Teaching during lockdown: Transitioning to online learning
Globally, over 1.6 billion children are unable to attend schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers are unprecedented. The biggest number of students being out of school at the same time.
Educational systems all over the globe had to adapt to this unique situation in the best way they could and face a new reality: online learning. For some schools and teachers, the implementation of online learning platforms was smooth and easy. While for others, you guessed it, more of a challenge.
We asked educators all over the world, from middle school to universities like Parsons School of Design or California State University, to tell us more about how they’re handling teaching during the lockdown.
*This article is part of the Flipsnack for Education initiative.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome
One of the main focus points of this article is to see how teachers from different academic backgrounds faced this unique challenge. Truth be told, no one saw this coming, and within a week, everyone had to make different plans. This, for many teachers, meant learning how to drop old learning processes and shift their focus on incorporating digital learning into their classrooms.
The decision to close schools during the pandemic disrupted not just pupils’ daily schedules but also their living circumstances. A good example of this is the New Mexico School for the Deaf which provides free enrollment to any New Mexican child from 18 months to 21 years of age who has a diagnosed hearing loss, especially since some of them leave too far away to commute to school, even before the pandemic. During COVID-19, the school adapted to the new circumstances and decided to go fully online finding new ways to transition both students and teachers to the digital world.
While for some of them, this was already happening, for others, it was quite a learning experience.
For Trinity High School in River Forest IL, transitioning to e-learning was a rather smooth process. Because, earlier in the year they had already begun their transition to digital access, in order to prepare for snowy days. Of course, this helped a lot.
Besides using the classic online learning tools like Zoom or Google classroom, it was important for teachers here to maintain kids engaged. So, they brought in authors, astronauts, inventors or even TED talks guests who came online to make things more exciting and fun.
When the state of Illinois mandated shelter-in-place, Trinity High School was just starting its two-week spring break. This facilitated a better transition to this new normal.
Teaching during lockdown required finding new ways of keeping the community together. And Trinity High School did this in a creative way. They created a special pandemic journal
The pandemic journal project consists of daily journal entries for the students as a way for them to think like historians and record information in the moment.
Also, a tuition relief fund worth $1 million was created to help support tuition for the upcoming school year.
From face to face to online learning
When Leslie Sanderson, a Journalism Instructor at Glenda Dawson High School in Pearland Texas, found out that they had to do distance learning, she immediately began to strategize ways to replace face-to-face teaching.
“Because I teach photojournalism and yearbook production, my students and I were already communicating and creating work digitally to some extent. That meant we had a great basis for building an effective learning experience.I also found great content online to curate learning for my students. I show them examples and techniques, help them understand and analyze those, and then give them space to learn in their own ways.“
Leslie soon found out that some students struggled with keeping a high level of motivation when there was no personal interaction and that seeing each other’s faces seemed to have a big impact. Just a small reminder that shows how important human interaction is. Some students will connect with the teacher and want to do well because of this connection; while others will work hard to do well because they’re genuinely interested in the subject. For the first category, connection is key!
A surprising aspect of online learning is communicating in class versus sharing your thoughts online. Take for instance a student whose English is limited. He might feel anxious in front of his peers and scared to share his knowledge live. Leslie says that for the first time, this type of kids are blossoming. The fact that they know their peers are not reading what they’re writing, and they have time to look up words and review their work more in-depth gave them more trust.
“Even if I go back to regular instruction next year, I will provide more opportunities for that kind of communication,” says Leslie.
Staying connected while teaching online
Every teacher we interviewed for this article emphasized the importance of constantly keeping in touch with their students. One of the very first things Noreen Lace, Lecturer at California State University, Northridge did when all this started, was to make a video for her students.
“ I felt it was important they see my face and hear my voice as we transitioned. They responded in video, some of them saying they appreciated the personal touch.”
As you’d expect, some of the students were resistant and nervous about the switch to e-learning but they grew to appreciate Noreen because of her skills to set up the classroom.
Sure, it helped the fact that other teachers in her school had little experience in this; while Noreen taught a class or two online per semester for the last fifteen years.
Showing trust and empathy
For Joseph Glatzer, middle school history teacher at West Contra Costa USD, constant communication and trust are two of the most important factors that help with the educational process during lockdown.
Trying to keep students motivated can get a bit overwhelming; but not for Joseph who included some optional fun assignments like online quiz games or interactive presentations.
However, teaching during lockdown came with new challenges, such as parents being at work during school hours. This meant that some of the students had to watch their younger siblings during the day. For others, having a reliable internet connection was a bit of an issue.
But for all these situations, empathy is the key. Not putting extra pressure on kids or making a few exceptions by extending deadlines for those who are facing adversity and challenges were some of the situations in which empathy was needed. And Joseph understood the power of it.
“I have tremendous admiration and respect for all the students and parents right now. Even under the best circumstances, living through a global pandemic is not going to be ideal.”
Future of education
In our quest of understanding more about teaching during lockdown and how different educational institutions and their teachers transitioned to online learning we stumbled upon Parsons School of Design, New York. And so we wondered. How does a prestigious design institution handle online learning?
Luckily, Joshua Williams, Assistant Professor Of Fashion Management was kind enough to give us some very insightful information.
As you’d expect, challenges were pretty much the same. Keeping students engaged, connected and motivated. But a podcast is such a good instrument to keep students engaged with industry professionals. Called “Retail Revolution”, the podcast focuses on how the pandemic was affecting retail, a theme any design student will want to know more about, especially today.
So, in order to spark conversation around this subject, the school organized a live Zoom Q&A and produced two bonus episodes featuring students.
Joshua was already working on creating an online version of the Fashion Management MPS graduate program with the goal of launching it in Fall 2021. The goal was to rethink online education from the ground up, so as not simply to mirror an onsite program, but to create something new.
“In my decade of teaching, I had come to realize that onsite and online learning are quite different modalities. One is not better than the other, just different. And that is how I approached the development of the new program.”
Of course, this helped tremendously when face-to-face learning was no longer an option starting March.
Using online learning tools like Canvas or Zoom, teachers from Parsons School of Design managed to stay in touch with students, send out assignments and give feedback. So, the entire institution is considering a more substantial shift online—thinking about the potential of being online, or hybrid, in the fall.
“All in all, our experience throughout this sudden transition has been positive, albeit with some sadness that our graduating seniors will not have the chance to see each other in person as they complete their summer classes.” says Joshua.
It is clear that this pandemic crisis affected all of us. But perhaps, for some industries, it was a much-needed push forward.
For the educational system, adapting to the new “normal” meant fully transitioning to online learning. And teaching during lockdown came with a lot of question marks. For some teachers, this meant finding new creative ways to do their job more efficiently.
The question today is whether these schools and teachers will keep online teaching as a viable method for the future of education.
This article is part of the Flipsnack for Education initiative. Because we want students to be able to continue to learn from home, as schools and universities close due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we’re giving our Classroom plan for free. If you’re a teacher and you want to use Flipsnack with your students, please contact us.