On a global scale, temporary school closures are disrupting millions of students’ and teachers’ learning. Institutions that have integrated online technology into their daily instruction over the past years are better prepared to reduce this interruption because they have funded eLearning and trained their staff on how to use it. Institutions that have not invested in online learning technology will now struggle to meet their students’ and teachers’ needs.
Is there a solution?
So how do face-to-face classes instantly transform into online courses? The short answer is that they do not. If there are no online courses on a school server, the best a teacher can do is teach via email, and, possibly, though video platforms such as YouTube or Skype.
Institutions that have already been utilizing learning management systems can use these for recording attendance, posting updates, media and assessments. If these institutions have components that are intended to function in blended learning courses—a combination of face-to-face and online instruction—teachers have a chance of delivering their courses online for a short interval. Online courses can be supported with common web camera or apps like Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom.
Issues to overcome
There are several issues that can prevent teachers from delivering their content to students at a distance.
- Lack of appropriate training. Many teachers have not had any need to learn how to teach online. They are busy enough with their core duties. Instructors who have taken the plunge into online learning and others who have done their best to integrate online learning events into their instruction through blended learning have a better chance of managing classes online during a school closure.
- Lack of education technology structure. Institutions or departments that have moved toward compliance of eLearning standards such as the Quality Matters Standards or ISTE Standards (International Society for Technology in Education). Standards for online technology integration ensure that institutions have structured, and reliable systems support content to deliver course with technology. Many of these courses have the potential to be repurposed short-term to provide entirely online instruction.
- Lack of practical education technology specialists. Globally, budget cuts have decimated the number of education technology specialists. This does not refer to the administrative positions at every institution, but to the EdTech instructor who is in the class and mentoring other instructors on a day-to-day basis. Education specialists have the potential to be group leaders who will guide other instructors through methodologies and tools required to become competent users of online technologies. These specialists would also be invaluable assets in recommend technology solutions for specific purposes.
- Lack of practice integrating open education resources and free online content into courses. There are so many open education resources, or OERs, that can be leveraged to enhance instruction. If these are implemented in regular teaching practice, they would be beneficial in a time of crisis. Examples of these are Khan Academy, PBS Learning, Smithsonian Education, Open Stax, and CK-12. In addition, experience leveraging content from MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, could alleviate the immediate need for learning materials.
- Student access to internet and technology. Students may not have a home internet service or a cellular data plan or a smart device. The digital divide will cause access issues. Other, more traditional measures may be necessary to reach these students. These will incur disproportionate costs and will not be delivered in a timely manner.
- Lack of a plan. Some governments or institutions have readiness plans for supporting teaching during emergencies. These are commonly a result of previous emergencies such as floods, or epidemics, such as the H1N1 virus. Oddly, I have been looking at plan generated after the H1N1 crisis and most of the links are dead. So, even if there was a strategic emergency plan to support learning, some have been forgotten or more importantly been maintained to reflect current technologies.
What to do?
Remember, this is a blog post, so take these suggestions with that in mind. My thoughts on adapting an educational institution to accommodate a long school closure would be to take the following steps. If you have better advice or ideas, please comment below.
- Start planning now
- Gather relevant staff including eLearning champions from your region/institution
- Communicate any instructional plan to all stakeholders (e.g., parents, students) and ask for their patience
- Decide on technologies to service specific requirements
- Set up teacher support groups
- Begin the process of organizing content on an LMS or another digital host
- Establish a general support service using voice, text, and FAQ modes
- Consider and act on feedback from students, parent, staff, health services
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