Friday, March 13, 2020

Time to create that virtual classroom

I was an early tech enthusiast mostly because technology was a great match to my learning/teaching style. Tech provided the many hands I needed to do the work I wanted to do as an educator, mom, and researcher.

That tech enthusiasm led me to countless conferences, books, and creative expeditions online and offline to learn more and do more that involved blended learning with the right match of online and offline resources.

Time and again, my enthusiasm was energized by powerful moments when technology deepened engagement and education for students and me. One pivotal moment was when a student in my class was going to China for an extended stay. Our class made a movie for his Chinese class, and he was able to follow our class curriculum via our our class website throughout his trip. To me this was a win-win. We learned a lot about China and the student was able to stay abreast of his studies back home too.

Then there were times when children had to be out of school due to illness or family events. Again, they were able to keep up via our virtual platform. And in school, the use of the virtual platform with countless learning menus and links has afforded us a greater opportunity to differentiate buying us time to work with individuals and small groups with depth while others simply follow the online menu. This virtual platform has helped us to maximize our time with colleagues too since they are able to easily see what we're doing and how we are doing it which buys more time for the teacher-student experience rather than using lots of time for collegial exchange related to procedural matters. Therefore, our collegial time can be used more for deeper discussion and creation instead.

Now, with the unprecedented school cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our virtual grade-level and school websites have made making plans for at-home study efficient and targeted. While the online study will not replace the rich learning and exchanges that happen in a classroom setting, they do provide a way to support students' steady education and teacher-student communication during an extended school cancellation. We posted a learning menu with project and other learning links. We communicated with families and students via email. This has been positive.

I'm a big fan of grade-level-, subject-, and school-wide virtual platforms, a kind-of home-away-from-home or school-away-from-school platform that children and families can access when they want to know what they can do to help their child stay in touch with the school program and learning. An added benefit to these programs is that families whose first language is not English often use these online resources to better understand school programs and their children's assignments as they can easily translate links or simply take their time with the materials to better understand what is expected and what is shared.

So as I look for the opportunity in this unexpected event, I believe that one opportunity is for educators to enrich the virtual side of their teaching communities in ways that can carry forward the positivity that these virtual communities can be for engaging and empowering learning.