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Staying Connected During Remote Learning

April 1, 2020

Kate E. O’Hara

Kate E. O’Hara

Schools around the country have closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Now educational systems that once focused on face-to-facere teaching have shifted to remote learning.

Instructional technology expert Kate E. O’Hara, Ph.D., associate professor of interdisciplinary studies and author and editor of Teacher Evaluation: The Charge and the Challenges, sat down with The Box to share insights on ways educators can integrate multimedia tools into their curriculum and stay connected with their students.

It’s a challenging time for schools, students, and families as they acclimate to remote learning. How can educators make their lessons engaging to help students benefit from it?
First and foremost, we have to acknowledge that this isn’t “business as usual,” and both educators and students are experiencing a great deal of stress in thinking that is the goal. We simply cannot take a face-to-face course and transfer the material online, expecting the same outcomes. What we can do, with a good deal of compassion, is to let our students know we are there to support them, and that may be in ways well beyond any academic topic. That should be our first level of engagement: a supportive, personal connection.

Then, consider the objectives and instructional goals you have for your students. Hopefully, in a face-to-face environment, those goals included student-centered, high-engagement practices that foster critical thinking and knowledge production, and so the same would apply remotely. We can create those experiences, but keeping in mind issues of equity and access, the instructional activities need not be heavily reliant on the technology, but simply use the technology as the medium for sharing information.

During remote learning, students may feel isolated or lonely. What are some ways to connect with students, to help their well-being?
For educators, technology can play an integral role in keeping that personal connection alive and well. I sent my students a quick online feedback form to check in with them: How are they feeling? What are their concerns? What can I do to help?

Overwhelmingly in all my classes, students wanted to “meet” to simply share feelings they are experiencing. So, we’re now meeting weekly through Zoom to check-in, connect, share, and perhaps most importantly, laugh. Now more than ever we need to hear students’ voices both within, and out of, an academic context. We can use a variety of tools to do that: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Flipgrid, VoiceThread, Padlet. Also, using Google Apps such as Docs and Slides, we can chat with students in real-time. We can also email and text our students through an LMS or advisor software programs to check-in and stay connected. I know I’m feeling the isolation of our situation, so it’s been beneficial for me to be in touch with my students in my courses, but individually too—I miss them. I like to think of this as a time of physically distancing, while striving to keep the social going.

How may the field of education change after this situation?
The education system in America has already changed as a result and will continue to do so. The digital divide is now at the forefront of a national conversation we’ve had for decades; students without access to the Internet and inequitable distribution of computers or devices for students. The divide is further compounded by inequities in access to sustained professional development, or resources, teachers need to effectively integrate technology in their practice. Hopefully, remote learning will bring about changes but only with the awareness that this is not online learning. The word triage is often associated with the incredible and dedicated work happening in our communities on the frontlines—first responders, to those working in hospitals, to those working in grocery stores. In education, we’re in triage mode. We should not consider this high-quality online teaching, but rather our best effort to continue to teach our students, by engaging and connecting, with compassion. It has been a disruption, in education for sure, and with disruption, there are always opportunities for innovation and change.