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It’s been a crazy March, to say the least. Here in the state of Washington schools have been closed since March 17th and will not reopen until April 27th at the earliest. 

Our state education officials have required public schools to provide an educational experience for students. 

Now, most schools in the state were already doing this or making plans to do this. However, there were a few who were not making plans to provide any educational experience for students, citing equity issues as the justification.

Equity is a lens we must always consider, however, if you have inequities in a virtual school setting, I have news for you, they already exist in your face to face system as well!  

Jeff Utecht

If anything having to move to virtual school might be shining a light on the inequity that always existed within your school system. It has brought these inequities to the forefront, but that should not be an excuse to not do something. 

Not doing anything is far worse than trying to do something!

Jeff Utecht

This is why for years when working with school districts who were going 1:1, I would make sure we promoted that going 1:1 is an equity issue! In 2020, learning must include knowing how to learn on a device. For those school leaders (board members I’m talking to you) who were not willing to look at technology as an equability issue before this happened, hopefully, they are reflecting on this now.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some more thoughts on this current crisis we’re in and HOW we need to think and rethink as educators about what it means to teach in this current crisis. 

Let’s start with what we know students and families are going to need in this crisis. 

Created and shared by @jaydostal

This graphic created by @jaydostal can be used to rethink how we teach in a virtual setting.

Let’s start with what we know does not work: 

PACKETS OF WORKSHEETS: Packets of worksheets do not work for anyone. Whether you have a device or do not have a device, packets of worksheets do nothing educationally for anyone. Years of research on what equates to good teaching and learning show us that packets of worksheets are ineffective, time-consuming, and inauthentic ways to encourage learning.

STICKING WITH YOUR CURRICULUM: No curriculum was ever created for a pandemic. To think you can just keep going in your curriculum is not going to work. Besides, all testing has been canceled for the year. So the curriculum that was based on helping students pass the test is no longer relevant. 

Think about this teachers:

You have been unleashed from your curriculum that you found to be too rigid and state tests that you felt put too much pressure on you and your students. You have been unleashed to rethink what education can look like in this crisis. On some level, I hope that excites you. 

Jeff Utecht

STICKING WITH YOUR TIME TABLE: Sticking with your time table is not going to work. You are no longer teaching 6 periods a day. You’re teaching 120 students all at once. If you refer back to the graphic above you’ll notice in times like these, school is not, nor should it be, our top priority. Notice it says school and not learning. Learning can still be a priority but will only be if it does not feel like school, look like school, and students have all their other needs met. As many of us keep reminding you, students and families coming to terms with their ‘new normal’ can take up to three weeks or more.

We need to make the education we always wanted for our students a reality. It’s time to rethink teaching and learning if for no other reason than we must for our students. 

So here are some things we know are working that are coming out of virtual gatherings I’m hosting with educators who are in the trenches (listen to this SOSpodcast to hear even more):

I want to highlight one teacher’s journey who I feel is doing things the right way. Shannon Cunningham is a 4th-grade teacher in Enumclaw, WA who is sharing her virtual teaching/learning experience on the web for others to see.

REACH OUT TO YOUR STUDENTS AND FAMILIES: Make a video like Shannon did that allows you to connect with your students and families. Not only did Shannon make a video, but she also called each of her students and families to check-in. Every teacher has access to parent phone numbers and if you know there are families that do not have technology, a phone call might be what they need. A phone call! How simple is that? You have the information already you just need to pick up the phone and call. Doing this not only helps with the psychological and safety needs of a family (referring to the image above) but it allows the teacher to ask about the learning environment. Do they have the Internet at home, if not what do they have? Is there a smartphone in the house with a camera? What do parents need from you in the support of their child in this critical time? You want an equity lens? Reach out and ask parents how can you support them. It doesn’t need to be a phone call. Email works too! You have the information, now it’s time to use it. 

CREATE A STRUCTURE: We know learning routines are essential, so you need to set up a structure for your virtual learning. Shannon gives out all her directions on Monday for the week so that students and parents can set their schedules for the week knowing what needs to be done. She is using Google Classroom for this but has also set up a Google Site as well that you can find here. By giving a weekly outline at a time she gives students and families choice over time and place of the learning. 

TEACH AS IF THE WORLD WAS YOUR CURRICULUM: This is the most important part and by far the most difficult part. You have to rethink teaching and learning through a worldly lens. Instead of worksheets, we need to think in terms of real-world applications to the standard and then find ways to make that the learning. In Shannon’s class, she created a “Build a Fort” project where students get to build forts at their home, they then measured the perimeter of the fort, sketch a drawing of the fort, take pictures of their fort, write directions about how to make their fort so someone else could build it, and then research forts in the state of Washington. Of course, this project is going to take multiple days to complete. Shannon is thinking of ways she can cover things she never could before. There is no way in a traditional classroom she could have students create authentic forts in their homes that cover all aspects of their curriculum. But when you think about all the resources that can be found in a home you unlock new potential for learning. What are fun things you did as a kid and what was the learning involved in them? Ask yourself that question, and you start to use the world as your curriculum. You start to rethink teaching and learning in authentic purposeful ways. 

Our goal is to make learning authentic, purposeful and equitable. All things, I would argue, can not be found in a packet of worksheets for students to do. If you want to give students a packet, give them a packet of choice boards that cover your standards. Tyler Rablin a High School English Teacher shared his: 

In the end, we must rethink what teaching and learning can be. We must understand we’ve been unleashed from the daily grind and have an opportunity to rethink teaching and learning. We must continue to ask ourselves “What if the world was my curriculum?” 

NCCE 2020 here in Seattle has just wrapped up. NCCE (Northwest Council For Computer Education) being our regional ISTE sponsored conference with somewhere around 1500 participants coming together each year to share and learn. Being in Seattle and with the COVID-19 spreading throughout my state, Virtual School was a hot topic. 

One of the sessions I ran was titled “Tech Coaches Unite”. This session brought roughly 50 tech coaches together to share and learn from each other I asked how many of them were involved in Virtual School talks at the moment due to COVID-19. Roughly 20 districts raised their hands. 

I have had experience with “Going Virtual School” three times in my career and every time it was similar and yet different due to the technology we had. 

2003 – In Saudi Arabia due to terrorism in the country, I helped my school set up and run Moodle to do Virtual School. 

2005 – In Shanghai I helped to set up, run and train teachers to go Virtual School-though we didn’t end up closing due to SARS.

2009 – In Bangkok, I helped to train, facilitate and oversee Virtual School due to flooding and H1N1 in Bangkok we used WordPress blogs as teacher websites. 

2011 – I worked with Senators and the State Department in Washington DC to help fund a global Virtual School installment for International Schools to use in case of an emergency. 

Each one of these experiences was drastically different due to the technology that was available at the time. For example, the iPhone was only 3 years old and smartphones were just taking off in 2010.

So here are some lessons I’ve learned as well as recommendations I am currently giving schools when they ask me for advice on preparing for Virtual School in an emergency. 

Lessons Learned:

1. You can’t just flip the Virtual School switch. If you did not require that every teacher in the district must use the adopted LMS (Learning Management System a.k.a Classroom, Canvas, Schoology, etc) before now, you’re too late. In most cases, you will not have time to train both staff and students on how the LMS will work or does work before you find yourself in Virtual School. On the other hand, if teachers using an LMS is required in your district and they have been using it and training students on how to use it since the beginning of the school year-congratulations…..you’re gonna rock this!

2. Digital Worksheets uploaded to your LMS for students to do at home are 

  • Boring
  • Frustrating for parents 
  • Frustrating for students 
  • In general, are not good teaching practice
  • Not truly taking advantage of the opportunity you have in front of you

3 . In the two times that I was in Virtual School, we learned that teachers often gave way too much work for students to do at home. Most educators are not trained in online learning, which is different than traditional or even a blended learning format that most teachers find themselves in today. In a fully online learning environment, you must rethink the time you allow students to complete tasks. This was our #1 take away from Virtual School in 2010 in Bangkok. Both parents and students felt they were doing way more “busy work” (see #2 above) and were frustrated….especially at the Middle and High School level. 

4. Every assignment must be rethought. You can’t just take what you were going to do on Monday and do it anyway by just putting it in Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology or whatever LMS you use. 

5. Last but not least…. seize the moment! Both in Shanghai and in Bangkok we turned a negative into a positive by being able to-shall I say-’require’ teachers to “up their technology skills/usage” for Virtual School. Once Virtual School was over, those skills remained and we saw an increase in the use of those skills back in the traditional blended-learning classroom after Virtual School had ended. 

My Recommendations for Virtual School in 2020 if you did not require every teacher to be using the school adopted LMS.

Video, Video, Video we need to stop thinking in terms of “what can students type” and start thinking in terms of “how can students show me what they know”

Start by training every teacher how to make videos for instruction. Use Screencastify, Screen-o-matic or Flipgrid. I don’t care, just pick the one that best fits your system and train every teacher on how to make good instructional videos. What does a good instructional video look like? Here’s research out of Vanderbilt University on what should and should not be in your video. 

  • No longer than 6 minutes max! (3-5 is perfect)
  • Make it casual, make it you, you’re kids like you, they want to see you, they want to feel like they are in class so be you!

K-2 teachers – All you need is Flipgrid

If I was in a school today and we found ourselves quickly going into Virtual School mode I would make sure every K-2….well, every teacher really…but especially K-2 teachers had a Flipgrid account setup, and that parents had the app downloaded on their phone. During Virtual School teachers could pose questions to students via Flipgrid and students could do some investigation and post video responses back to the teacher. Teachers could read to students and ask comprehension questions. Teachers could pose a math question and students could film themselves solving the math problem with homemade manipulative in their house. Honestly, this one app is all you need. For more ideas check out #flipgridfever on twitter where teachers are constantly sharing ways they are using this incredible app. (If you use Seasaw that will work too!)

3-5 Teachers – One subject a day

Have students focus on just one subject a day in Virtual School. 

For example: 

  • Monday is Reading/Writing 
  • Tuesday is Math
  • Wednesday is Science
  • Thursday is Social Studies
  • Friday Specials/20% time

By having students focus on one subject a day you can support both student learning and parents trying to support their students at home. Again, video instruction will be key and whenever possible set-up lessons that allow students to submit video for their assignment. If I was in a 3-5 classroom, I would only set-up one written question-response sort of activity a week that was focused on learning, it would be my writing activity on Monday where I would ask some sort of prompt and expect students to respond to it and to each other. One a week…that’s it….everything else would be video. 

Middle and High School: 

During Virtual School we need to remember that we’re in this situation because something else is going on in our lives. Please DO NOT expect students to do the same amount of work they would have done if you would have had them face to face with you in the same amount of time….it just won’t happen. You’ll be frustrated, students will be frustrated, parents will be frustrated and then you’ve lost them. 

Remember learning, even in Virtual School is about relationships. So check in with your students. Ask them how they are doing, what they might need from you for support. Make sure there is space for everyone to talk about how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives. 

Work together with teachers from other departments not to overwhelm students with work. Again, uploading PDF worksheets for students to do is not what Virtual School is about! Powerful learning can still happen if you take advantage of the technology we have available today. 

I would recommend that each subject only assign things two days a week and make those days back to back so students can focus. So a schedule might look like this. 

  • Monday: ELA and Science
  • Tuesday: ELA and Science
  • Wednesday: Math and Social Studies
  • Thursday: Math and Social Studies
  • Friday/Weekend: Elective, Elective, PE

By making the days back to back you allow for longer larger projects. This gives students space and time to finish projects and allows them to chunk their learning into sizable, manageable pieces. It will also give teachers time to prepare lessons they are not used to preparing and time to assess any work that needs grading. 

Again, video is the key! Teachers making 3-5 minute instructional videos for students, and also requiring students to periodically respond in video would be taking full advantage of the technology we have in 2020 and is best practice today! If appropriate, using Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom video conferencing for real-time interaction would be a huge bonus. Do not make it required, but an optional “Hangout” time with your friends and your teacher would help to make it feel as if school is still really happening. 

Lastly, keep it simple, don’t overthink it-and have fun with your students! Learning can and still will occur. It won’t be perfect, but your classroom is rarely perfect in person, so take advantage of this time with your students. Remember too, that if you are in a Virtual School situation, something serious is going on and kids will be struggling to make sense of things. Be respectful of that, be respectful of families, their time together and their individual circumstances. Just like in the classroom, one size doesn’t fit all.

Good Luck…and let me know if I can be of help or support.

Image: tommypjr

Disclosure: The following thoughts/reflections are not necessary the views of ISB or its community

It has been a few weeks since we were in a virtual school situation here in Bangkok. Although the flood water continues to slowly move South into Bangkok our school has reopened with no immediate threat to flooding in sight if at all.

floodingimage
SOME RIGHTS RESERVED BY MITH17

Some rights reserved by mith17The school was closed for a week, along with all schools in the Bangkok area, by the Ministry of Education. ISB is lucky in did not get hit by the floods. Not all International Schools were as lucky.I have done presentations throughout Asia on preparing for school closure as it seems they follow me where ever I am in the world. Saudi Arabia with terrorism, Shanghai with Typhoons, Bangkok with riots and flooding, and even Washington State with snow and earthquakes. Depending on the situation many times schools try to move into an virtual school situation. Here are some things that no matter why the school closes seem to be factors in having a successful virtual school experience.Blended Classrooms to Virtual Classroom is an easy Transition  Those teachers who use technology on a daily basis in a blended classroom environment have the best success when it comes time for virtual school. The technology is already in place and more importantly the students know where to go to find information and what the expectations are. The students and educators who struggle the most are those who have to try and set up the technology at the last minute….it just doesn’t work.

Virtual work isn’t Homework Virtual work is different than homework and both educators and students need to understand this. Many teachers not being trained as online educators have a hard time understanding what kind of work can be done other than just “busy work” or homework type of assignments. Creating lessons that are interactive, that are deeper in meaning then what educators are use to giving online is PD time worth spending.

Videos are Good Students like videos. They really like videos that their teachers have taken the time to make. Quick 3 to 5 minute videos (no longer then 10 minutes at the most) seem to always get high marks for students. A good YouTube video isn’t bad, but there’s something about a teachers touch that kids still enjoy.

Preparing Students for the Future

future of elearning  

Lastly I think every school should follow the lead of Idaho and require every high school student to take classes online as a graduation requirement. If for no other reason than to prepare them for the university that awaits them. The lastest research from universities shows that online classes in undergraduates is still on a very steep raise with over 500,000 more undergrads taking at least one online course last year than the year before.

According to the Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011 report, university presidents view online learning as a very significant part of their future school plans, which means more and more students will be taking classes online. The key finding in the report were:

  • Over 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2010 term, an increase of 560,000 students over the previous year.
  • The 10% growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population.
  • Thirty-one percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Reported year-to-year enrollment changes for fully online programs by discipline show most are growing.
  • Academic leaders believe that the level of student satisfaction is equivalent for online and face-to-face courses.
  • 65% of higher education institutions now say that online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy.
  • There continues to be a consistent minority of academic leaders concerned that the quality of online instruction is not equal to courses delivered face-to-face.

With the economy where it’s at, online schooling also makes fiscal sense for many families. As a university student you can take your classes and still live at home saving anywhere from $10,000 on up in room and board cost.

 

If we believe that part of our job as educational institutions is to prepare students for their future then I believe we need to prepare them to learn online.

bigmarker2
 

A couple weeks ago I was contacted by a representative at bigmarker.com about their product. I usually just delete solicitations like this but this one came at the right time. Kim and I had been trying to find a way to hold virtual meetings with our COETAIL EARCOS cohort. This cohort is made up of 24 teachers spread all over Asia which is an issue in itself. Vietnam, Thailand and China all have bandwidth issues that make connecting into virtual platforms like this sometimes difficult especially if the servers for that program are located in the U.S. That’s a long way to push a signal and then all the way back when you’re running on less than a 1MB connection. You loose quality at best and most of the time you just loose the whole connection.

 

bigmarker
 

Earlier this week we connected to 13 of the cohort members and bigmarker worked perfectly! Here are some of the key points that have me so excited about this product.

1. FREE
A conference room can hold up to 300 people. That’s the largest free conference room that I know of. It can be public or private and people do not need an account to join a conference.

2. Specific Server Location
This is a HUGE one to me. When you set up a conference you can actually choose what region you want to host your conference in. For our gathering I was able to choose Southeast Asia. I would guess their servers are sitting either in Hong Kong or in Singapore either way the connection was fantastic and helped teachers in countries with low bandwidth to connect at a speed that allowed them to push video.

3. Open Mics to All
One feature that I didn’t realize I would love so much is that more than one person can talk at a time. Unlike other services where you have to push a button to talk and then give the mic to someone else. Everyone’s mic is always on making it much more conversation based rather than lecture based. The moderator still has permission to mute everyone or certain people if they would like.

4. Up to 10 simultaneous webcam connections
Now it might actually allow more than 10 but I was told that after 10 the quality starts to fade. We had as many as 8 web cams going during our session on Wednesday and it worked great. Amazing how seeing people changes the nature of communication. Everyone was clear and the audio synced up nicely with the video. 

5. User customizable conference room
Each user once they connect can customize their own conference room. You can move the windows around and arrange them the way that works for you the learner.

6. Simple
Bigmaker.com is still pretty new there aren’ t a lot of bells and whistles which I actually enjoy. Simple to use, simple to navigate. You can upload a presentation or an image but really it’s about the conversation which is why we get together in the first place. I hope as they continue to build the software they keep that as a key concept.

Overall I’m finding it to be a simple piece of software that does exactly what it’s suppose to do. Connect people to have a conversation. Here’s hoping that it stays free.

One of the best conversations I had at NCCE was about the new virtual high schools that are starting up in in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. I have to say I was surprised to learn that Spokane School District had started a virtual school and it was gaining momentum in Washington.

Spokane School District started the virtual school in 2005 (SVL) as a way for “alternative” students to take course, gain credit and graduate. As of late it looks as though they are changing their focus from not just alternative students….but all students. Not just all the students in their district…but all as in all of Washington.

There are two ways a student can pay for the courses. They can either have their state allocated funds sent to SVL to pay for their course, or they can pay out of pocket. In a down economy there is more than one way to make up fund deficits…and ‘stealing’ FTE funds from other schools is a way to do it.

School is about being Social

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Michael Thompson talk last year in Shanghai and I’m looking forward to his talk this year to teachers and parents in Bangkok. Dr. Thompson tells parents and teachers what we should already know.

Why do students come to school?

  1. It’s where their friends are
  2. Because they have to

and it’s in that order as well. The majority of kids do not come to school to learn….they come because that is where their friends are, that is the ‘hang out’ that has been around for years.

But what happens when those two reason no longer exist? What happens when kids can be social online and do not have to go to a physical location, like school, to ‘hang out’. Then the option to take classes online presents itself whipping out reasons #2.

Why do students go online?

  1. It’s where their friends are
  2. Because they can learn there

Word on the street is that there are some districts big and small who are loosing a significant amount of students, and therefore funds, to this and other online schools.

When the fundamental reasons of why schools exist is all of a sudden replaced, that leaves schools in a difficult position. No longer do students have to come to school to ‘hang out’ and now they don’t have to go there to learn either…where does this leave schools? Where does this leave teachers who do not know, or refuse to learn to teach online?

I have a feeling virtual high schools are going to continue to see growth in America and beyond. If I can take credits ahead of time (paying for them out of pocket, and therefore graduating early), or use my FTE funds to pay for my online learning and not have to wake up until 9am what’s the down side?

Stop for a second and think like a 15 year old. The only downside I see…is you still have to get out of bed…but only far enough to reach the laptop.