Vertual Learning, Still Learning


What do I know about 2020? Not much, to be honest. I think I know how I was able to prioritize my learning. I think I know how I was able to support teachers through this uncertain time in education. The reality is that we all did our best at what we felt the priorities were and are at these uncertain times. The question I would pose to you would be based on the why. Why did you choose your focus? Was it based on student needs, community needs, personal needs, OR did you just do what you always do and keep moving? I feel this is where I fell in my pandemic survival methodology. I just kept on doing what I always do, support.

 The world of education is never the same from quarter to quarter, semester to semester, or year to year. Our students, no matter the age, are always evolving. John Hattie, a researcher, well known in the education world, states any effort made in educating a student will see growth. The growth rate can change based on the strategy used and the action placed. The ultimate goal is to hit that .40 Effect Rate, which means one year of teaching equals one year of growth, but more is even better.

 How does this equate to adult learning (andragogy)? For me, adults are my students/learners who I am always trying to reach. The idea of supporting individuals that are in all areas of the learning curve can be challenging. This is mostly due to where they are in their technology understanding, pedagogy understanding, and content knowledge. This is referred to as TPACK. TPACK stands for Technology, Pedagogy, AND Content Knowledge. Balance is critical here, even in virtual learning.

 In most cases, this balance is more evident in a virtual setting. Most teachers know their content and even how to deliver that content (pedagogy), but the technology aspect is foreign when it becomes the only way to provide the learning. This is where the keep on keeping on concept for me comes into the mix. I have been in this position for eight years (EdTech.) From the very beginning, I have preached that technology is NOT the lesson, nor should it be the focus. Technology is an enhancer, both for good and the bad.

 Technology is a great enhancer. If you know your content and know your students, and somewhat understand tech, you will do fine. Issues happen when technology is forced into a lesson when it is not needed. If the lesson can stand alone without tech, there is a possibility that tech could enhance the validity of the learning opportunities for students. I have seen tech used in a “because I have to use it” manner and it becomes a distraction to the learning process. Tech has to be purposeful in its usage, and it should be in the planning, not just thrown in at the last minute.

 My shift happened when teachers learned about technology to apply that knowledge in a real-world application. Virtual teaching became just TEACHING, and with the switch came all of the “what ifs” associated with the virtual learning/teaching environment. Not all aspects of the change we’re trying, and we even were able to see some remarkable growth. The reality is, acceptable teaching practices are good no matter the modality that is used. There were clear front runners in virtual teaching. Teachers who had a “with it” quality in the classroom could transfer that practice into a virtual platform. I will focus on what they did to be successful with the hopes you can learn from their examples.

 Training your teachers should always be the first step in the process of a new venture. This would be the same for a new technology resource or new pedagogical practice. Once you have the “product” identified, you need to follow a few steps.

Education, as a whole, is different. Each person sees this change in a different light, positive or negative. The ones who see this change as unfavorable or in a negative light typically change their minds after they have all of the tools needed to be successful. Professional development is the #1 way to support and change the outcome of any new venture. I know this is not something you can just snap your fingers and have to happen overnight. Teachers need to know they are supported, period. Meeting your teachers where they are at is the goal, but you also need to know where they need to be at the end of the prescribed training.

 Beyond the training, you need to have follow-ups.  From my own experiences, if the training is a full-day effort, you need something for the teachers to complete on their own. Teachers want to work time along with the training. Building in processing time helps the learners practice the skill. Not all learners learn in the same way. Some learners need time for “hands-on” learning, while others can learn from listening to lectures. Mixing these two learning modalities help solidify the learning objectives.

 Lastly, movement is critical. Donal Blaney stated, “The mind can only absorb no more than the seat can endure.” Make sure movement is also a part of the effort in learning. Even a short “processing” time where learners get out of their seats and discuss critical aspects with other attendees is essential. Cooperative Learning techniques allow for interaction within a controlled, goal-oriented conversation. Sentence stems like:

1)    What was one thing you took away from…?

2)    Tell your partner two things you believe will be problematic when implementing…?

  1. How can you troubleshoot the solution to these problems?
  2. What suggestions would you have in troubleshooting these problems?

After staff has an opportunity to share, ask them to summarize the conversation back at their table. This is a simple processing skill that can be used throughout the day. Movement helps along with the processing from the learning goals of the day.

 After the training, it is vital to have your teachers build. Teachers who did very well in this shift from seated to virtual learning had a plan. This plan included a clear and constant schedule. This allowed parents and students to be prepared each day at the right time. If the meeting started at 8:30 a.m., the teacher was present 5-10 minutes before so students could join. This would happen 3-4 times throughout the day for direct instruction. This schedule was shared out with parents and students alike, so all were informed. Students could use various methods to keep this schedule in Infront of them, but the key is that they knew when and where they needed to be daily.

 Second, organize your resources, students, and teacher. If the teacher indicated, the students would need a whiteboard and marker for session “X,” the students and teacher would have that within arm’s reach. This includes all materials which were clearly outlined in the schedule mentioned in the first step. Resources also provide problem-solving the “what ifs.” What happens if you get kicked off of the video meeting? If the connection is the issue, try to turn off the device and restart. Other aspects would be added as the learning continues.

 The third would be support, support, and more support. Offer office hours for smaller group support. Make sure this time is also scheduled and focused. If your plans call for direct instruction of a newer concept, then you would follow that up with “open” time where students can join and ask questions as needed. If students don’t join, it is okay; just be available for the entire time if they chose to join after the start time. Also, stick to the time allotted. If you set the time to 30 minutes, then close the virtual room at 30 minutes. Consistency is key and allows for procedures to be set and expected.

 Other notable considerations would be in the area of rules/expectations. Outlining how a student should act when in a virtual meeting is key to seeing what you expect. It is tough to hit a target when you can’t see the target. Modeling the expectation is a great practice. Once the expectations are set, you should cover the consequences if those expectations are not met and how the student(s) can redeem themselves. This is a fairly open process and should be tailored to what is needed to mitigate distractions in your virtual classroom. Community building is key in seated and virtual education.

 Lastly, which should be first is/are relationships. Relationships will make or break the learning environment that you build. Relationships are the bedrock that anchors all aspects of your classroom. Students and parents need to believe you are a team with the same goals in mind for your students. Supporting the virtual classroom with curriculum, digital resources, and pedagogy is only the beginning of the process. Building the community within your classroom should always be job one.

 The pandemic has caused some areas of the “norm” to change, but not all change is bad. I have seen teachers who do okay with technology become experts in virtual learning. They may not recognize this, but I have. The pandemic has allowed teachers who have been somewhat reluctant to use tech a chance to become better. These changes have not been easy, and the shift may not have been ideal, but we worked through the struggle.

 Resilience is a virtue we as educators preach to our students. It is a lesson we have all learned. Being able to keep moving when times get rough. Being able to find the “good” in all. These traits make us humans and better teachers. I am constantly amazed at what I see. Teaching is and always has been a profession that changes, as it should. Our students are ever-evolving, and their needs change at the same time. As educators, we meet this need daily. This is the way.

Douglas Greek EdD

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