Getting Ready for the New Classroom

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to get my head around how I
will be teaching in the fall.
Last year, I taught a ten-week course on teaching intermediate history to Faculty of Education students. I loved the challenge of the course and I am really hoping I will get this again. While I wait to find out, I have been learning everything I can about how to teach online.
This is going to be a very different summer for many people as we prepare for an entirely new teaching environment.
remote teaching checklist available from our Teaching and Learning Support Service

The Teaching and Learning Support Service at the University of Ottawa now has a series of webinars archived on their site. You can access many of them here on Youtube. These webinars go through the elements of course design. I think I have seen each webinar twice and I know I will be looking at them again.

The webinars are very good at outlining the elements of our learning management system. Here, we use Brightspace.

The first thing I have learned is pretty important. You have to go with the LMS that you have. You may really love Google Classroom or Hapara, but what is most important in this new environment is to keep things simple. It is almost like making sure that everyone is speaking the same language right from the start.

Next, it will be really important to be very structured in how I present my material. I will also really need to make my organizational thinking visible to my students. At this point, it is important to say that most of these ideas come from Dr. Michelle Hagerman. Michelle kindly took the time to go over the basic ideas last week. Here I am trying to digest her main points for me and anyone else who is trying to figure out how best to do this in the fall.

Your structure is where everything will hang for your course. If your structure makes sense to your students, they will be less stressed and more able to learn from you.

The syllabus will have to be carefully laid out. This includes making sure your headings and subheadings are consistent. When setting up your modules of instruction, it will be really important to have a Module ‘0’ that explains how you have put your course together. This could include your welcome message, course description, assessment and communication policy for example. It should also include some type of screencast that gives your students a tour of how you have set up your course.

Remember, you can’t do this on the first day anymore, so somehow you have to make it human for them. This part I haven’t figured out yet. I may use OBS Studio, Screencastify or ECHO 360 or half a dozen other screencasting tools. I really don’t think it matters what you use as long as it is working for you. The big point here is that you want to make a connection with your students as quickly as you can.

Oh, don’t forget to include a short intro video featuring you!!

Once you have clearly outlined the structure of your modules, with the time each one should take, it will be important to outline how you are going to communicate with your students and how they are going to reach you. This I think is crucial. Are you using your school email? Do you have a special email for this course? Will you respond to texts or Messenger? Will you have virtual office hours? All of this you need to figure out before your course starts. Whatever you use, it will be really important to get back to them pretty quickly. Otherwise, I think you will start losing your students.

The active learning process – TLSS

 

When it comes to the design of your class, the structure should remain consistent. A typical 3-hour lecture needs to be broken up into recognizable components. Here I am quoting directly from Dr. Hagerman:
Design modules that include (a) a written lecture of sorts — with integrated resources, videos, infographics etc. that presents key themes, ideas and evidence; (b) opportunities for students to practice, create or be involved in learning in some way — this can take lots of forms; (c) an opportunity to show or share what they have learned — this can be formative or evaluative.
This helps me a lot. For a three-hour class, I can think of ways to do this. My lecture is only part of the picture. I will need to find ways for students to create and communicate each week.
While I haven’t yet started to map out how all this will look from week to week, I am starting to get my head around how this will be so different from what I have done in the past. One thing, however, will not change, in fact it will become all the more important – I will need to focus on developing relationships with all my students and I will need to create a safe social space for the people I am working with.
I fully expect to spend the rest of my summer thinking and learning about all this. Then, after the first class in the fall, I will probably have to start learning all over again.
This is probably a good first step. Maybe some good ideas will come from any comments I get on this. Whatever happens, I need to take one step at a time. I leave the last words to Professor Hagerman:
Keep expectations reasonable — you’ll probably be able to do less, but that is okay.

 

 

COVID Journal # 5 Breaking up is hard to do

Today has been an interesting day. Earlier I had an incredible conversation with a colleague of mine on how to teach online in the fall. I am still digesting this, but what struck me the most was the notion that when we teach online, the first thing we need to do is consider the emotional health of our audience.

We need to find new ways to draw everyone in, make sure in our isolated spaces that everyone is part of the conversation. This will mean, among other things, that I will need to have a one-on-one conversation with every student I work with in the fall. If I don’t do this I will lose them and it will be my fault.

Today’s conversation was an eye-opener to me. I don’t know if many of us have figured this out yet – apart from teachers who have been working through this since the middle of March.

For the rest of us, I don’t think we understand yet that most social media is unidirectional. It is designed for conversations between two people. Three becomes a crowd.

In the old pre-COVID days, conversations could become organic, especially when one or two people monopolized the conversation. In the classroom, you could redirect. In the living room, you could start a side conversation and effectively move things along. People could pick up on cues, they could usually use their social skills to sense the room.

Now, this isn’t happening. A few days ago I saw a tweet from someone who has become part of a podcast I used to really enjoy. They were asking for feedback on how the show was going. In the past, the music had been great, there had been room for many voices and lots of music suggestions.

The same show now has become a conversation between two, or maybe three people. It has lost the ability to be inclusive –  it is misreading the room. This is part of my response for feedback on the show:

The show now seems a little like a conversation for two or sometimes three people. It used to be more inclusive, more of a community – not any longer. Maybe this is what the pandemic has done.

Our current communication systems can’t allow for more than one or two voices. We haven’t figured out yet how to be inclusive and allow relationships to grow online. This will be a challenge for all of us.

This kind of pushback usually doesn’t turn out well, but after mulling this over for a few days, I felt I needed to write something. More than ever before, people need to reach out and build community.

What spurred me onto this was my last meeting with my book club. We have been meeting online since the pandemic and for me, this hasn’t worked out too well. We have been together for more than fifteen years, but I don’t know if we will survive the pandemic.

Tonight I sat through a conversation that was almost exclusively between three people. It was sad to be there. I had actually looked forward to our conversation, but there was no way to become part of what was going on. No one took the social cues, the conversation was not inclusive. I left the meeting abruptly, but I did tell the group that the conversation no longer worked.

As a group, we are not adept at creating a community online. The radio show I commented on has also lost its ability to do this. We seem now to only be able to connect in groups of two or three. More than that seems to be beyond us and our grasp of the current technology.

We can no longer retreat to the classroom or the livingroom to restore community. These options are out of reach for the foreseeable future. We will have to become much more mindful of the importance of inclusiveness in a world dominated by unidirectional communication.

I am breaking up with my book club. It is not their fault, but I need real community, real human relations. The challenge for the fall will be to make sure none of my students end up feeling as I did tonight. Everything I do will have to be about building community and trust with the imperfect tools we have at our disposal.

We all need to be doing this. We are responsible for building and sustaining important positive relationships. Look around you, think again, we need to do much better to sustain each other for the times to come.

Getting started with our Virtual Kilimanjaro Climb!

Hi everyone!
We are very excited to get our Virtual Kilimanjaro Climb started!! It begins this day – Sunday, June 21st
We have a few notes here to get things going.
1. The suggested contribution for the climb is $58.95 – the altitude of Kilimanjaro in meters. If a group of you are doing this, a group rate can be $75.00 – these are suggestions, whatever you can contribute is great.
You can make your contribution to your own Canada Helps Page, if you don’t have one, you can contribute to one of the Climb for Kids trekkers here.
2. Starting Sunday, we will send each of you a set of Google Slides representing the challenge for that day. Here is a sample page. Please go at your own pace, just let us know how you are doing!!
3. We have set up a Strava page where you can challenge people and list your daily totals. You can join our group here
4. We also have a Spotify Playlist for you to listen to. Please feel free to add songs to our list here
5. Each day we can record your total steps – or you can do it yourself here. If you want us to record your steps, please send us an email at the end of the day.
Thanks very much for joining us! Let’s have lots of fun with this!!
If you know someone else who wants to join us, please let us know and we will add them to this great list!!

Communities Move Mountains!!

Paul And Heather

Fixed or Fluid? How Should we teach History?

NEW INTERACTIVE VIDEO SERIES: What purpose should school history serve? How can history education help students better understand the past, face the complexity of the present, and build a better future? #PastFwd

The new #Pastfwd series  – new conversations on teaching history

I am trying to come out from under the dusty miasma of COVID.

In ten weeks or so, I am hoping to be teaching in some form my course in Intermediate History again to second-year education students.  I will try to give my students some perspective on how history needs to be taught in grades 6-10 in Ontario schools.

To me, this is a daunting task. Fortunately, there is a great amount of discussion now on how history should be taught and why we still teach history in or schools. It is no longer good enough to draw out a narrative of events long past that have little or no relevance to the students we work with. We are now struggling to find a better purpose; we are trying to ignite the minds of our students.

Last year I was introduced to The Big Six, now the foundational text on teaching history in Canada. No longer can we string together a series of events and call this a history course. We need to find ways to talk about continuity and change, historical significance and cause and consequence. We need to bring in the ethical dimension to our teaching. We need to focus on perspective and the use of evidence.

This is not easy to teach. We need to listen to many voices and we need to become part of the discussion on the purpose of teaching history. Reading different and new posts will help me to come to grips with how to do this. A long path to discernment.

This week I can across a new series which I will be following over the summer – #pastfwd.

The series just started on Youtube and Twitter and I will be following every episode as I try to put together a course for the fall.

The first episode dropped this week and I have already watched it twice. This one is by Arthur Chapman Associate Professor in History Education at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London. His episode is called School History and the Public Understanding of the Past and it is fascinating. You can watch it below.

This 15-minute video is called a provocation and it centers around the historical interpretation of the Peterloo Massacre. It is really interesting to me that in the Manchester Guardian article I looked up about the battle I found this.

Why haven’t I heard of it?

Because it was rarely taught in schools. Some might say that was because history has traditionally concentrated on the battles and victories of royalty and the elite, rather than the working classes.

Chapman does a great job in his short video of showing how the event has been publically memorialized over the past 40 years. How we look at this event has changed dramatically over time. History is fluid, there is no static interpretation of events.

Look at this series of memorials to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. Chapman uses these images to illustrate some of the challenges of teaching history.

Peterloo Commemoration 1972
Commemoration 2007
Peterloo graphic novel 2019

This is what is so amazing when it comes to teaching history. The event doesn’t change. How it is written about and interpreted is incredibly different. Notice in the 1972 commemoration there is no mention of a massacre, just a dispersal.

What does this say about how we interpret history? What does this tell us about our own changing view of the past?

We can do the same thing here in Canada. Between the Lines, a collective of writers and artists have created and produced a graphic novel on the Winnipeg General Strike.

1919 A Graphic History

This book, a wonderful resource for history classes, does the same thing as the Peterloo graphic novel. It reinterprets history from a class struggle lens. It offers a new and refreshing perspective on our own struggles. What is the lens we use when we teach about history? Past, present or future tense?

Even better, we now have a conversation about this new approach with one of the Between the Lines writers Sean Carleton. This is a great interview, early on, Carleton sums up their approach –  “You don’t need a cape and tights to change the world”. Samantha Cutrara, a history education strategist based in Toronto has put together an important video series that explores the teaching of history in Canadian schools. You can find the entire series here.

There is a strong link between Peterloo and the Winnipeg General Strike graphic novels. Both show new interpretations of history and how we demonstrate the struggles for democratic rights that are not normally part of our narrative.

Getting back to where we started, when we teach history we certainly want to introduce students to their stories, as Chapman puts it, students need to have a robust knowledge of their past, but they also need to have a sophisticated understanding of how we come to know the past.

This is something new. How do we interpret the past? What is significant? How does that shift from generation to generation? I know my understanding constantly shifts. From the curried past of my high school history classes through university, my own classroom and now educating history teachers. Shifting is essential to learning and understanding. Perspective.

Moving forward in our own understanding and teaching means adjusting the lens we use to comprehend the past.

 

A virtual climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro – Join Us!

We are organizing an event for all of you starting on the first day of summer – June 21st – a virtual climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Here is your opportunity to climb to the Roof of Africa under your own COVID roof!!

climbing the Barranco Wall

 

Each day for seven days we will put out to those who are interested 1) a step count that approximates the steps you would take on that particular day (8-10,000 steps); 2) a commentary embedded for you to listen to that goes over what that day on the trail is like;  3) a video log of that day by Arienne Parzei; 4) a conditioning follow-along video by Chase Tucker; 5) some music to inspire you for your day; 6) some Kilimanjaro interesting facts and; 7) a fun African recipe.

This will be sent to you in the form of a google slide that we will add to every day. Of course, it is up to each of you how many days you take to complete the challenge.

This is a screenshot of the day 1 slide

We will create a spreadsheet so you can record your steps every day. We will use our Facebook pages so you can record how you are doing, any inspirational messages for people or any group challenges you want to put out there! If you are new to all this, we will add you to our Kilimanjaro 2021 Facebook Page – an added bonus!!

 

We want to raise some money for Christie Lake Kids, but we are not emphasizing the fundraising nature of this experience. We are suggesting each participant contribute $58.95 – the height of Kilimanjaro in meters. If this works out well, we might do this as a full fundraiser this fall. We are still committed to raising over $40,000 for Christie Lake Kids before we actually climb Kilimanjaro in 2021. Right now, we are at $26, 722.

If you want, you can get sponsors to raise more money – we leave this up to you. With the pandemic, Christie lake Kids stills to raise money – most of its regular fundraisers have been postponed, but they still plan to run a really cool virtual camp this summer called Camp in a Box.

This is a good opportunity to invite more people into the Climb for Kids experience. If friends and/or family join, we will add them to the spreadsheet, to our Kili FB Page and make sure they get the link to our climbing slides.

Our poster for the virtual climb!

So, please let us know if you are interested and we will get you signed up! Write me here – mcswa1@gmail.com

Remember – Communities Move Mountains!

Covid Journal # 4 Walking the Walk

And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.

—Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva

I think it is important to continue to write these journal entries. It will be good to have something to look back on once all of this is over.

Today I did another of the COVID walks I have been doing for the last month. It was a long one – over 8 kilometres. I have a constant companion, our dog Dory who patiently goes on these treks no matter what the weather is like.

Dory

I almost always take photos on these walks and post them on Instagram and Facebook. The photos mirror a bit my mood on these long walks – thoughtful, a little sad, taking in the stillness.

COVID Walk Today

Today I listened to a Pema Chödrön talk called Walking the Walk: Putting the teachings in practice when it matters most. I have included the first nine minutes of her talk here. The quote at the beginning of this post comes from this talk and is repeated by the participants in this retreat at the end of each session. In the passage, she talks about a young Buddhist monk who is told by his master that one day he would travel to teach people in North American. His mentor explains that there he will find people who will be much more interested in staying asleep than waking up.

This is a really good talk and I listened to it for the rest of my walk.

It does describe in some ways what I see going on right now. We are probably into the 10th week of the pandemic. The initial rush of ‘we are all in this together’ is now well over. The crisis is not nearly over, it is just morphing into a new and more challenging phase.

The violence and protests in the United States are part of this pandemic. The growing anger I see on social media is part of this too. The uncertainty about what the future holds now is a big part of what the pandemic looks like.

The uncertainty about what the school year will look like in September is palatable. While large events continue to get cancelled right up to and past next September what will schools look like? Already many universities are saying that classes will be online. There are new webinars offered almost daily by my university on how to adapt courses to an online environment.

What will elementary and secondary school look like in September? We do need to do some waking up as suggested by Pema Chödrön. The pandemic is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The initial rush is over, we are now in this for the very long haul and we need to open our eyes to this reality. I don’t think we are talking about this enough, maybe we need another few sleeps.

Many experts say that things really won’t change until there is a good treatment or a vaccine. Vaccines take years to make and many are only partly successful. The disruptions that we are experiencing now many lift, but only temporarily. Last week, one infected doctor in New Brunswick was able to expose over 150 people to the virus and effectively shut the province down again. (New Brunswick copes with return to lockdown after increase in COVID-19 cases – Globe and Mail, Monday, June 1)

It only takes one person to lock us all down again.

Wake up Wake up! We are in this for a very long time and we all need to start looking at how we are going to live in a very new world.

Schools have to look at how they are going to structure things to reopen in September. They will need a better plan than what we have seen in Quebec where schools with an outbreak close for two days, clean up and go at it again.

Wake up Wake up! We need to see our world with new eyes. Every sector of our society has to change. We need to start asking ourselves some very hard questions. From what I have seen, we are not doing this.

Cycling back to the violence in the States, this lack of awareness is limiting our deeper understanding of the swirling crisis that envelopes us. John Doyle writes about all-news coverage in the United States

When is the real life of American cities covered? Where is the punditry and analysis of the vast racial disparity in health and wealth? What this current crisis illuminates is all-news TV’s preference for extolling itself. It’s not the real basis for the protests and riots that matter, it’s the alleged bravery of its peacocking reporters on the inflamed streets.

Globe and Mail – American all-news TV is fundementally unfit to cover this crisis

Are we fit to understand and really grasp the depth of the crisis that we are in? Are any of us taking the long view on this or are we still trying to sleep through this by finding more and more distractions?

Maybe we all need to take a very long walk, listen to Pema Chödrön and start the process of waking up to this new and daunting reality. It’s not going anywhere soon.

another COVID shot

Covid Journal # 3 Adapting to a new world – it’s a slow burn

I have been thinking about the pandemic. I have the time. All the scenarios I see have waves and waves of Covid-19 dashing over us for the next year or more. Take a look, do you see a scenario where this goes away?

This makes sense. Why would the virus go away?

I am not going to write a post on the craziness of people who just need to defy common sense to get a haircut. That is too easy.

What I am interested in is how we move into a new normal? What will it look like? How do we as a collective figure this out?

A friend of mine sent me this out today. This makes lots of sense.

In Jared Diamond’s book Collapse he proposes that one of the criteria for the collapse of a civilization is the inability to adapt.

This is something. We live in an age where we as a society need to adapt to a new normal. The old way is gone, maybe for a very long time.

Adaptation for a species that can think can happen very quickly. We can’t waste time here. We need to think, we need to figure this one out. Other great societies have failed. We don’t need to follow others here.

My main concern now as we settle into the slow burn is education. One of the most social of all enterprises is threatened in an entirely new way. We need to start figuring this one out.

Over the past few days, we have learned that universities will be moving to a hybrid learning situation. I’m not sure what this will mean, but I think it will mean lots of on-line teaching and learning.

What will this mean at the primary and secondary level? I have no idea and I don’t know if anyone else does either.  The old ways are done. We need to figure this out.

Adapt or face the consequences. Adapt or become a wisper. Maybe learn to cut your own hair?

Our current tools were not devised to deal with a crisis like this. We can’t fall back on Zoom and hope everything works out. This is a time to be really creative. This is Florence in the 1400s, Great Britain in 1940. Adapt and do it quickly.

What makes the difference? What made Florence thrive?

I don’t like Zoom, but I do agree that we need to find a way to adapt. Watch this short very funny video. Zoom is already a parody.

 

If I was going to be a character in the Zoom chat with the dogs, I think I would be one of the dogs whose camera got shut off!

What I am finding is that I am valuing old forms of technology. I really value the emails I get now. I read them carefully and I consider my response. Maybe I don’t get lots of emails, but I want to think of each email as a letter, just like the letters people used to exchange.

What if we really took our time with our email notes to friends?

In a letter, you need to consider the reader. You should make sure it reads well, you should make it interesting.

To me, Zoom is like dogs at a meeting. Technology will not necessarily ease our journey into the new normal. We will have to think this through.

We still have a way to go to learn how to adapt to this new world. I am going to do lots of thinking about this because hopefully, I will have courses to teach in the fall and I know our daughter as a new law school student will be living in the online world.

Let’s keep adapting, it’s a slow burn.

Covid Journal # 2 – Asking the Right Questions

I saw this post from Stephen Hurley on April 24th. We are not there yet, but he is right to put this out. In the midst of the first truly global crisis many of us have ever seen it is right to start asking some really hard questions. Are we ready to do this?

This is a hard thing to do. Today I am reading articles in the New York Times where they are doing a great job of creating a record of some of the nightmares that are happening in the United Staes right now.

Gladys Vega, a longtime community activist, helped a man who had been banished to a freezing, unfinished dirt basement, where he was riding out the illness on a piece of cardboard. Another man had been sent to sleep on a porch, despite temperatures that still dropped below freezing at night.

“People are being treated as if they have leprosy,” said Ms. Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative.

New York Times Sunday, April 26th, 2020 – In a Crowded City, Leaders Struggle to Separate the Sick From the Well 

This is what we need to be doing right now. We need to read the stories. We can’t become too isolated. Our social infrastructure is so broken that those who live in poverty, those without what should be the necessary resources are dying terrible deaths.

While the situation here in Canada is better, at least for now, medical workers are doing incredibly heroic service in a system that was already at over 100% capacity before the crisis hit. It is a marvel that they are able to do this. We can’t ever forget this.

We are scrambling in other areas as well. As many post pictures of their latest bread creation, teachers are struggling to connect to students who, in many cases, do not have the resources to learn from home. How many educators are spending sleepless nights worrying about their students?

While we have known for years that hard to serve communities needed to have computers and internet services to effectively link to their schools we did nothing about this. We didn’t provide computers for home use, we didn’t think that was something that schools were supposed to do. We were woefully underprepared for a crisis like this.

Those with the resources can surf through a crisis like this. Those without are suffering in silence.

So how do we start asking the hard questions?

Do we really ever look at how we distribute our resources in a rich country like Canada? Are we willing to be really critical about the level of health care services that we make available to every person here in this country? Are we really willing to offer excellent support, the support that is needed in low-income communities? Do we really want to support those who do not have a voice in our communities?

It is too easy to condemn our neighbours to the south. We love to congratulate ourselves saying that things are so much better here. Is this true?

Is a vital social infrastructure really our first priority? When we see the gaps what do we do? Where do we put our resources? Why do we allow so much inequality to exist?

These are the questions I would like to put out there now. After the Second World War, the world really changed in significant ways. We started to realize the importance of new institutions like the United Nations, and the importance of seeing ourselves as global citizens. Poverty and ignorance caused the war so we had to find ways to combat these evils.

Our world changed. Will it change now? Or, will we just go back to Major League Baseball and let all this slide?

The death toll is already staggering. Just as after the war, we need to mourn the terrible loss, but we need to do so much more. Can we make the incredible effort once again to really change how we all live and how we look after our most vulnerable?

I am a cynic. I don’t know if we really learn from a crisis. I think people just want to make sure they can get their hair cut again. I don’t see the big questions being asked.

I really hope I am wrong, but can we actually make the incredible changes that need to be undertaken?

I would love to be wrong on this one.

Living in the Times of Covid – 19: A Journal

So, I reorganized my CD collection, sent a video to my mom and put a silly picture on Facebook. My very busy agenda for the day is complete. I am thinking now it is time to start an on-line journal on our days staying inside.

Just to be clear, none of this will be me complaining. I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse in Montreal, our daughter and her partner and our daughter-in-law are all front-line health care workers. They are the ones I know who are actually going through challenging times now.

Thank-you Norma, stay safe!

This is more of a reflection piece. Where was my mind at during the Pandemic?

If you can see the photo I put up on Facebook, you can get a sense of where my head is at. I really think, number one, the idea needs to be stay stable, don’t go off the deep end, this is a really weird time.

But at some point, we will all go over the deep end.

Two nights ago during a Zoom book club, I didn’t follow my own advice. I had spent an hour listening to the daily presser with Donald Trump fact-checked by Now This News. It is really good because they fact-check Trump in realtime. Good, but very disturbing.

Going from this train wreck to a discussion on books about hiking was a little too much. I erupted about Trump, about trekking books, about everything. If my Zoom partners could have backed further away from their computer they certainly would have. For good reason, my state of mind is now a discussion item and I can hardly blame people for that.

Trying to keep an even keel these days is a real challenge!

We all have minor and major disappointments. We can’t see our friends and family. Everyone is seeing opportunities and plans go up in smoke. In the very worst cases of course, many people are dying terrible deaths.

There was an incredible article in the Sunday New York Times – He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.

It is a long article – four pages in the NY Times.It really outlines in gruesome detail how President Trump hid from what was coming. Then I read an amazing piece by Nicholas Kristof, Life and Death in the Hot Zone. Here is the video he made of his time in a COVID ward.

 

So, I think we need to do a bit of both. We need to send out the silly photos, we need to share our pictures about baking bread and we need to read good pieces on hiking too. We need to do it all. We need to face up to what is happening too.

There is no balance in the time of COVID -19. There are highs and lows and all are good. We need to witness the terrible and we can’t turn our faces away from the corrupt and stupid. Somehow, we need to find a way to see both.

For me right now, the best I can do is write. Yes, it is a bit of an apology for a wonky state of mind, but we all need to acknowledge that this is a different time. Terrible for some scary and uncertain for everyone.

If this works I will keep writing, maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, take care everyone!

ps – I leave you with this – while I don’t really like books on trekking I love trekking videos – definitely, to each their own!

Why e-learning during a pandemic can’t work

These are challenging days. Teachers are scrambling now to find ways to teach their students using some form of e-learning. While families with multiple devices and parents at home will be able to do this, in many cases e-learning can’t work. We haven’t done the human capacity building that is necessary for this to take place.

We should have been doing this, but we haven’t done the necessary capacity building.

At my last school, we worked for over a year to build capacity with our students and teachers. We had a Chromebook for every student from grades 3-6 and they were obliged to take them home every night. We trained the kids on how to use Google tools. That was the capacity building that would need to be in place right now to make an e-learning system take place.

Students need to be taught that the computers are for daily learning and the expectation needs to be there that they will use the machines – that takes time, that is a paradigm shift.

And before you say but… this was a very poor school. With the help of our school board, we made sure the computers were always available – after school, on the weekend and if there had been enough time, for the summers as well.

We are woefully underprepared for this current situation.  We have squandered an opportunity to set up good e-learning relationships.  It would take a long time to get this set up, I am not sure why we are trying to do this now.

You can only build this capacity while you are still in school. We should have been working on this years ago, but there was no real support for this. Even a flipped classroom takes in-person time to set up.

I talked to one of my students this year who tried to set up a flipped learning system in his high school classroom. He did assign work for students to do at night that could be taken up the next day. The project failed because students didn’t see the assigned work as something they had to do.

We talked about this and realized that such a system would only work with some careful in-class learning. As in our school, a good e-learning relationship can only be set up if there is a prolonged in-person training period prior to enacting the system.

We needed a year to set up our system. Unfortunately, as soon as I left the school, the new principal stopped buying the computers our students needed and the system fell apart. There was no system-wide support for this kind of a relationship so the experiment ended.

I write this post with a certain amount of frustration. It seems that we never think of the important human relationships that we need to structure first before we plunge headlong into technical solutions to learning. Yes, we have the technology, but no we have not developed the important human linkages necessary to make this work.

It is not really the technology that is slowing us down here, we just haven’t done the necessary human face-to-face work. Yes, we could easily get the Chromebooks to the kids who need them. We could set up mobile hubs in neighbourhoods that do not have internet access. But we have not done the necessary work with our students, especially at the elementary level to make all this work.

These are extraordinary times. Our students and our families are really on their own now. Maybe we will learn from this. Maybe we will construct the necessary human linkages to make real, meaningful digital learning work in the future.

I hope people are thinking about this. Technology rarely solves important human problems.