How one Crisis will Change Education Forever

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How will you take advantage?

When educators across the country started back to school in August and September having outlined classroom plans, prepared curriculum maps, planned field trips, auditioned students for plays, musicals, band, and sports they wouldn’t have imagined that in the blink of an eye they would all be out the window. I sure didn’t. 

I was fully engaged with students on two special STEM projects; one involved design and build of a PVC pipe piano for the band to use in their spring concert; the second focused on the  building of a full scale replica R2-D2 to teach students 3D printing, coding, and robotics. These can’t be achieved remotely and are obviously on hold. Typically in March I’m already planning for the following year: working on scheduling, registration, grant allotment and more. It all changed in an instant. 

 

Globally, educators are rethinking their teaching methods, strategies to reach students, and learning new skills quicker then they ever have in the history of education to effectively perform their jobs.

 

As the technology director for my district staying busy hasn’t been difficult. On a Friday I had to assemble a team to write an eLearning plan, in-service my staff on Monday outlining the plan, the necessary tools and instructions, and then started implementing that plan on Tuesday with students. We would never expect such an immediately radical shift from our teachers but we had no choice, as with thousands of districts around the world. And as I sit writing this today educators have stepped up to this challenge with might, integrity, and the desire to keep learning going, which is fantastic. 

And here we are in limbo with no clear end to this tunnel, and I recognize this has forever changed education. This has forced even the most technologically static educators to shift their educational mindsets. Because of this shift in mindset most educators will never go back to the way they taught just two weeks ago. They will continue to look at educating students in new ways and to utilize new methods. 



How do we proceed over the next days, weeks, and even years? There are so many tools available and right now company after company offer their services for free while we deal with this worldwide crisis. What an opportunity for change!

First and foremost, all teachers and schools need to be using some type of Learning Management System (LMS)

In most cases teachers will have little say as their district will likely mandate this selection. Common LMS platforms include:

  • PowerSchool’s Unified Classroom now with Schoology

  • Canvas or Blackboard, which are heavily used at the college level but are making their way down to K-12 districts

  • Open source platforms such as Moodle

  • Google Classroom for those districts keeping it in the Google application family

You have to gain proficiency in whichever LMS you have, and the fundamental directive (linking back to my previous post) is GIVE IT A TRY. But try, try, and try again because your LMS isn’t going anywhere and you must learn it. It’s your central bridge to all the teaching and learning you are facilitating in your classroom. Get to know the system, try out all the buttons. Almost all of them have free online training manuals or videos. Look at YouTube, which has videos on everything you would ever want to learn. But embrace your LMS and use it all the time. Don’t wait for a crisis or a snow day or a special occasion to use your LMS. Use it all year long. It will help you stay organized, it gives your students a one-stop shop for all things in your class, and there is no shifting of tools when a day off occurs. Students are prepared even if you aren’t in class one day or on an eLearning day.  No matter what, the students know where to go to get their learning framework for your class.

 

The next most valuable tool in your toolbox is going to be a screen recorder

Screen recorders are one of the most powerful tools you can use all year. This is the closest thing to having you in the room actually doing the lesson. You could go as low tech and easy as a voice recording or using your cell phone to record a video of yourself. 

But how often in emergency situations are you in a location where you can just set up a camera and teach like you're in your room? Short of having a giant whiteboard in your house or the advance notice needed to record in your classroom you’ll need alternatives.

  • This is where tools such as Screencastify, Educreations, or even something like SMART Notebook will come in handy. These allow you to record your screen and your voice as you work. 

  • If you’re a heavy iPad user I suggest Educreation as it works great when recording what is happening on an iPad.

  • As a Chromebook or PC user I would suggest Screencastify.

Using these applications you can talk through a lesson and show students click by click what you’re doing. They also incorporate writing and highlighting features to emulate writing on the board. This way if you’re ever out you can assign the video for students to watch to get your instruction. It’s also great for the absent student or someone who needs to see the lesson again. Additionally, you have a permanent recording of what you taught which is helpful to parents in a time when they need to relearn a lesson to help a student. 

In fact, the whole concept of recording lessons is how Khan Academy became so successful.  Sal Khan was helping his cousin with math lessons by recording what it was that his cousin, Nadia, needed help with and it just grew from there. 

 

Why not do this for your own students?  And don’t worry about recording all of it. You don’t need to record your whole lesson for it to work. If you teach math you might record just one sample problem rather than five of them because a student can watch you do the one problem over and over. Keep things simple and under five minutes. If your video is going to go longer, break it into multiple videos. The best part is you don’t need to be a video editing expert to use these programs. In many cases the buttons are easier to use and understand than an old Fisher-Price tape recorder and many of them have basic editing capabilities that help you edit out mistakes, long pauses, or to maybe add some text notes on top of the video.

 

The next important tool to have is teleconferencing capability

Currently the two most popular applications are Google Meets and Zoom. Both are excellent and fairly easy to use. Each have their pros and cons which I won’t cover here but I recommend choosing one and sticking with it.  The ability to connect with your students, other educators, and even parents in a live format from separate locations is powerful. 

With these baseline tools you can conduct class without skipping a beat. There are obviously challenges to teaching classes in this way, including students’ distraction at the excitement of seeing each other, limitations on devices, bandwidth struggles, or the ever common reminder to participants to mute themselves regularly to avoid hearing the dog barking or the car radio playing while joining the meeting from a car.  

It’s wonderful to see teachers embracing these instruments in response to the present situation but I encourage you to continue learning with them even when session resumes. In this way you can connect with students that are homebound, you can invite guests from around the world to participate in your classrooms, you can even work collaboratively with classrooms in other cities, states, or countries.

  • Why not have a scientist interact with your class when doing an experiment concerning which they are an expert? 

  • Conduct an interview with someone from the local zoo about endangered species and learn how you can do to help as school. 

  • How about just learning about other cultures by interacting with students globally? 

I can’t stress enough that these technologies can catalyse an educational explosion in your classroom by ripping down the walls and making it a truly global learning environment!

 


You will have your core curriculum and preferred textbooks, which are your resources in helping to guide the learning processes. But you’ll need a full arsenal of websites for expanding your students’ learning.

  • For example, take virtual field trips with something like Google Expeditions. You can go around the world and back utilizing 360-degree photographs to get a realistic perspective as if you were there. Museums around the world are set up for virtual field trips. Many students will never get a chance to go to France and visit the Louvre but they can visit it from the computer. 

  • Why not expand their ability to learn and understand coding by utilizing sites like Code.org or Tynker? You might not teach coding in your curriculum but every subject in some way hits on coding, from the math in a robot’s hard drive to the importance of spelling and punctuation. 

  • Have a site or two where students can get addtional textbook resources such as CK-12.org where there are hundreds of open source textbooks for students to expand their knowledge or even benefit from material presented in a new way.

  • Find a place for students to source casual reading books such as Google Books. They might not have the latest books to market but some students just want something to read. 

Continue to freshen your basket of learning tools and ideas - there is so much out there!

 


Through all of this take some time for yourself and learn. This is a great time to take advantage of all the professional development that is out there. This is a time to explore new things, jump on webinars from companies you have always wanted to learn about. Watch videos from some of the nation's best speakers. Right now some of the biggest names in education are doing free webinars and videos as they want to keep their name out there. There are presenters I go out of my way to see at certain conferences but now I’m getting all their sessions from the comfort of my own home. Also now is a time to take advantage of online learning experiences from organizations such as Connecting Link. With time to yourself at home you can take advantage of classes that you didn’t have time for before. Schools are offering what seems like less professional development then before and expecting teachers to find more on their own. This is the time to take advantage of that.

 


The last two points I want to leave you with in this time of crisis are: 

  1. When you are out on extended breaks or even for a snow day be wary of overwhelming your students. This is a time to slow it down just a little while maintaining learning inertia.  Give students new content but avoid too many new sites or tools at once. If you want to introduce a site like Tynker as a math teacher that's fine but don’t throw three other new sites at them also. Ease out the “new”.

  2. Don’t focus all the students' time on the computer. Absence from the classroom does not justify maximum screen time. That’s not authentic learning. Include some brain breaks from sites such as GoNoodle. Offer up some time outside to make an observation and report back. Have a student record themselves introducing their pets to the class. It's a tech based lesson but not necessarily sitting in front of a computer screen all day. Let them stretch their legs and rest their eyes.

 


These are uncharted times and it’s a challenge for educators everywhere. Now is the time to remember that students are feeling uneasy even if they think this is just time off. They have their concerns too. But being out for an extended period doesn’t mean learning should stop. We shouldn’t have a generation of students with a missing quarter of knowledge, we simply need to find new ways to teach them. There is a fantastic silver lining here: teachers are going to return to the classroom with new and fresh ideas and an evolved mindset on teaching with technology tools. This is going to change education for the better and I am ecstatic about that. Keep trying and learning to use these tools!


Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Michael McGowan
Mike McGowan is currently a Technology Director and building administrator for Sunnybrook School District 171, a PreK to 8th grade district in Lansing, Illinois.  Mike is also an Executive Board member for IDEA (Illinois Digital Educators Alliance) the Illinois ISTE (International Society for Technology in Educators) affiliate.