as well as the small talk with professors. I hate it. I miss in-person.”
  • “Missing out. Don’t get the same ‘face-to-face’ contact that I would if we were in person.”

The students’ feedback leaned heavily on areas that could be improved, or what they viewed as challenges. We asked the questions to gauge and monitor not just how we as faculty were feeling, but how the students felt. To us, the student’s perceptions matter as we move forward during uncertain times. Our desire is to provide the students with high quality learning experiences, in and outside of the classroom.

Dr. Shillingstad is a Professor in the Teacher Education Department in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Research interests include teacher induction, assessment, and program assessment. Saundra is a member of the Eta Omega Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Dr. McGlamery is a Professor of Science Education in the Department of Teacher Education at University of Nebraska at Omaha. Research interests include teacher induction, assessment, multicultural education, and teacher development.

Teacher Preparation for Online Learning: Now Is the Time

Mary RiceToday’s blogger is Mary Frances Rice (University of New Mexico), who co-authored the article “Orienting Toward Teacher Education for Online Environments for All Students,” which appears in The Educational Forum. KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share access to the article free through June 30, 2020 at Taylor and Francis Online.

In March 2020, 1.3 billion learners at all levels were displaced from their educational buildings due to COVID-19 (UNESCO, 2020).

In the U.S., most school buildings closed for the rest of the shool year (Education Week, 2020). For many, closures of this magnitude were previously unthinkable.

Even as buildings closed, many schools and institutions of higher education adopted some form of remote emergency learning.

Aside from the psychological panic induced by COVID-19 that made transition to new ways of learning difficult, many students did not have the devices and reliable internet access necessary for online learning. In fact, many teachers did not. Moreover, teachers had not been prepared to teach online. Why not? Well, for many reasons (see Rice & Deschaine, 2020). For some teacher education programs, it was because they thought online teaching was not real teaching. For some programs, it was because they lacked resources—faculty with know-how and models to emulate. For others, it was because they (and their state licensing boards) were tightly tethered to the notion that (time in seat = learning) and online instruction disrupts that equation.

Regardless of the reason, teachers in many schools distributed devices as best they could and started sending work online to families.

Did they bring their strongest pedagogical practices to the emergency online work? Some probably did.

Success stories abound from teachers at schools who already had consistent access to infrastructure and who were already using digital resources. I have a research site right now where students are receiving private music lessons with instruments provided on a rent-to-own basis by the school as part of their home-based learning. In this school, teachers are also sending students to break-out rooms for conversations, reading bedtime stories to students, and making use of learning management systems for young children. In these nice, safe neighborhoods, teachers can parade in their cars and wave to students to lessen the distance while keeping everyone safe. Moreover, in these neighborhoods, parents can stay home with children, find places in their spacious homes to make fun spaces for learning, and monitor children’s formal learning for a few hours a day.

But that is not what it is like for most families.

In many schools, the worst pedagogies and the most deficit-laden attitudes followed them to remote learning.

In another school site where I am conducting research, students were assigned to watch a 45-minute slide presentation with narration about the Falkland Wars. Students were supposed to take notes and write an essay. This  expectation—to learn using one of the driest content delivery systems ever invented—is for 12-year-olds! In another district, parents of students with disabilities were barred from entering their children’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) virtual meetings because they did not have district email addresses. When parents were not logging on, school officials chalked it up to parental ineptitude instead their own.

And then, there are the teachers who are not able to teach at all.

The devastation of the virus in some communities has been so intense that teaching and learning are the last priorities—with good reason.

For example, the Navajo Nation on the Arizona/New Mexico border is fighting the virus while most community members lack running water (McGraw, 2020). Surely, if we have to choose between the internet and running water, the water should win, along with food and medical supplies. But in most communities, if they had decent internet bandwidth and families had access to devices and teachers were prepared to teach online and collaborate with families remotely, all students could do home learning with some success.

Although there were good reasons to prepare teachers to teach online before the pandemic, it is understandable that many educators and many communities were caught underprepared.

However, moving forward from COVID-19, it seems prudent for institutions of higher education who prepare teachers to make preparation to teach online and in blended or hybrid spaces their highest priority.

Yes, teaching online requires different types of skills (Pullham & Graham, 2018).

Yes, teaching online requires teachers to think about time and achievement differently (Yan & Pan, 2011).

Yes, teaching online increases the transactional distance between students and teachers which must be lessened through strategic actions from teachers (Moore, 1993).

But, teaching online can be done well.

Teaching online can be a positive relational experience for students (Rice & Carter, 2015). Teaching online can also support the development of critical digital literacies and other advanced skills (Blau, et. al., 2020). But stop-gap emergency will not ever be anything other than that. And if we continue to rely on it in times of trouble, we run the risk of exacerbating educational inequalities that are already beyond tragic and unacceptable.

Communities need internet.

Students need devices.

Teachers need preparation.

Parents need support. Let’s lay the blame for uneven remote learning where it belongs—lack of planning, lack of interest, and structural inequality.

Then, let’s fix it.


References

  • Blau, I., Shamir-Inbal, T., & Avdiel, O. (2020). How does the pedagogical design of a technology-enhanced collaborative academic course promote digital literacies, self-regulation, and perceived learning of students?. The Internet and Higher Education, 45, 100722.
  • Education Week. (2020). Map: Coronavirus and school closures. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html
  • McGraw, G. (2020). How do you fight the coronavirus without running water? New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/opinion/coronavirus-water.html
  • Moore, M.G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of distance education. (pp. 22-38). Routledge.
  • Pulham, E., & Graham, C.R. (2018). Comparing K-12 online and blended teaching competencies: a literature review. Distance Education, 39(3), 411–432.
  • Rice, M. & Carter, Jr., R. A. (2015). With new eyes: Online teachers’ sacred stories of students with disabilities. In M. Rice (Ed.) Exploring pedagogies for diverse learners online (pp.205-226). Emerald Group Publishing.
  • Rice, M. F., & Deschaine, M. E. (2020). Orienting toward teacher education for online environments for all students. The Educational Forum 84(2),114-125.
  • UNESCO. (2020). COVID-19 educational disruption and response. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse
  • Yan, H., & Pan, S. (2011). Rethinking time management of online instruction: Flexible or strict?. Open Education Research, 3. Retrieved from http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-JFJJ201103018.htm

Kappa Delta Pi and CourseNetworking Team Up to Support New Teachers

(INDIANAPOLIS)—Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), International Honor Society in Education, is partnering with CourseNetworking (CN), an innovative Indianapolis-based technology company in education, to draw on the Society’s rich legacy of high standards and excellence to support the professional growth and retention of new teachers.

Beginning teachers have high turnover rates that cost schools billions of dollars each year. One effective way to combat the revolving door of teachers and its negative effects on schools and students is to offer new teachers professional development. Dr. Richard Ingersoll, a prominent researcher and member of KDP’s esteemed Laureate Chapter, shared, “Somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of those that go into teaching are gone within 5 years.” KDP is perfectly positioned to address the needs of beginning teachers, as the organization has a presence on the campuses of more than 650 institutions nationwide, helping to graduate nearly 10,000 education students into the profession each year.

Beginning in fall 2018, KDP will offer new opportunities for educators to expand their knowledge and skills through online learning as well as to establish a permanent eportfolio. A selection of courses, which will be both affordable and convenient, will help teachers develop competencies that can be applied immediately in their classrooms. After successfully proving their competencies in each course, teachers will earn micro-credentials in the form of official badges, and have an opportunity to earn certificates they can use as proof of their skills, as continuing education, and as evidence of these accomplishments on their eportfolio. Among the initial topics for P–12 teachers will be areas that KDP research has identified to be the most challenging for new teachers. The majority of the course offerings will be asynchronous, with learner engagement both independently and within an online community.

“CN is very excited to work with KDP in implementing the most advanced new-age learning environment, the CN Learning Suite,” shared Dr. Ali Jafari, CN Chairman and CEO. “The CN LMS provides easy access to new KDP certification and badge-based courses while the CN Social Network connects KDP members globally to network and collaborate. The CN ePortfolio offers a lifelong professional cyber image for all KDP members. With this collaboration, we can change the way scholarly societies network and conduct continued professional development.”

KDP President-Elect Dr. Victoria Tusken, who has worked in education for 30 years—including 4 as a Secondary Curriculum Coordinator in Illinois—believes that KDP has an opportunity to be at the forefront of ongoing professional growth for teachers. “To think about micro-credentialing in terms of steps toward mastering specific skills is just good professional development,” said Tusken. “The typical professional development never sticks. Practitioners need ownership of their professional development, and the ‘one-size-fits-all’ format often pushed down from districts proves to be viewed by practitioners as a waste of their time. But, to provide short courses around specific topics and competencies has a deep impact and a lasting value for practitioners.”

Though the initial offerings will be geared toward practicing P–12 educators, KDP plans to leverage its innovative model to address all three major focus areas of the Society’s current strategic vision, which are to (1) Recruit qualified candidates into the profession, (2) Support and enhance quality preparation of teachers, and (3) Retain effective teachers—particularly in high needs areas.

The projected timeline will make the courses and eportfolio available to KDP members and other educators prior to the Society’s 52nd Convocation, to be held in Indianapolis, IN from Wednesday, October 31 through Saturday, November 3, 2018. This year’s Convocation, themed ”Designing the Future,” will feature a cutting-edge experience where all attendees of all generations and experience levels not only gain knowledge and strategies, but also collaborate to design a future that is sustainable, equitable, and promising for ALL learners.

For more information about the eportfolio, please visit http://www.thecn.com/eportfolio, and for more information about KDP, please visit http://www.kdp.org. You can view the official press release here.

About Kappa Delta Pi
Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), International Honor Society in Education, was founded in 1911 at the University of Illinois to foster excellence in education and promote fellowship among those dedicated to teaching. As a professional membership association and international honor society in education, KDP provides programs, services, and resources to its member educators to support and enhance their professional growth—all in an effort to advance quality education for all and to inspire teachers to prepare all learners for future challenges. With more than 650 active chapters and nearly 40,000 active members, the organization has seen great accomplishments and milestones in its 107-year history and is looking forward to a future where all children receive a quality education.

About CourseNetworking, LLC
CourseNetworking (CN) has a unique, next-generation technology solution for the education Industry supported by many years of thinking and research invested prior to the commercialization of the product. Built on a global education platform, the CN Suite offers a comprehensive Learning Management System (LMS), Social Portfolio, Global Academic Social Network, and Badging, as well as other social collaboration functionalities to transform teaching and learning. The CN was built to ensure that teaching and learning opportunities are available for everyone, anywhere in the world, at any time, through the web or the mobile app. The CN also provides a full turnkey solution for system implementation in institutions. The CN is the fourth major research and entrepreneurial project of the IUPUI CyberLab. The CourseNetworking LLC was created by a capital investment from Indiana University and Ali Jafari in 2011.