School closures, a few days in….

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, educational institutions are locking people out, each affected after the other like a row of falling dominoes. I have been supporting educators and students at various organizations, both brick-and-mortar and online.  It has only been a week, but below are a few things that I have learned.  These may help managers and teachers in regions that are embarking on making the sudden transition from face-to-face instruction to a fully-online mode.

Lessons learned in no particular order

Be aware that your staff, on the whole, will not feel confident or prepared for transitioning to online learning.  Be prepared for emotional outbursts, avoidance, conflict, denial and disbelief. It is a manager’s burden to marshal staff and guide them towards online delivery and facilitation. Under stress and challenged, teachers may exhibit different personalities.

Instructional staff will surprise you with their knowledge, flexibility and creativity in a time of crisis.  Be open to this treasure and create an atmosphere of collaboration rather than dictate policy and rules to the staff.  Set up a digital ideas board and encourage open and nonjudgmental conversation. 

Use short, mobile phone shot videos to share steps, processes, and ideas.  Instead of using formal systems that are usually controlled by a few, facilitate this method, as it very efficient.  Designate someone on your team to document successful practices for the future.

Allow instructors to use new or usually unsanctioned apps.  While institutions require a software committee to approve hardware, software and apps, now is not the time to choke learning by forcing students and staff by forcing them to use only pre-approved technology.  One caveat that may prevent adopting a new technology is student privacy.  Always ensure that student data and identity will not be exposed.

Discuss and decide on a balance of how traditional materials and digital materials will be implemented. Many of you may experience the steady churn of photocopiers generating instructional booklets.  All stakeholders must be involved when deciding the ratio of paper-to-digital documents that will be shared with students.  Budget concerns and distribution will be impediments to this. 

Carefully craft communications to parents, students and others who will be affected by a school closure.  This document must be accompanied by a “How To” guide for accessing digital resources, communicating with the institution and instructors, and setting expectations of engagement with their courses.  It is very important for instructions to be tested before they are sent out.  Otherwise, incorrect instructions will frustrate students, which will lead to time spent dealing with unnecessary complaints.

Trust that your instructors will do their best to facilitate learning from their homes.  Mandatory teacher attendance at institutions places them at heightened risk of contracting the virus.  All communication can occur online, and there is no reason for a large number of staff to be at school.

Appoint willing education technology champions from your staff to support instructional staff in a just-in-time mode.  Provide all teachers contact details of these team members and delineate their responsibilities.  Teacher-to-teacher support is very undervalued.  If a champion provides a tip to one teacher, that tip will naturally travel to others. This is especially true in teaching teams.  

Sequence technology knowledge. Avoid forced sharing of technical information en masse.  Do your best to chunk information in an order that builds toward enhancing teacher competence with online learning.

Finally, and most importantly, be careful of assumptions.  Examples of these could include:

  • student access to hardware and Wi-Fi
  • amount of institutional bandwidth
  • capabilities of the institution’s learning management system
  • students’ technological abilities
  • instructors’ personal technology (not all have a laptop with a video camera)

Final thoughts

We are all experiencing an educational disruption that mocks educators.  We are being challenged to transform our face-to-face teaching methodologies to fully online modes without time to prepare or plan.  It is a tall order.  Be careful not to set expectations too high for instructors and students. It may be the case that, during these weeks of school closures and uncertainty, we only need to keep students learning as best we can to ensure that when this is over, we can return to our learning spaces and continue the academic year.

John Allan
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John Allan

John is a Canadian who writes about learning object development and online facilitation from a teacher's perspective.

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