Week 2 of Virtual Learning, and I have noticed one piece of advice I can give every school or district dealing with virtual learning. It’s also actually a piece of advice for every district in general. I think every district should adopt a Learning Management System, and that’s coming from a guy who did not like the design restrictions they put on me.
This all stems from my own kid’s district (I won’t name names.) It’s a Microsoft district, but instead of adopting Teams as their virtual platform, they decided to do some weird hybrid that looks like teams. I just don’t understand the thought process there. Microsoft, Google, Canvas, Schoology, and others are all optimized to handle the traffic that comes with every kid logging on (I know Canvas crashed, but’s rare.) This district site is not even close to being optimized for that, and guess what’s happening? It’s consistently crashing, and it’s really not fair to their teachers.
To make virtual learning work, schools have to have some way to organize assignments, add video calls, and communicate. That’s what an LMS is in a nut-shell (the video call part is still coming.) The whole key is to have that central place that students can go to if they don’t know what they need to do or need to get to work on something asynchronous. It’s a place that centers them, and that need has been there for a long time. It still amazes me that some districts haven’t adopted this on a wide scale. Teachers need time to get acclimated, trained, and it’s just easier to support if everyone is on the same page.
Now an LMS does cost. It might be part of the bigger package you already have (like Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom), or it might be something a bit more like Canvas or Schoology. At this point though, I think that cost may be one of the most justified in a school or district. It’s not just about virtual learning either.
That ability to put things down and pick things up easily gives you the ability to bring class anywhere and add almost anything to a class. If there isn’t an LMS, you depend on kid’s organization skills to make things work. You also end up in the copy room way too often if you want to personalize and differentiate for every student. It’s almost impossible to do that with paper, and that’s what every kid really deserves.
Yes, education is changing. It’s becoming more digital, but it’s also moving away from the one size all approach and moving to a better approach of personalization. An LMS can be that daily driver, but I hope all districts learn from the one my kids are in. Leave it to the Professionals! You will end up wasting more money on the one you are trying to create, it won’t handle the traffic you need, and it has fewer resources. Hopefully, this experience will let them learn.
My kids started virtual learning this week, and I just wanted to write a simple blog to tell you it will be ok. Kids will get it. Is it better than in person learning? You already know the answer to that, but kids will get it. Teachers will get it. Teachers are one of the most adaptive groups in the county, and I am already seeing that in each and every one of my kids teachers.
We have to remember that when teachers started remote learning in March they only had a day or two to get ready. While I know some teachers can make the transition easily (I am almost positive I could before I left the classroom), the reality is that most weren’t ready. It’s also an especially hard transition for those that teacher younger students because they did not even have infrastructure to make it happen. March was just a hard time for everyone involved.
In the two days I have seen virtual learning, many of the major issues from the Spring are getting solved. Before this fall, most schools had their own version of an LMS, and often the elementary schools just relied on teacher blogs. It caused a bit of confusion and it also left organization of online content up to the teachers. For some, that works, but for most they need a structure to follow. Leaving out that structure means student work is unorganized and hard for a parent to really figure out what they need to do. The district I am in fixed that problem by having a central place for everyone and giving the teachers a format. Teachers could then add other communication channels to communicate when a platform was down. While it wasn’t perfect on the first day, it worked.
I have also seen a bigger influence of video conferencing this time around. Teachers are getting it and they are starting to use it to their advantage. For my middle school girls, I am fortunate that they can do a bit of self guided work and be ok. That isn’t the case with my 2nd grade son. He needs interaction, and I have loved that his teacher has scheduled class times with him. Were their tech issues? Yes, but the teachers was incredibly patient with working through them. By having this video conference time, it allowed him to see his friends, but it also allowed him to ask questions. Their was no disseminating through a parent view.
I also noticed that this setup isn’t perfect, but for the time it’s going to work. Students will get into the procedures as hey get deeper into the year. Take my second grader as an example. He needs hand holding, but as we got into the second day the only real help we had to give him was getting logged on. Did he ask us questions because we were there? Yes, but it’s because we were. If we weren’t he could have easily asked his teacher those questions.
I know I am lucky in that both my wife and my job make remote learning possible (I work from home, and since I am not traveling I am here), but I also think we are in an age where in person school is just not safe at the moment. I live in metro Atlanta, and our community spread numbers aren’t great. I don’t want to see us go back, and give COVID-19 to a teacher whose body just can’t handle it, and the logistics here are also just a nightmare.
I want school to come back just as much as the next person, but until everyone does their part, we are going to be stuck in this vicious loop. It’s hard, but it’s what we have to fight right now.