Remote Learning Can Be More Than a Bandage

Remote Learning Can Be More Than a Bandage
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

School districts across the country are rushing to replicate their in-person schooling models any way they can, as students and teachers are kept home by lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

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As someone who has worked for years to help districts transition to digital and personalized methods of education, I applaud the heroic efforts so many educators are taking to keep kids learning during a time of crisis. I can’t help but be a little sad, however, by the sentiment I’ve read in a few places, that “remote learning isn’t great, but at least it’s better than no learning.” 

This is precisely the wrong lesson we should take away from this moment. Parents and researchers know that traditional methods of educating students don’t work for far too many kids. There are other, better ways to teach and to learn.

At the same time, we must consider that the current moment may be more than just a moment. Already, state and school leaders are warning districts to be thinking now about how they might offer remote learning next fall, if current measures fail to “flatten the curve."

Many educators are facing the greatest challenge of their careers. But within that challenge lies an opportunity. 

For the sake of all our students’ long-term success, we must accelerate the transition from analog instruction to digital instruction – preparing ourselves not just for emergency situations, but for the future of education. 

For this transition to work, it must occur in three phases: 

In phase one, district leadership teams should gather stakeholders – community leaders, families, board members, teachers andstudents – to discuss what the future of learning in their district should look like. This is a critical process for generating buy-in and a shared mission for the hard work to follow.

In phase two, the education experts – teachers and administrators – should work together to develop a learning model (or instructional framework) in line with the district’s future vision of learning, consistent with the district’s strategic plan, and only then utilize an array of available technologies to move forward. Districts should also establish a new professional learning plan, so that teachers have the support, guidance, insights and resources they need to see the vision through. 

I can’t overemphasize how important it is that this is an education- and educator-led process. Too many districts that start down this road begin with devices and software, convinced by vendors that once they buy the right technology, everything else will fall into place. Not so.

In the final phase, leaders should track students’ progress and help them identify personal, academic, and even professional paths forward. Through increased community engagement and partnerships, leaders can help students take the next steps into the world of work or higher education sooner, establishing professional connections and gaining work-based learning experiences. 

Just as remote work – even well before this crisis – started to become the “new normal” for American adults, remote learning will one day become the “new normal” in K-12 education, and we’ll finally break the bond between where students live and what they can learn. 

These may be dark times, but under better circumstances and with the right approach, the future is bright. We will get through this pandemic. And when we emerge on the other side of it, we will do so not only prepared to never let this happen again, but ready to transform education for the better.

It’s critical that we use this as a launching off point; as a time to talk about why K-12 education demands innovation, and more importantly how we can effectively implement it.

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