eLearning: I’ve Got Questions

eLearning is a hot topic these days as teachers around the country are scrambling to help kids learn from home. I saw someone make the analogy to the astronauts on Apollo 13 trying to make do with whatever they could find laying around the space shuttle during their crisis in space. Much the same, teachers across the country are scrambling to put together learning experiences for students during these extended days away from school. 

Before I go any further, I want to be crystal clear. Teachers are doing amazing work and should be commended for creating learning experiences for their students. The ways in which teachers are reaching out to kids to give them some sense of community and connection should be applauded and highlighted. Simply put, there are examples everywhere you look of teachers going above and beyond for the sake of kids. 

That being said, there are questions I find myself asking and concerns I see bubbling up. 

Home Access

Bottom line, not all kids have the same access at home. How are we ensuring all kids are able to access content, learning, and connections while at home? Is it ethical to expect all kids to participate in eLearning? It is great seeing companies working with communities to get kids connected, but will it be enough?

Going beyond technology access, what about access to social and emotional learning supports? What about our students who are marginalized in society but have a safe space at school? If school is their safe space and that is removed, what do we do? How can we reach out and support them during this time? 

Our most vulnerable populations of learners will be hit the hardest by these eLearning times. Think about the number of students who receive any level of academic, behavioral, or social intervention. No matter what we do or how good we do it, delivering services and support digitally will not meet their needs. These are the students who will be hit the hardest and fall even further behind. 

Grades vs Learning

Some schools are grading and others are not during this new eLearning frontier. I’m seeing many people in my social media feeds claiming kids won’t do the work if it is not graded. Does this sound familiar? We have this argument during normal school settings as well. I like to believe that when we ask kids to do meaningful work, it will get done. However, when kids are at home we don’t have any way of knowing if they are in the physical or mental space to do even the most meaningful work. 

Student Engagement

Any classroom teacher knows student engagement is a tough nut to crack. We spend much of our time figuring out how to get kids interested in and motivated to learn about content they may never need. As we move to this new digital classroom scenario, teachers are getting creative in their attempts to engage students. My advice is to provide choices and not force all kids to do the same thing. For example, I’m seeing a lot of teachers asking students to videotape themselves doing something. Not all kids are comfortable with this.

*(I was born in the 80s and still say “videotape”) 

My friend Ken Shelton has a great question for us to ask ourselves, “Am I being mindful of cultural differences that may serve as either barriers or inhibitors to what I want students to be doing?” When we attempt to engage our students, are we doing so in ways that push kids out or bring kids in? 

Equity

This is a big one for me and goes hand in hand with home access. However, beyond the access to content, there are so many other layers. Some kids are in home environments where they are taking care of younger siblings. Other kids are in online classrooms with teachers, at no fault to themselves, who are woefully underprepared to deliver content digitally. I recently read a piece from The Hechinger Report that sums up so many of the concerns with eLearning as it pertains to equity. How can we possibly provide equitable learning experiences with the innumerable variables at play when kids are not in school?

Teacher Accountability

No post about education would be complete without mentioning teacher accountability. Some teachers are teaching daily, some not at all, and most are somewhere in between. Is this any different than a typical school week in most buildings? I truly feel at the end of the day everyone is doing their best and we should be slow to judge and quick to help out.

Tots vs. Fries

For me, this is a no-brainer. Long before Napoleon Dynamite was shoving tots into his cargo pocket, I was advocating for tots supremacy in the battle of potato-based side dishes. All kidding aside, as schools move to homebound learning, how are we providing for our students who rely on schools for daily meals? Here is just one example of how a district is addressing the food challenge.

Self-Promoting Teachers

I will likely get some push back on this, but we need to be careful with what we are sharing via social media during these times. There are certainly educators who post pictures, videos, and other content for the purpose of promoting themselves or their so-called “brand.” Yes, we all share and I advocate sharing of student work and things working for you and your students. We can and do learn from each other. Let’s focus on supporting each other and the students we work with instead of competing for likes, views, and retweets, or the next book deal. 

Relationships Matter

This is not new or anything earth-shattering to any of us. Any good teacher, and even a mediocre one, knows relationships matter. Now, more than ever, they are critical. How are you connecting with kids? A full class Zoom meeting is likely not going to work for many kids. How are you reaching out to those introverts and quiet kids that normally come into your class early just to chat with you? Just as many teachers are struggling with this shift in school, many learners are as well. 

Parental Involvement

To start, parents are not teachers. They are not certified staff. They are not educators. Don’t assume they are or expect them to act in that manner. We cannot expect parents, even if we assume all kids have one at home during the day, to do the work of a classroom teacher. Assuming all kids are going to have supportive or educated adults in their homes raises more issues of equity. Plus, we must keep in mind working parents are at home and may have their own work-related responsibilities in addition to trying to support their child(ren).

At the end of the day, all of these issues are in play during a normal school situation. However, they are now being exacerbated in this new eLearning landscape. What I worry about is the achievement and opportunity gaps we often talk about in schools are going to be blown wide open. Our most at-risk students, and those we deem to be on the margins, will be the most affected during this time. I’m not sure I have any of the answers, but I want to keep asking the questions to help me get better at all of this. 

One thought on “eLearning: I’ve Got Questions”

  1. Thanks for writing this and thinking through a lot of what matters for kids, Josh.

    In addition to what you noted above, I wonder, too, about physical space and equity. Not only do we have to consider kids’ access to internet, but what about actual physical space in their homes for elearning? It makes me worry that too many assumptions are made about “find a quiet place to do your elearning.” What does that look like in a multi-kid home? Even if there IS space, the assumption that it will be “quiet” is an exercise in privilege, right?

    I don’t know who wrote it, but there was a good reminder from a teacher in Louisiana who mentioned what learning looked like during Hurricane Katrina. Elearning wasn’t (obviously) an option… and that teacher reminded us that those kids needed so much more than school as usual. I think we’re wise to consider the same thing here.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

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