COVID-19 isn’t over yet but school has started back. For some schools that means resuming in-person classes but for many others that means the start of e-learning. E-learning happened at the end of last year, but it is different when you are starting school. Many people know what e-Learning is like from the perspective of their children, but some people do not realize what it is like for the teachers. Here is a report from the front-lines of digital learning.
Lesson 1: You Need Multiple Screens
For some reason, whenever I see a picture of a “teacher” conducting e-Learning it usually takes the form of some Starbucks barista looking woman having a nice chat with five or six students over a webcam through her laptop which sits in the middle of a nice clean desk. Those are stock photos because bloggers are too lazy to find real ones.
E-learning really looks like one teacher monitoring the activity of 30 plus kids on screen while trying to simultaneously remediate the ones who need help and communicate with parents. At any given time during the day, I need to be using at minimum four platforms: Google classroom, Zoom, Hapara, and IXL. You aren’t doing that efficiently on a 11-inch iPad with a keyboard case, curled up on the couch. Teachers, like other professionals, have quickly discovered they need a proper “battle station.” The one pictured is mine. I have three screens, sometimes four, and I don’t know how I got around with only one for so long. Never again.
Lesson 2: Nobody Knows Anything
One truth that has quickly become apparent is just how much knowledge we take for granted in a normal school setting. This is not about content knowledge but rather a reference to the sheer amount of institutional and procedural knowledge we operate under the assumption of people having every year.
For example, teachers and administrators are generally able to anticipate first day gaps easily … not so much with e-learning. Every day is dealing with a new problem that we have never had before and didn’t see coming.
The same is true for students and parents. Last year, most of the students we had were familiar with logging on to programs and chrome books. While being on them for an entire day as opposed to going to school was certainly new, it wasn’t a major gap. New students that we have are less familiar with the ins and outs of the programs and technology we use, and it shows. Talking students and parents through the process of logging on has taken up significantly more of my time than I would have hoped.
Lesson 3: This Isn’t Easier for Teachers
Some people are probably tempted to think that e-learning is some kind of vacation for teachers. Truth be told there were probably some teachers who thought that as well. That has not been the case. Working from home quickly blurs the lines between work and home. For people who are already inclined to overwork themselves, e-learning facilitates a slow but painful death by thousands of tiny tasks per day. There is always more you can do and your ability to do it is always at your fingertips.
Even if you are a veteran teacher, this is hard. Even “experienced” teachers are inexperienced in this type of teaching.
Lesson 4: Some of These Meetings Really Could Have Just Been Emails
One positive from e-learning is that we are finally figuring out just how much information can be effectively communicated via email, and it turns out the answer is most of it. This situation has forced schools to be selective about what warrants an actual meeting or Zoom call, and we are all better for it.
For example, many times, I have been in a staff meeting where the sole purpose was to communicate an announcement or a decision that we had no control or input in. My thought during said meetings was, “If it is already decided did we really have to meet?” We now know the answer is no.
Some schools operate online normally, but for inner-city public schools, this is the final frontier. We are learning as we go, and each lesson opens the door to a new challenge we didn’t even know we had. We will undoubtedly get better, but hopefully we are able to return to school before we are forced to become experts.