K-12 Remote Learning

Moving to K-12 Digital Learning Fast: Where to Start

Numerous districts and schools across the country suddenly find themselves in the position of having to teach students at home due to changes introduced by the national response to COVID-19. While every school has its share of early adopters, people who have been flipping classes and using blended learning for years, there are plenty of other teachers who are new to the process. To help schools make the transition as quickly and comprehensively as possible, THE Journal reached out to education technology experts across the country to answer the questions we believe nearly every educator is rushing to answer right now.

child distant learning on laptop 

Photo © Maria Symchych

Most of my teachers haven’t done this before. Where should we start with them?

Videos work better than worksheets. It’s really easy to put a worksheet online and think that’s making your curriculum digital — that’s a path I’ve walked down myself. We know our students learn best from us. If they can’t be with us in person, then the next best thing is a video of us, even from our phone or [computing] device to help maintain our relationship — because that’s what will keep students working. —Rick Bray, Instructional Technology Professional Development Specialist, Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES)

If teachers begin to incorporate arts-based assignments to their online instruction, teachers can simulate the same engaging activities they typically do face-to-face and have the opportunity to involve a student’s parents or family members, too. For example, if you’re working on a history unit ask students to create a song that represents a historical figure and perform it for their family. There are endless opportunities for students to create and learn at home, and free resources to support that instruction. —Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Start where you can! Teachers likely have email, so start with sending information that way. From there, they can share how they are leveraging technology. —Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

Educators tell us it’s helpful to start the transition to remote teaching with a recognition that classes will be both asynchronous as well as synchronous, and that’s ok. Some of the time, teachers may have the opportunity to connect with their students via video conferencing and messaging tools, but much of the time, learning will be asynchronous and students will be required to read, watch instructional videos, and study independently. Identifying the easy, go-to technology that helps with both aspects of teaching will help ground teachers and allow them to focus on lesson plans. For instance, a lot of teachers tell us they are using Zoom or Google Hangout Meet for video conferencing with student groups and Google Docs for essays and written work. —Matthew Glotzbach, CEO, Quizlet

Remind teachers that the best practices they use in their face-to-face classrooms are important to uphold in the online classroom. Some of the best practices will need to be adapted, but it is important that teachers prioritize relationship-tending and clear communication. From a curricular standpoint, help teachers make decisions about what the most critical lessons and assessments are related to their curriculum. “Less is more” will be a helpful guiding philosophy. Give teachers the autonomy to make judgments around priorities within the curriculum to ensure students are meeting necessary standards without having to complete superfluous assignments. From a technical standpoint, be sure to provide teachers with training and resources they need to successfully facilitate learning remotely. Let them know how to get support with technical questions and how to answer basic student questions about accessing online curriculum and submitting work. —Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Same question regarding students: If they don’t have experience with online learning, where’s a good place to start?

Start with providing information that they can read or maybe even print out. Give them a list of things to do — it can be to make something, to research something, watch something or “go” somewhere like on a virtual museum tour or virtual field trip. Provide a list of resources; a quick Google search will provide lots of things that can be used, but to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed, point out a few that you recommend. —Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

Start by going simple. Use technology that students may already be familiar with, such as Google Classroom and Google Docs. If the district is utilizing ClassLink or Clever, students will have an easier time logging into various online services. Set clear expectations for what needs to be completed with [plain] and concise instructions. Don’t forget to share these expectations with parents as well, because the parents will be the student’s first line of support. Even if students are not learning new materials, providing reinforcement activities will stop students from regressing. —Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

When introducing technology for the first time, allow for ample time for students to assimilate to their new online learning environment. At the K-12 level, parents and mentors will play a key role in ensuring a smooth transition from physical to online learning environments and they, too, will need support from schools and administrators. —Sara Monteabaro, Lead, Learning, MIT Solve

While most students tend to feel confident around technology, teachers need to avoid making assumptions that students will all understand how things work. It is important to be crystal-clear in communication of how to navigate technology, course content and expectations for student work and participation. Create screenshares or screen shots with instructions for using the technology, as needed. Provide clear instructions around how to submit work to the teacher (using Dropbox, email, Google Drive, Microsoft Teams, etc.) and what to do if they don’t understand or can’t get the technology to work. — Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Take a structured approach. Students benefit from the natural cadence that classes and regular activities provide. In this new online learning world, students will benefit from creating some structure for themselves in their day, tackling specific classes at times in the day when they regularly have that course, and scheduling breaks for lunch and snacks. Regarding online tools, today’s students have grown up in an environment where technology is all around them. Experiences like connecting with friends via social media or Facetiming relatives to stay in touch have helped prepare students to make this transition, even if they’ve never experienced online learning before. While nothing can replace time in the classroom, students should feel empowered to take on this challenge like they have with every new digital tool and social app. —Matthew Glotzbach, CEO, Quizlet

What are the easiest components of a course to transition to online delivery — the low-hanging fruit?

Slides. Slide decks are extremely easy to upload into any online teaching platform. —Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

Things you would normally give students time to work on in class as an independent practice makes an easy transition online because they are self-lead assignments that you can simply upload, have the students print and complete at home. For example, in a third-grade unit on the Civil War, assign students to research the historical event and then create a theatrical event to perform in front of their parents or family. —Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Submission of written work is the easiest and most familiar form of work that students can complete. The process of completing and grading student work is almost identical to the process in the face-to-face classroom. Using discussion boards for group discussions, student questions that may impact the group, and supervised “student lounge” areas are intended to mimic the face-to-face discussions that occur in a class. These types of groups are familiar to students and teachers who have used message boards or social media sites like Facebook. Teachers do not need to address every comment a student makes, but they need to be sure to monitor the discussions. Uploading images of work products, videos of presentations or voice recordings of student responses is another way for students to demonstrate their understanding. Again, these are technologies many students will be familiar with, but they may not know the nuts and bolts of the academic technology. While additional formats (videos, images, etc.) bring variety to the ways students can show what they know, they also may bring additional challenges, so a “plan b” is important to have ready (“If you can’t create a video, make a transcript and email the Word doc to your teacher...”). —Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Anything that the teacher already has ready to go — weekly spelling words, the next assignment, start with what you’ve got. Then think of what would have been next, is it something that would be read or taught then quizzed? Is there an online resource to point students to? Can they collaborate online to “discuss”? Starting with providing something versus being overwhelmed with everything is definitely the way to go. —Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

By using Google Classroom, teachers can quickly set up an online course and create modules. Not all materials need to be teacher-created. Many content providers have offered free content.—Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

Are there offline activities we should be promoting?

Definitely! We don’t want students sitting in front of a screen all day. In fact, screen time should be 50 percent or less of traditional seat time. So that means teachers need to encourage students to get creative each day with what we like to call “creativity challenges.” There are many free resources out there with anything from kids’ exercise videos to art tutorials. Perhaps students can look at works of art by Andrew Goldsworthy (who uses found objects to create art) and then go outside and create their own found object art. —Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Read, read, read and then write, write, write. Also, get out of the house and play (where possible and at safe distances from others). Physical activity will make kids’ brains work better as well as fight off boredom and depression. —Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

Many districts are creating packets for students to complete. These packets are being shared on district websites, and some districts are even offering to print them for students who do not have printers. —Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

1. Students should be encouraged to get plenty of sleep, adequate nutrition and physical activity. Because this will be a challenging time for many of us — teachers, students and their families included — encouraging students to participate in self-care is important. 2. Provide resources for families with food security issues to access food within the community. Many schools are providing one or meals for students (and their families). Food pantries, churches and civic organizations may be able to help as well. 3. Encourage students to get physical activity whenever possible. Going outside (if they can do so without coming into close contact with others), is important for everyone... To combat feelings of isolation and to help resist the temptation of going to friends’ houses or other public spaces, students can interact with family and peers using social media or interactive online games (board games, card games and video games). —Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Encourage young children to have “play” time or “creative” time — doing LEGOS, art projects and the like. For students with siblings, how can they work together? Can an older student help a younger sibling? Can kids watch something and after it is over talk about it and ask each other questions? —Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

While the natural inclination is to want to move quickly to video and lecture capture, students prefer an asynchronous form of learning, meaning they don’t have to be online at a certain time and can listen to a recorded lecture or take a quiz when it is convenient for them. Plus, asynchronous allows you to tackle bandwidth challenges for students at home — they can use Wi-Fi on any mobile device to download videos or rich content to their learning platform, then listen to them later. —John Baker, CEO, D2L

How can our teachers include active forms of learning in what we’re doing?

Allowing students to explore something they’re passionate about can make learning broader and deeper. Design an experiment, read a book, write a poem, draw a picture — do something on a topic that ignites your curiosity. —Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

There are many ways teachers can be active in students remote learning. They can leverage a video call to “teach” a new topic and be available for “office hours” or take questions via email to check in with students to see how they are doing, if they need help with something or even need more to do. It can also allow teachers to understand what is working well and what isn’t so they can adjust and address. —Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

Teachers can poll students to schedule online synchronous discussions using a video chat client, either as a whole-class or small group experience. Discussions could be held using a chat feature or discussion board with a “real time” back-and forth rather than an asynchronous experience. —Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Teachers can incorporate “brain breaks” to break up instruction with activities like sending students on a scavenger hunt for three objects in their home relevant to the lesson being taught. —Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Teachers should work to balance the more passive and traditional learning such as reading texts and watching videos with activities that help engage students and get them involved in the materials. Today, teachers can take advantage of the numerous free resources and supplemental study tools to offer students active learning opportunities outside of traditional coursework. Interactive games and quizzes allow students to take what they are learning and test how well they are keeping up with the curriculum, ensuring they don’t fall behind while at home. —Matthew Glotzbach, CEO, Quizlet

How do we make sure our students with accessibility issues are being taken care of?

Online content should have audio materials accompanied by text transcripts and video materials should either have a transcript or be captioned to accommodate users with auditory handicaps. Teachers and educators should work directly with parents to accommodate students with physical disabilities who may require additional technology. —Sara Monteabaro, Lead, Learning, MIT Solve

The same way you differentiate in your live classroom — if your student needs audio, make sure they have it. Or screen readers. Send students home with any tech tools or devices they use at school. —Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

Students who have accessibility issues documented in a learning plan (IEP or 504) will need these accommodations met by their teachers. [Regarding digital equity,] provide students with laptops, as needed, and provide families with resources for internet access. Comcast is an example of an internet service provider committed to providing low-income families with two months of free internet in response to the pandemic (restrictions apply). If students have technology at home, but it is being shared by multiple students and adults, stress the importance of scheduling time so that students can complete school work, parents can complete their work-from-home tasks, and everyone can access technology to connect with friends and families. —Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Ask the student [and his or her family] what kind of help they need. —Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.