Classroom Technology

6 Lessons Learned About Remote Learning During the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Mark Lieberman — March 09, 2020 3 min read
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Schools across the country are feeling the effects of the spreading novel coronavirus. Some have closed for the next couple weeks, while others have closed temporarily as a precaution or for extensive cleaning. (Education Week is collecting school closures nationwide with this handy tracker.)

Northshore School District in Washington state, which serves nearly 24,000 students north of Seattle, was among the first school districts in the nation to move all of its classes online, beginning March 5 for “up to 14 days.” Two days before superintendent Michelle Reid announced the closure, though, she closed school in the district for students and staff to practice e-learning. One of the goals, she said, was to emphasize that successful online learning won’t happen overnight.

“We’re going to practice patience, not perfection, and we’re not going to let perfection be the enemy of progress,” Reid said in an interview Friday. With Advanced Placement and International Baccaleurate tests looming, canceling instruction for two weeks simply wasn’t an option, she said.

Not all schools have the capacity to continue substantive instruction online. But for those that do, Reid’s district provides a useful model. Here are some tips she shared:

1. Make sure everyone can log on. Even basic tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Classroom require some legwork to get teachers ready to use them. It’s much easier to get that legwork done during preparation than waiting until it’s time to actually teach. “Our staff already know the content they’re teaching,” Reid said. “This [was] really a day about becoming more familiar and confident with the tools we would use to deliver the instruction.”

2. Keep the parents informed. Reid and her team held the first of several planned Zoom virtual meetings with parents on Friday night, answering basic questions about how to log on and what’s expected of their children. The more parents are involved, the easier it is to make sure students do what’s expected of them.

3. Tap into existing expertise. For the last couple years, district staff members have been introducing e-learning technology in pockets, but not much for the entire district. Even so, one of the big discoveries of the practice day was the amount of expertise some tech-savvy teachers brought to the table, Reid said. For instance, one kindergarten teacher has been using the tech tool Seesaw for the last year to facilitate students’ creativity. “When they got a chance to look at the tool, it was like, ‘Wow, why wasn’t I using this before?’” Reid said.

4. Pursue excellence, not perfection. As the threat of school closures started to increase, Reid realized that the best way to test the district’s capacity to implement e-learning was to embrace the inevitability that mistakes would be made. “Sometimes when you’re looking for a perfect solution, it creates no action, you think of all the things that could go wrong,” she said. “We’re thinking of those, setting them aside, and moving forward with what we could do right.”

5. Ask students what they think. Reid sent a note to the student body on Friday afternoon, urging them to treat e-learning days the same as they would regular classroom days. She also hopes they’ll offer candid feedback on their experiences with e-learning, and suggestions for how it could improve. “It’s going to be an interesting two-way learning street,” she said.

6. Take e-learning seriously in the long term. Reid expects this prolonged remote learning experience represents a “seminal moment” that shifts people’s attitudes in a way that makes them more likely to use virtual education once school reopens.

Reid doesn’t take for granted that her district has benefited from technology grants that enabled purchases of more devices than other districts may have. “I would encourage decision makers at the state and national level to give some thought to the inequity there,” she said. “Zip code really does determine access to technology and online instruction.”

Image: Ken Hawkins/ZUMA Wire

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.