Back to School: Be Prepared for Online Learning & In-Person Instruction

Published on July 24, 2020

‘Be Prepared’ is one of humankind’s great calls to action. It inspires us to ready ourselves for unanticipated changes. It reminds us that it’s possible to succeed in the face of an unknown future. It’s no wonder it has been the motto held by scouting organizations across the world for well over a hundred years. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that adopting this motto (even informally) is something that would benefit any organization as well. Being prepared is especially important for educational institutions, whose essential function is to help students to be ready for the world that awaits them.

How can schools prepare for a semester of online or blended learning?

Our nation’s school systems are transitioning into the fall semester, and yet there is no clear answer on how many of our schools, districts or universities should be operating. NBC highlights some of the questions that are still lingering around schools reopening and COVID-19. 

  • Should schools physically open this Autumn or continue down the path of remote learning?
  • How will a hybrid education model affect the availability of staggered scheduling?
  • If physical learning spaces must be activated, then how will social distance guidelines be met?
  • Where will additional funds come from to pay for increased safety measures such as health monitoring, increased deep cleans, PPE, and additional staff?
  • How are students from all socioeconomic backgrounds placed onto a level playing field while learning in a remote setting?

With the understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach will simply not work under current decisions, institutions will be forging individualized guidelines on opening and directives on what format classroom learning takes. Many are taking a more measured approach by adopting a hybrid format that will consist of a mix of remote and physical space learning. Students will have the option to attend remote classes at all times. Several states appear to be modifying this model for their unique circumstances. 

As a further sign that this is an ever-changing situation, NPR recently reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics had walked back their support for physical space education. Instead, they came out with this statement, “Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics.” Most states and districts still are unwilling to commit to a plan of action due to the fluidity of the pandemic. With no clear idea for most school districts, educators and parents are left in a state of disarray trying to fill in the missing pieces. 

Staying consistent throughout an unprecedented academic year

No matter what situation you are in, it’s up to us, as individuals, to be prepared for unprecedented circumstances. 

For a fully-online/hybrid learning environment to thrive, there are many facets of education to be considered. We must also prioritize the consideration of the many types of homes that you will be working to reach. The primary tool of this new hybrid style education will be the creation of the digital classroom. There are many forms that this can take, but keep in mind the need for simplicity and consistency. To retain students throughout their study, create an intuitive virtual space that’s available for when the students need to connect to either the coursework, peers, or teachers. To allow for self-direction of the student curriculum, the week must be structured in a way that will enable the student to have longer and more specific projects along with their regular class and teacher check-ins. This structure enhances scheduling flexibility for both our parents and educators, whether we are dealing with the current pandemic or incidences that require school closures, such as inclement weather. 

It’s important to note that everyone has their own pace of learning. By allowing fluidity into the schedule and giving educators the tools they need to manage it, we can honor the diversity of learning styles. The creation and curation of a well designed digital classroom with engaging content, intuitive tools, and educators who have been trained on techniques that appeal to students in remote settings will enable schools and institutions of Higher Education to adapt to any unanticipated events, come what may. 

The sooner we can focus our methods and approach, the sooner we will be able to begin the work of preparing the way for class to run smoothly. Don’t be caught up in the worrying and what-ifs, but instead approach this as a creative endeavor that will allow for the crafting of a truly unique learning experience. To ensure success, strive for authenticity. Being true to both ourselves and our students will allow for a deeper connection, and will create familiar bonds within our new classroom setting. These bonds are critical. 

Connection also plays a part in the way we interact with technology. Both parents and educators have a role in making sure students feel comfortable with the new education tools and platforms. Get involved and become acquainted with the systems. There will be many questions during the transition to hybrid and remote learning. As we begin class this Autumn semester, it’s important to remember that online learning may not be the venue of choice – for districts, schools, administrators, teachers, and students. For those who are more accustomed to in-person instruction, the transition may require some effort initially, but there are several things that can be done to make online learning beneficial for everyone involved.

 

What should school administrators keep in mind for the fall?

  • Invest in Student Information Systems designed for remote learning
    • Improve many key metrics such as management of student data, communication between divisions, and unified resource databases by use of SIS software.
  • Provide online training and evaluation tools for staff
    • Ensure that first-line staff members are trained on the technology that is being used to provide a strong foundation for success and promotes confidence throughout the educational hierarchy.

How can teachers be present for their students?

  • Be organized
    • During this transition, it is more important than ever to organize your material. Have a third party look at your setup through the eyes of a student and see if it flows. This step ensures that you have the materials adequately organized.
    • Make the effort to learn the new tools your administrators are willing to provide
  • Anticipate questions
    • Distant educators will serve their students well by trying to anticipate the questions that might arise and provide resources so that the answers can be researched independently as well. Consider making a FAQ video for your students detailing specifics of the digital classroom and common errors that might arise.
  • Communicate often, asynchronously
    • Using email, chat and one on one video or phone conferences

How can students prepare for the 2020-2021 school year?

  • Keep a daily schedule
    • The desire to procrastinate on projects and assignments will be immense this fall. However, avoid putting off your responsibilities until the last minute.. Don’t fall into this pattern. It’s much easier to fall behind in a remote setting if we do not set up a structure for ourselves.
  • Find ways to connect with your schoolmates
    • You might be attending classes from home, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t connect to your peers and professors or teachers. Find your community and foster a sense of encouragement during this transition. Education is so much more expansive when shared with others.
  • Invest your time wisely
    • This will be a unique opportunity for students to step into a future of education potentials. This will be a more self-directed experience that allows for more control over how you structure your time. I say, take advantage and dive into a topic of study that you might not have had access to under normal circumstances. Use the digital tools available to you and create the future that you would like to step into.

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