With COVID-19 changing our new normal it is more important than ever to connect as a community and learn from each other, so we talked to Kami Taylor from Jordan School District in Utah about effective online education.
Kami is a stem specialist for the center for STEM and digital learning. She has been working tirelessly to deliver computer science curriculum and is currently working on expanding those services throughout all of the districts in elementary, middle, and high schools.
SS: As teachers, administrators, and leaders in education are working through this new form of education (i.e., remote schooling), how has the experience been for your district’s students?
Taylor: Yeah it’s interesting. I think we are becoming very aware of how much teachers matter. I was in the classroom earlier this year—I just moved to the district position mid-year—so I still have connections with students and I'm hearing how much they miss seeing people, including their teachers. Which is never something you think you’ll hear as a teacher, because often it seems like they don’t want to be in the classroom. But, I think for students the biggest feedback I’ve received is the challenge of consistency. There’s been a lot of discussion around “what is the right way to do online education” and I don't know if there is a right way to do it, but I think if you model your classroom then it's better for students. They want to see the same thing they saw all year in your class. They want it to feel as close to normal as possible.
Have you seen or heard any best practices for students to stay on top of their school work while they're at home?
I think that kind of goes back to consistency, and I don’t mean to repeat that, but I talked to several teachers who have found that, if in the normal course of the school year they did an assignment a day, then they would assign one assignment a day online. If they normally assigned something on a Monday that was due on Friday so you have the week to work on it, they want to do the same thing.
What I’m finding is that students are thriving most when they have some of that choice, some of those different types of interactions. I know there are a lot of tools we can use for online learning, and I am finding that just like in a regular classroom you've got to do more than one sort of instructional strategy. Sometimes you want a discussion, sometimes you want a lecture, sometimes you want them to just find the information completely on their own. Online learning is no different. We're not face-to-face, unfortunately, but we still want to have the same sort of experiences and those a-ha moments. So, I think the real key to engagement is doing the same great things you do when you're in the classroom—mixing up your instructional strategies and trying new things.
From your perspective, how has this experience been overall for district leaders and teachers? Has it revolutionized how they usually teach?
It's interesting how that answer has evolved as we have evolved in these last few weeks. In the first week, without question, there was some panic. If I’m a teacher who’d never done online learning or online teaching this was super overwhelming. I'm happy to say now that now that we’re a few weeks in, that’s not the case anymore. I'm no longer talking to people who are overwhelmed and stressed. I’m talking to people who are excited, who are finding new ways to do things. Really, right now I think we're in substitution mode. We’re using technology as a substitute for teachers, but I think the longer we're doing this the more we’re finding that we can do some real creative things.
I'm hoping when we come back and we’re physically together in the same space, we don’t forget that technology is a tool. Technology doesn’t replace teachers. I think that’s what we’ve learned most of all; technology doesn’t replace that great instruction and that connection you have with your kids. But, technology is such a cool tool. And teachers have tried new things, like online discussions or holding online web conferences like we're doing right now—things we had never thought of before. Can you imagine when we're back in school and instead of a student sitting at home after school struggling with homework, they can jump on a WebEx with their teacher? I just think we’re opening up new tools that we can use even when we’re back in the classroom.
With educators becoming more familiar with using technology to teach remotely, do you feel like the use of tools like virtual meetings and virtual classrooms is becoming more automated?
That’s such an interesting word choice—automated. Yes, patterns are important, consistency is important, schedules are important. Particularly if you’re an elementary teacher. If you've been in the elementary classroom, they are so good at transitioning. They’re in the same classroom moving from math to science to social studies, and they do it seamlessly. And I think as a secondary teacher it’s easy to forget because we get a chance to move physically—our students move from classroom to classroom so they have that reset. I think what’s been interesting with automating online is that transition, creating that mental transition to a new subject because we’re not physically moving anymore.
A few of our schools have been really smart about creating a schedule. So online school goes from, say, 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. and every 20 minutes you have a different class and you're rotating just like you would in school. So we have a chance to come online and see each other face-to-face and have that similar sort of interaction where we’re moving and physically changing what we’re doing. So, yes, I think there are some new patterns being created. I certainly want to emphasize that none of this is happening without teachers. So, automation in the sense of replacing a teacher with a computer—absolutely not. But automation in terms of creating patterns, yeah I am seeing that and I think it’s really positive.
Like you said, so much good is coming out of being able to use technology in the classroom. What would you say the most significant advantages of online schooling are? And do you feel like these trends are going to continue happening once we come back into the traditional classroom?
Well from my perspective, many of the teachers I’m working with are people who are not using technology on a regular basis in their classrooms. They’ve reached out because they need help setting up a classroom and getting all those tools created. What I'm finding is, they have realized what a tool it is to have these resources available all the time. So, for kids who are absent, who are sick, who for whatever reason can’t be in your classroom, it’s amazing to have resources and assignments and instruction in a virtual way where students can access it anytime. I think that’s going to continue even after we go back to school because it is such a powerful tool to have that available. You haven't lost what you’ve done in the classroom, you’ve just found another way to share it.