Online Learning During COVID-19

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When Project Tomorrow surveyed students in 2015 about what they envision schools will look like in 2020, one student described school as being the place where there would be more educational videos, online class discussions, online games, and texting between teachers and students. Everyone would have their tablet or laptop. We are now in 2020, living through the COVID-19 pandemic and in the remote and online environment predicted in 2015. In a recent edWebinar sponsored by Blackboard, Dr. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, and Chris O’Neal, a former teacher and current Blackboard Solutions Engineer, shared front-line stories and tips to provide insight into how to ensure continuity of learning for our students during this unprecedented time.

Three Phases of Online Learning

Using data, stories, and observations collected during research done by Project Tomorrow, Evans talked about the three phases of online learning during K-12 school closures. During the first phase of before school closures, many schools and districts had already begun developing plans for sending devices home with students to provide them with self-directed learning experiences outside of the school day. However, transitioning to remote online learning was a significant hurdle for teachers and students who may have had familiarity with using these mobile devices for different types of digital content, but not necessarily from the standpoint of using them from an instructional component at home.

During the second phase, which school districts are in now, Evans identified three waves of attention that school districts are experiencing during school closure: responsive support, facilitation of the continuity of learning, and recovery, readjustment, and reinvention. The third phase on online learning will happen once schools open up again and focus on the questions that we should be asking right now during phase two. Building upon what we are experiencing and what we knew before school closures and taking those reflections to the next level to think about what school looks like in the future and how we will support learning in this new norm.

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Tips and Strategies for Effective Online Learning

Evans uncovered three distinct insights about online learning during COVID-19 that all school districts have experienced. The first insight is the trauma of uncertainty impacting the school community about school closures and how and what school will look like in the fall. The second insight is about the importance of social and emotional supports for both students and teachers when teaching and learning in an unfamiliar education environment. The third insight is the idea of what school looks like today and what learning looks like in a physical school environment is entirely different than the reality we are all experiencing. “A fire drill is a breeze compared to what teachers are going through right now of having to adjust,” said O’Neal.

While districts may not know what the school is going to look like in the fall, with summer soon upon us and life less chaotic, now is the time to plan for possible scenarios. One of those things is thinking about envisioning learners outside of the classroom: what a classroom looks like at home and how it will impact the work you assign and the learning materials you expect students to create. Teachers should reflect on their new role and the latest strategies employed to engage students in an online environment. O’Neal encourages teachers to remember their classroom vibes because they need their classroom vernacular, imagery, and humor. Work with special education teachers and curriculum leaders to evaluate inclusion and diversity strategies to ensure that students’ needs are met. Lastly, lean on your support system, engage in social media communities, and utilize resources and publications.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Blackboard

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This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenters

Dr. Julie A. Evans is the CEO of Project Tomorrow and is the founder of the heralded Speak Up Research Project which annually collects and reports on the authentic views of 400,000 K-12 students, parents, and educators on education issues each year. Dr. Evans serves as the chief researcher on the Speak Up Project as well as leading research efforts on the impact of digital content, tools, and resources in both K-12 and higher education. Prior to this position, Dr. Evans enjoyed a successful entrepreneurial career in the technology industry including two education technology startups. She is a graduate of Brown University and earned her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of California, San Diego and California State University San Marcos. Dr. Evans serves on several boards and advisory councils and is a frequent speaker and writer on K-12 and higher education issues around digital learning.

Chris O’Neal began his career in Louisiana as an elementary and middle school teacher, then became a district technology and professional-development coordinator, and eventually director of educational technology for the state of Louisiana. From there, he began work in graduate school at the University of Virginia, where he led a statewide leadership development program for school administrators. Chris has provided ongoing consulting to ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education), many state departments of education, and numerous national and international educational organizations. He has been profiled as a “Shaper of our Future” by Converge magazine and received the Making it Happen award for educational technology leaders. He has also authored a book for improving school culture through the effective use of data.

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