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.

Naming and Shaming

It is tiresome to write about people who misrepresent the truth.

It is tiresome, but it is worse if we don’t write anything. It is so easy to become desensitized to misrepresentation and outright lying by our public officials. We see it all the time now and we are used to it.

Right now I am a bit housebound. I have an inner ear condition that produces dizziness and instability. The one thing I can do is watch the on-going impeachment saga in the United States. That and read Twitter.

This is really something terrible to watch. House Republican leaders are actually saying what Donald Trump does in his attempts to bribe the leader of Ukraine is OK because, well, he didn’t go through with it. He got caught, so no bribe happened.

I find this incredible. These are publically elected officials who are blatantly ignoring the facts to push their own party line. While this might work in a grade 9 classroom debate, we should be better than that when it comes to public office.

This type of misrepresentation of the facts has seeped into Ontario politics. Steven Lecce, the Minister of Education in the Province of Ontario, duly elected by his constituents is doing exactly the same thing. He is appealing for public support because he knows a significant portion of the public will believe him or will at least not allow facts get in the way of a good story.

Last week he put out the tweet above ‘naming and shaming’ the OSSTF for standing up to his misinformation campaign.

It is his government that wants to stack Ontario classes with more students at the high school level. It is his government who wants to save education dollars by requiring Ontario students to take on-line courses following the shining example of that leader in education – Alabama.

Interesting, the original plan was for four online courses. Steven Lecce is showing his flexibility by reducing the number to two – twice as many as Alabama and other states. Beyond this, he only wants to increase class size now to 25:1.

Let’s be very clear about what is going on here. Both initiatives have absolutely nothing to do with improving the quality of education in the province. They have everything to do with siphoning money out of the system. That is the fact and it is something Stephen Lecce will never talk about.

This morning there was a good conversation on Twitter about raising the level of discourse on education issues here in Ontario. It’s a good point.

But, I have to say, how are we to discuss matters of education reform when our system is dominated by politicians who struggle with the truth? Yes, public bargaining is not a refined tool for developing education policy, but when we are dealing with people who are insincere and dishonest, we have to realize that a strong, coherent defence is essential. When someone is trying to shame you you need to stand up to the bully.

I remember being at an education conference soon after the Harris Government was replaced by the Liberals. It was a great conference, new ideas and positive, innovative initiatives were being discussed. I asked a consultant what it was like to have these discussions during the conservative years. She replied that everyone just kept their heads down.

What a way to bring about change!

When your minister knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. When he tries to use old-style bully techniques, when he apes the tactics of Republicans south of the border we have to realize that we are playing by a different set of rules.

Facts matter, education matters. If we don’t want to keep our heads down we must call out those who want to hurt our system. We shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are. There is no shame in this.

We are looking for learning partners!

I guess we need to take a new approach

We are just coming off of a major national campaign to revive our old schoolyard. We’re not sure of the results yet, but it has been a hard slog, encouraging support and voting every day. If we make it to the next round it will be by the skin of our teeth!

Here is the concept drawing that was developed for our yard - we will get this done!
Here is the concept drawing that was developed for our yard – we will get this done!

 

We have applied for grants throughout the fall, but this doesn’t seem to be the right approach. Grant writing takes a long time and usually the results are negative.

So, today, we start a new approach. We are going to promote all the great things about our school and our community and see who out there wants to work with us!

What do we have going for us?

We have great kids, totally engaged in learning, happy for what they have who display daily a love of learning and a joy for living.

We have a great, dedicated staff who really work hard with our kids. The results show in the provincial testing where are kids consistently score above provincial and board averages.

We have a great supportive community with all sorts of services for struggling families and for those who don’t speak much English or French. Right now, we have a cooperative daycare in our basement and a new community agency room on the second floor housed by groups connected to the school and open to finding ways to engage our parents in our school.

We are developing a vibrant makerspace through a generous donation from our superintendent. The makerspace is supported by an ‘innovations groups’ made up of profs from the university of Ottawa, student teachers, local entrepreneurs and a few principals. We don’t have much equipment yet, but we hope our group will come up with more resources as we look for second-hand lego and other materials.

Our kids are also mad about Minecraft!  We want our own server so we can run the program on Minecraft edu, safely for all our students.  They have great ideas on how this can be used for education and have done some great writing about how we can bring this into the classroom.

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We are running a terrific arts program.  The kids have all taken part in hip hop lessons and there is much more to come.  They have worked with a local artist to create a beautiful mural right in the entrance to our school.  The mural is an expression of how the students see the community – we are all really proud of this. We will go beyond hip hop and add music and storytelling as the year progresses.

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our mural and our artists

We are also experimenting with a computer lending program.  We have old Dell Netbooks that aren’t being used much anymore.  We are starting to lend these out to students and families for the year so that they can continue to work on programs like Raz Kids, Mathletics and Dreambox.  We need more of these machines to give out and we have to ensure that the machines are hooked up to the internet.

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looking for machines like this to send home

We are also working with our partners to develop a parent outreach program.  School Board in other jurisdictions like Hamilton-Wentworth and having lots of success offering parent workshops at the same time as they offer student tutoring and enrichment.  We would like to find a way to do this here.

So, are you interested in working with us?  We would make a great partner!

Future@Now Conference – Discovery Education Conference

picture of an e-learning classroom
picture of an e-learning classroom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the notes I took from the one day Discovery Education conference.  The record has been supplemented by tweets from #futurenow.  Some of the sessions were quite short, so I don’t have great notes for some really interesting speakers!  I will try to supplement them later as I find more material.

How do we implement a plan for creating a digital transformation? That is the theme for today.

First session – The Call to Action – Student Speak – how digital learning is impacting the lives of students.(trying to upload this!)

Dr David Dance – Superintendent  Baltimore County Public Schools @DDance_BCPS

  • conversion starts with engaging community. “Build a case for the urgency of now”
  • If the infrastructure is not there this is not going to work –
  • really makes sure they have strong partners in the community
  • Lighthouse schools – application to become school labs – teachers need to vote to become a Lighthouse school
  • digital transformation started with elementary!!
  • digital conversation is about making edication individualized for all students
  • we have to build cultures where risk taking is part of the culture
  • status quo is not acceptable – we only get one chace to work with our children
  • our goal – to deveop students who can compete on a global level
  • School districts need to partner with groups like Discovery Ed to plan the transition
  • Technology allows students to take responsibility for their learning
  • Our world is digital. Schools can no longer ignore this fact…our students need opportunities to excel in the digital world.
  • The cost for infrastructure should not be so unattainable and exorbitant that the implementation of digital learning is halted

US Representative George Miller – Senior Democrat House Education and Workforce Committee

We are making that transition to digital schools by bringing students, teachers, parents and the community on side.

“There’s a magnificent bonfire [of education innovation] burning across this country.”

The achevement gap does not have to be a constant – we are inspiring education in and outside of the school through new initiatives

Universal access for ALL students to online resources is critical to successfully transition to new educ paradigm

Politicians can take ownership of the system so that we can get the resources we need in our schools!

live audience at Furure@Now conference

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Digital Transformation – panel discussion

How do you measure success in implementation?

  • “Measures of success? Funding Infrastructure and finding innovative ways to inspire”
  • other meaures? Accelerating outcomes for all students
  • looking also to ‘repurpose’ our spending. Difficult to do since the vast majority of spending is on staff
  • a case can be built for ‘if we don’t spend it now, we will spend it later’ – investing in our students
  • centralize spending on technology to allow for bulk buying discounts
  • have to demonstrate our early wins so that we can leverage what we are learning to allow for future investment (Lighthouse Schools)

Chris Kennedy @chrkennedy – next speaker – Superintendent of Schools – West Vancouver

  • OWN IT, ACTIVATE IT, ENGAGE WITH IT. I say ALL parties should do ALL. You gain a wealth of ideas,creativity, & henceforth
  • Conversations over BYOD is the wrong conversation.  If we are spending time talking about digital, there is probably a conversation on education we need to have first.
  • if your community is fighting about digital there’s conversation missing–should be about learning!

Chris’ full presentation can be found here

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