Today I attended a virtual webinar presented by Mike Gwaltney (@MikeGwaltney) for ISM (Independent School Management@isminc) titled, “How to Create an Academic Technology Plan for the 2020–21 School Year.” Here are a few of my takeaways and reflections on the information and advice Mike shared.

First of all, Mike’s recommendation that schools plan to provide “Parent Orientation and Training” for the learning management system (LMS) which the school will be using with students, and how communication will work about assignments, grades, etc. was spot on. We are planning and hoping to start school in August next year F2F (face-to-face) but we also realize we may have to go back into a ‘remote learning’ mode, or certain groups of students and teachers may have to go into remote learning because of the pandemic. It’s important to provide ALL constituents (including parents) with opportunities to learn about how different digital learning platforms work and can be used. We’re continuing to use Seesaw for our PreK – 3rd grade classes, and mainly Google Classroom for our grade 4 – 12 students. These platforms are “user-friendly,” but it’s a mistake to assume everyone “will just figure things out.” So that bit of advice from Mike was great.

Secondly, I appreciated and agree with Mike’s recommendation that school leaders include discussion about the PEDAGOGY of blended / digital learning in parent education sessions and communications. Mike reminded webinar attendees that even though many parents want to see their kids watching and listening to their teacher on a live videoconference call, we know from research the best learning does not come from simply WATCHING. We want students, in Mike’s words, “to take action.” We want students to construct their own knowledge, not through passive participation in a 100% “delivery mode” instructional experience, but rather in a blended approach which combines delivery with rich options for interaction, sharing, and presentation.

In many cases, parents ‘need help’ understanding that asynchronous instructional strategies, which do NOT involve the teacher ‘live’ on a screen in front of students and a class, are both powerful and desirable in a blended learning and remote learning situation. All parents are experienced in ‘sit and get’ school, so that is still an expectation many have, especially perhaps (in the case of independent / private schools) when parents are paying substantial sums of money for their students to have a high quality learning experience. Those high quality experiences hinge on RELATIONSHIPS more than content delivery, however, and it’s not good for anyone to spend MANY HOURS each day sitting passively in front of a screen. Mike is 100% correct encouraging school leaders to help educate parents not only about technical tools and strategies, but also pedagogy which is best for students.

Mike shared a good checklist to use when considering different tools for teachers to use with students, and those which the school can and will support. His categories were tools which support communication, collaboration, creation, recording / capturing of audio and video, presenting, meeting, and asking / quizzing / assessing. This is a good list. It’s a bit more complicated than the simpler “Delivery – Interaction – Assessment” framework I used for both Google Classroom and Seesaw in the instructional support Google Site I built out for our faculty last spring during remote learning (support.casady.org). Many of the learning modules on that website are, incidentally, applicable to a wide variety of learning management systems, not just Google Classroom or Seesaw.

I also resonated with a slide Mike shared about the “thinking, action verbs” which need to be connected to “digital action verbs.” (It’s actually in the threaded reply to the above tweet, shown below at the bottom.) The thinking / action verbs Mike included were create/write, evaluate, analyze, apply, understand / show, remember / record. Sounds a lot like “Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Verbs” from TeachThought.

Of course these ideas reminded me of my website and digital learning project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to Create Today?” that I launched in 2013 when I published, “Mapping Media to the Common Core: Vol 1.” In many ways that was a terrible book title, who could have forecast how poorly “The Common Core” would be received around our nation? I did rebrand it “Mapping Media to the Curriculum” at some point, but I need to update and re-release it as “Show with Media!” In any event, those ideas align well with some of the recommendations Mike made today in the webinar. We need to challenge our students and ourselves to use media in effective ways to demonstrate and communicate both what we know and what we can do.

One final comment I’ll share from Mike’s webinar today involves live streaming or “lecturecasting” from classrooms this fall. I almost focused my dissertation research on lecturecasting, so I have done a bit of academic research around this as well as practical experimenting. (Search my blog for “lecturecasting” for a bunch of archived posts on that topic.) Mike mentioned that teachers can use their smartphones in their classrooms next school year to livestream classes for students to watch who can’t attend class in person. He did recommend that only be done in short segments, but I want to add some reflections and responses to this idea.

First of all, the upstream bandwidth of many K-12 school networks today is not configured to handle simultaneous live streaming of content from a majority of or all classrooms. As school leaders, we need to be careful about how we set expectations around livestreaming. I know of several schools who are working with vendors this summer to install microphones and cameras to support lecturecasting next year. Some universities have a lot of experience with this. (Remember Duke’s Podcasting Initiative of 2007?!) My first advice on this is, be sure your network upload / upstream capacity as well as hardware and human technical support pieces are in place if you want to make campuswide lecturecasting a reality.

My second point, however, is pedagogical rather than technical in nature, and it is that lecturecasting has limited utility. Expectations around it should be set LOW. It’s impossible for a teacher to attend fully to face-to-face students in front of them AND remote students watching at a distance and using an interactive tool (like live chat) to interact back to the classroom. It can be done, and support staff, other teachers or students can be enlisted to help, but it’s hard. Note I wrote above, FULLY ATTEND. I have attempted to teach both remote and F2F students at the same time several times in the past, so I have “personal testimony” I can share about this.

It’s much better to either focus ONLY on teaching students face-to-face- or ONLY teaching students at a distance / remote. If teachers have to do both, set expectations for remote students LOW. Also ask if it’s mandatory for them to receive/listen LIVE, or if they can get a recording. If students don’t have meaningful and frequent opportunities TO INTERACT and participate in the lecture, they don’t need to ‘get it live.’ Also be willing to ask if students need both video and audio. Local bandwidth limitations may require that teachers only live stream audio of their classes, and students get presentation slides / other resources via the class LMS.

I do not know of any schools doing this now, but it’s worth considering whether some teachers could be designated as “remote teachers” and others focus on just ‘”face to face” students and teaching. The reality is likely to be that all teachers won’t be able to teach face-to-face all year long next year at school. Why not prepare now for some teachers to work and teach remotely, and better support remote students this way?

In many ways, I think the challenges before us for teaching and learning in the 2020-21 academic year will be even harder than what we faced in March – May 2020 with “emergency remote learning.” At that point, everyone was in the SAME situation: At home. The fall and spring are likely going to look like an even more fractured and ‘messy’ learning landscape, which will be hard for everyone, but especially teachers. I know many of our teachers spent TONS of time preparing as well as delivering / sharing remote learning lessons. I hope (and recommend) that we attend more to the TIME spent by both teachers and students in remote, blended / hybrid, and face-to-face lessons. This TIME focus should be for both preparation and actual lesson delivery. Ideally, I think teachers should keep a log of time spent, to help administrators get a better picture of JUST HOW MUCH TIME teachers spent and are spending on lesson preparation.

Digital, blended learning can be powerful and in many ways more effective than traditional, face-to-face learning (especially when differentiated learning strategies were NOT used in that ‘traditional’ setting) but they are also HARD and TIME CONSUMING. Remember, some university faculty (those would be the tenured and tenure-track variety, in my experience) have the luxury of taking AN ENTIRE YEAR or MORE to prepare a new course for an online or hybrid delivery format. That was true for the five years I served as the Director of Distance Learning for the College of Education at Texas Tech University. A HUGE amount of preparation work, by multiple support staff members as well as faculty members, went into getting ‘distance learning instructional experiences’ prepared and ready. It’s super important to attend to these very real time issues for K-12 teachers today faced not only with remote learning requirements, but also a messy and uncertain hybrid / face-to-face / remote mix. If we don’t, we risk pushing teachers past their limits in 2020-21.

Thanks to Mike Gwaltney (@MikeGwaltney) for sharing this excellent webinar today. You can check out more upcoming webinars and recommended resources by ISM by visiting isminc.com/covid19. You can also checkout the online keynote I shared for our faculty on March 22, 2020, “Tips and Strategies for Remote Learning,” along with other evening webinars I shared last fall (www.designcreateshare.com/webinars) and online workshops I shared with others for our school faculty.

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