This year I was a long-term sub at a local middle school. It’s a job I have done before. The normal classroom activities were nothing new. I have done it on and off for well over 10 years. However, a new twist hit public K-12 education: online distance learning. Institutions of higher learning have using various forms of distance learning for over 10 years. They became very adept at using it with great results. However, distance learning had never been used in K-12 settings. Could distance learning be successful as the sole teaching method in K-12 schools?
Granted, teachers used learning management systems (LMS), such as Google Classroom and Seesaw, to:
- Post assignments
- Make classroom management easier.
However, this is a blended learning model. In K-12 schools teaching occurs live in the classroom. In the school I was at this year, some teachers extended the use of the LMS beyond managing classroom assignments by: adding resources and tutorials to their Google Classroom sites to help students do some self-learning.
This is a new way of teaching for K-12 classroom teachers. It is also a new way for K-12 students to learn and manage their learning. What can we expect? What did we learn? I answer these questions based on my experiences as an instructional designer in the K-12, higher-ed, and corporate settings.
In this segment, I explore K-12 distance learning opportunities. In the next segment I discuss the challenges I faced as a K-12 distance learning teacher.
The opportunities as a K-12 distance learning “pioneer” were exciting. Like my fellow teachers at the middle school, I had some concerns. Even with 10 years of professional instructional design, I faced a great unknown. How will the new audience of K-12 students adjust to the new learning paradigm? Compared to many adults, my students were very adept at computer technology.
However, I was not worried about the students ability to learn to use the LMS. My concern was whether the kids would stay on task and turn in quality work on time. Will my special groups be comfortable in adjusting to distance learning? I had two such groups of students:
- English language learners (ELLs)
- Special education stuents (SpEd)
With the announcement of possible of school closures, I didn’t wait for my team to come to consensus. I already started producing:
- Five-minute teaching videos
- Lab resources and activities
These were chunked micro-learning activities, which take advantage of typical teen short attention spans.
LMS Setup for Distance Learning
I set up my Google Classroom site for maximum asynchronous self-learning. I knew students would not initially be following a traditional schedule. Therefore, I needed everything to be asynchronous. Each lesson consisted of:
- The five-minute teaching video
- Resources for labs the kids could do on their own
- Discussion questions for that week’s discussion board
- Homework assignment
Teachers around our school district did not know what to expect. We were reinventing school learning as we went along. As a result, we made improvements along the way. Many students expressed they missed the school routine. They were used to set times for synchronous interaction in the classroom. This was not possible once the school closures began.
Students Needed a Routine
We came up with a school-wide schedule that mirrored the schedule of a minimum school day of instruction. The morning consisted of 30-minute segments for whole-class teaching. To allow for small group instruction, tutoring, and meetings, 30-minute segments were available in the afternoon.
Student Distance Learning Feedback
Much to our surprise, 98% of the students in our school adapted to distance learning and were more successful. Most of my students found distance learning to be effective. The students expressed the following:
- Use of video and other asynchronous teaching techniques made learning easier
- Social interaction during whole-class and small-group live sessions were helpful
- Faster teacher turnaround time improved the quality of feedback
- Discussion boards were helpful to get them thinking about each lesson’s topic
- Flexibility of time management and personalized pacing
However, despite the opportunities, there were challenges implementing distance learning in the K-12 educational system. We explore these challenges in our next segment.