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Teaching/Online Madness, Oh My!

In this historical moment which has become our 2020 school year with the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching has become a greater challenge for educators. Everyone has unwillingly been forced out of the brick and mortar routine classroom and into the vortex of cyberspace learning. Which thanks to the multiple strands in the fiber cables, it can transmit every second terabits of data (Friedman, 2005). Yet there is a sense of loss in direction and focus due to the unforeseen change. Which by the way change is usually like that. It hits you in the blindside and you either react or respond to the situation as best you can.

The bottom line is that students still need to learn how to read, write, and THINK!

In the 21st century, our world as we knew it became flat again with the introduction of technology and communication methods that made us global with an instant connection to everyone in the entire world.

So why are public schools having a difficult time teaching online? The answer it seems may be quite simple, schools were not ready and have not caught up to the 21st century. Schools may have computer labs, small grants for Apple I-pads, send educators for professional development, etc... but has it been enough? and why not?

To teach online, and to teach face-to-face the educator must master each of these diverse ways of communicating with the student (not to the student, big difference) and creating virtual experiences like you would in the classroom. Teaching online is not a link-based teaching process but rather a communication process.

So how can this be done better? There are many solutions to this issue and to be fair teaching online is the hard skills component of this process. The soft skills component is the psychology behind the art of teaching in a virtual world and not everyone wants to or enjoys teaching online. (With 11 years of experience teaching online at a community college and 18 years overall teaching from Parochial to K-12 public schools and higher education systems I was bound to learn a few things along the way.)

So here are a few thoughts and suggestions to keep in mind:

  • First thing is to remember that the content does not lose its rigor or intent when teaching online.

  • The teaching method has to have a vision and clarity. All objectives and goals are pre-planned and scripted with vodcast lectures, notes, audiovisuals, and experiences to create learning.

  • Most importantly, the teacher must be fully committed to creating magic online so students are engaged, encouraged and asking questions. Everything can be learned with self-discipline and the willingness to do it. What will prevent the educator and the student to succeed online is the mindset. Think everything through.

  • Online teaching should be about what is important, the skills needed, and relevant. The objective and rubric must be clear and specific and well thought out so you don't change your mind in the middle of the session and create virtual confusion and chaos as to what students will be learning.

  • Not all students are tech savvy but are willing to learn and try if and when they are allowed to fail at it until they get it right and if they are doing it with their peers.

  • Visual and verbal communication is key via an online platform where students can visually see their teacher and form a connection.

  • Create, teach, and have a process of how to navigate the online class or else students and the teacher will be swimming around lost. Keep it simple and fewer buttons to push. Chunk the content so they read, view videos, write, do, connect, and assess.

  • Be available and have chat time with students as a whole or individually to strengthen online relationships. (I send virtual snacks or take them to lunch online and it's fat-free and all you can eat.)

Please note that I have not gone in-depth but rather briefly to a situation in which learning is affected by so many students around the world. Many parents are/were not prepared, equipped, or emotionally ready to take on the academic responsibilities of homeschooling in addition to meeting family needs. Most school districts were also not prepared or equipped to meet the needs of the students.

What a great moment in time to identify what needs to change in the school systems and resolve to catch up to a world that has been virtually flat from the beginning of the 21st century with the coming of technology and world communication.

Blankstein, A. M. (2013).Failure is not an option: 6 principles that advance student achievement in highly effective schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Friedman, T. L. (2009).The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. Bridgewater, NJ: Distributed by Paw Prints/Baker & Taylor.

Tracy, B. (2014).No excuses!: the power of self-discipline. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo LifeLong.

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