Shifting expectations for remote teaching…

As we come to the end of the current school year, thoughts are now turning to long range planning for possible continued disruptions at the start of the next school year. There may be a tendency to push for intensive, formalized training for teachers to learn how to teach online. Although there is a time and place for this, I’m advocating for a more thoughtful approach now to allow districts, schools and teachers an opportunity to scale up the most necessary supports first, for a couple of reasons. First, teachers are completely overwhelmed and need a break from the chaos. Second, what we are experiencing now and what we may experience again is not a true transition to or reflection of online learning. Developing online courses and the knowledge and skills to facilitate them effectively is a long process, often taking a year or more to complete. The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning addresses these differences in higher education and The Huge Difference Between Online Teaching and Emergency Remote Instruction is more focused on K-12. Both articles provide important information on what this means as we adjust and adapt to our new normal. I’ve also covered the differences in remote vs online teaching in a past blog post. In particular, remote learning brings with it challenges that we don’t often see in online education, including: 

  • Lack of stakeholder choice. This is an involuntary, “no choice” disruption for students, families and teachers.  
  • Lack of teacher, school and district experience and training in online education
  • Lack of district and school resources and support structures for online education – online learning requires a support structure that may be substantially different from traditional supports.
  • Equity and access barriers continue to plague any attempt at ensuring all students are receiving high quality or in our current situation, ANY educational opportunities. 

These challenges will hamper any transition to quality online learning experiences. However, informal training opportunities at this juncture are going to be crucial for the short term. Informal training reflects more directly the immediate needs of the individual as opposed to the collective needs of the many. In theory, it should also be more consumable, meaning that we need to understand that teachers are at the end of their bandwidth and are looking for the most efficient solutions to imminent problems. They don’t need to know the WHY of anything right now – they can benefit most from supports that provide guidance on WHAT to do. We can worry about the why later. With this in mind I’ve created a list of Teacher Preparedness Recommendations. The first group addresses how districts and schools can begin to prepare supports for their teachers. The second set of recommendations is for teachers and includes what they can focus on now, and what they can focus on later – when they are ready, and rested. 

Teacher Preparedness Recommendations

For Districts and Schools

  • Become a responsive community of support. Start where teachers are now – focus on just-in-time training and supports. Make them short and easily accessible in multiple formats (This is a great example of how to model what we know about meeting student needs through Universal Design for Learning or UDL for short.)
  • Offer multiple pathways for delivery of support. (Again, a great way to model effective strategies for meeting needs of all learners.)
    • Instructional coaches are a valuable resource for individualized supports.
    • Professional learning networks are crucial for centralized delivery of supports and resources
    • Recorded webinars and text-based tutorials provide support when and where they are needed most. 
  • Become knowledgeable of the latest research into the learning sciences and best practice in online learning to inform the types of supports and resources you provide. The Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning is a good place to start and is available for free download. Don’t forget to ask teachers what they need. 
  • Create an infrastructure that supports remote learning. Evaluate your district preparedness using this simple checklist. Do this with the knowledge that what you are preparing is a stop-gap measure, to get you through to the other side of this crisis, not a shift to an online learning model. 
  • Bring in additional supports for teachers. For example, para-educators can help with grading, discussion board moderation, monitoring attendance, and curriculum design. This will be especially important for secondary classrooms where enrollments can top 150 per teacher. 
  • Establish neighborhood support teams for phone calls and home visits when needed. Expect that truancy will be an ongoing concern. Ideally these would not be teachers. Teachers need to focus on preparing the best learning experiences for their students.
  • Consider attendance policies and how they will be disrupted from this new delivery modality. Cyber-Truancy: Addressing Issues of Attendance in the Digital Age is an excellent article about this very challenge. (A version of this article can be located by searching in Google Scholar and clicking on the link to the pdf.)

For Teachers 

What can I do now?

  • Begin incorporating strategies shown to be effective in online teaching into the design of your teaching materials – do this slowly or quickly depending on your comfort level. You might begin with Universal Design for Learning, which provides a framework for rethinking your role in the learning process and will be an easy carryover when we get back to normal. 
  • Choose only the most important tools to achieve your educational goals (LMS, Web conference, collaborative space, virtual whiteboard, online assessment, resource sites) and become knowledgeable about their features and uses. Avoid distractions and rabbit holes. 
  • Join a group: #remoteteaching, ISTE, Aurora Institute, DLC, Educause. Most have newsletters that you can subscribe to. 
  • Locate online teaching resources on the changing role of the teacher, how to engage learners, how to support parents, how to communicate online, etc. The mental health of all stakeholders is more important now than ever so it is an important focus as well.  
  • Develop communication strategies for your students and their parents. Remember two things; adapt the type of communication to the needs of students and families, and try not to overwhelm parents who may be struggling to support multiple children in their learning. 
  • Reflect on your schedule and adjust if necessary. Think about consistency of student-teacher interactions and your own work-life balance. Establish a schedule for common and routine tasks but also block out time for individual learner support and for lesson planning. Make sure you establish boundaries – you don’t have to announce that you don’t work on the weekend, your consistent actions will let students know. I schedule my weeks from Wednesday to Tuesday so that students have time after the weekend to ask for help.  
  • Rethink your assessments. High stakes tests don’t always translate well to the online environment. Instead, consider incorporating, short, frequent, formative assessments that test for knowledge, and project-based assessments for mastery. Check out 5 Takeaways From My Covid-19 Remote Teaching for a great reflection on assessments. 

What can I do later? 

  • Participate in formal training. It will be more impactful now that you know what you don’t know.
  • Take an online class. Our shared cultural experience of “school” has been disrupted. We need a new shared experience so that we can relate better to what our students are experiencing. Most importantly, teachers need to engage in experiences that model best practice. 
  • Incorporate additional tools including tools that allow you to create and share digital content. 
  • Design and develop lessons and create learning materials. It’s not necessary to have an entire course designed before you begin class but you should have some pre-developed activities in your toolkit that will allow you to adapt as needed. You might begin with a simple icebreaker that can be facilitated in an online discussion forum or a Zoom conference.
  • Create a set of class guidelines that reflect the new normal. You might even engage students in creating this through a consensus building activity which can easily be facilitated in an online discussion forum
  • Develop a consistent model and structure for delivering content – keep it highly structured at first to “train” students on your expectations. You can loosen restrictions once a pattern has been established. I use a simple design for all of my weekly lessons: 1) Introduction, 2) Objectives or guiding questions, 3) Resource links, 5) Background, 6) Tasks, and 7) Assignment checklist. Begin with due dates that require students to check in more often at the beginning of the semester to set high expectations. 
  • Use your LMS for everything! LMS’s are designed to streamline content delivery, assignment submission, and assessment feedback. If your district doesn’t have one, consider using a free version like Schoology. Avoid online learning by email – it will overwhelm you!

Some have suggested that this crisis will change our educational systems in a permanent way. My hope is that it will change for the better. Perhaps it is the forced change that we needed to move away from antiquated systems that rely on ways of teaching and assessment of learning that don’t necessarily serve the needs of the most important stakeholder, the learner. Online learning forces a shift in mindset and perspective. It’s effectiveness depends on student-centered instructional approaches that rely more on mastery and less on time, more on student-needs and less on institutional needs, and more on personalization and less on averages. In addition, the access issues that have plagued us for years have come fully to light, prompting some pretty drastic measures and very creative solutions. We no longer have excuses for continued equity disparities in the quality of an educational experience or the access to one. 

Articles linked in this post plus additional resources

Moving discussions online…

Online discussion forums are probably the most challenging aspect of online learning. Yet they are the most critical in establishing and maintaining a sense of community in the online classroom. They also provide a great opportunity to engage students who may have been too shy or introverted to speak out in class, to engage students in the practice of reflection, in promoting collaborative problem solving, and to conduct meaningful conversation without the usual distractions that can occur in a face-to-face discussion. But they take practice to master. You can start by checking out Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation for some useful tips. 

Discussion forums don’t always have to be instructional. It’s helpful to provide options for students to connect with each other or to even help each other if they have expertise in some area such as technology troubleshooting for example. At a minimum, I keep three discussion forums operating at all times in my classes: Instructional forums for all content related discussions, a Social forum for connecting with other students, and a Tech Help forum where I encourage students to help each other. Individual forums can also be created for you to communicate one-on-one with students or where they can post content related reflections. Instructional uses include debate, role play, review, consensus building, and KWL. 

Perhaps the most important indicator of discussion success is purpose. Having an established purpose to a discussion, and relating that purpose to students, is important for motivation and interest. If there is no real reason for a discussion, other than evaluating what students know by posting textbook questions, then you can expect to generate flat, rote responses. Related to this is the dreaded “post once” and “respond to two classmates” requirement that has become so common in online discussions. Please don’t do this unless you have provided a specified purpose for doing so. If you can’t come up with a reason, then don’t ask your students to do it!

Online discussions forums should not be used for questions that require right or wrong answers, essay or short-answer responses, and yes/no responses. Discussion prompts that initiate interest and a sense of curiosity will engage learners more readily and hopefully result in conversations with breadth and depth. So what does a good discussion prompt look like? Here are just a couple of examples of good and better prompts that are designed to address higher level thinking while maintaining a sense of authenticity and real-world connections: 

Do you think we should go to the moon again? Why? Humans have been to the moon and walked on the lunar surface. What are your thoughts on humans surviving and creating a civilization on the moon, based on what you have learned about the air and surface of the moon? Do you think we should support life on the moon? Why or why not?
Explain the role of scarcity in the U.S. Economy.Use real-life examples to explain how you function in the US economy. Relate your experiences to (1) your role in both the product market and the resource market and (2) how scarcity has had an impact on your decisions.

When creating discussion prompts, consider including learners in the process by providing opportunities for them to take the lead in discussions, to suggest possible questions they would like to discuss on a topic, and to choose questions or prompts from a bank of questions you provide. If your curriculum provider gives prompts for you, take advantage of opportunities to extend thinking through your follow-up questioning strategies. 

Your ultimate goal in online discussions is to encourage engagement and participation. The role most commonly associated with this type of facilitation is referred to as guide on the side. In this role, you should consider yourself the supporter of learning and communication among learners, not the focal point. Good facilitators never provide all of the answers. Your primary responsibilities are monitoring discussion activity, summarizing responses, redirecting conversation if necessary, and clarifying misconceptions when needed. Some tips for facilitating online discussions effectively: 

  • Model appropriate responses using questions to probe for deeper learning, offering descriptive comments, providing constructive criticism, posting early, checking in, asking thoughtful questions, responding respectfully, using personal experiences, and verifying appropriate grammar and spelling.
  • Instead of trying to respond to each student, post occasionally and thoughtfully. Establish this pattern early on, so that learners understand your intentions. (This applies to almost all cases except in the case of introductory activities where you should make a concerted effort to respond to each and every student.)
  • Establish protocols that assure learners you are reading every post, even if you do not respond to every one. Do not just tell learners this. Show them through summarizing, highlighting selected posts, and providing frequent encouragement (not praise).
  • Differentiate your role within discussions. Some will require extensive involvement, whereas others will require very little. Similarly, differentiate your voice and tone, depending on the purpose of the discussion.
  • Avoid public praise of contributions. Instead, reflect student ideas and foster deep exploration of content by highlighting posts that are on the right track. Summarize two or three posts, and pose an additional question that challenges the learner to dig deeper.

Some things to watch out for in online discussions

Students who have challenges with writing and reading. Provide options for posting discussion responses such as video and audio. Allow struggling students to use text-to-speech and speech-to-text software. 

Inappropriate content or language. Model and teach appropriate behaviors. Allow students to moderate each other, by reviewing responses before they are posted. Have students practice reading their responses aloud before posting – sometimes the spoken word will be more revealing than text. Remove any inappropriate posts and contact the student privately through email. 

Exclusive and bullying behaviors. Save all documented evidence of the behavior, and report the incident if necessary. If the behavior is resulting in students being excluded, devise practices that promote heterogeneous grouping and partnering. Require that learners respond to one set of classmates in one post and another set of classmates in another post. 

Some resources…

Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation 

Discussion Prompts

Critical Thinking Criteria for Evaluating Online Discussions

Five Tips for Improving Online Discussions Where to get free WIFI

Remote vs. online learning

This topic has come up several times in discussions I’ve had with others on the impact of coronavirus on the lives of, well… everyone. So I thought it might be a good time to clarify where we stand in terms of making a shift to educating students from a distance. Remote learning is a response to a crisis with a focus on continuity of learning using whatever means possible. Online learning is a thoughtful approach to an alternate delivery modality that adheres to specific guidelines and practices in order to result in the best possible outcome for learners. While online learning can certainly be a part of remote learning, it is not the focus of the current approach, and rightly so given the circumstances. I think it’s important to understand these differences as we navigate through our new normal. 

I also thought it might be helpful to share some differences in the two approaches because I do see a time when remote learning will no longer be enough, and we will need to transition to a more defined form of online learning in a deliberate way. Below is just a quick distillation of the characteristics of both approaches. Some of this is purely conjecture just from my reading and conversations over the last few weeks. The online learning characteristics are sometimes more of an “ideal” than what we actually see in practice. My point is that there are specific practices in online learning that are needed to make it an effective delivery model as we move forward. 

Remote LearningOnline Learning
Expedience is most important. The focus is on making sure all students have access by whatever means possible.Focus is on supporting learners through intentional design and instructional strategies based on best-practices.
A mix of traditional and online delivery with a focus on whole group and individualized, just-in-time instruction – whatever works in the short term.Move to personalized approaches which include choice in place, pace and path of learning. 
Multiple delivery methods including physical paper and digital. All course materials are typically delivered entirely through an LMS or provided in some other coherent and consistent way. 
Communication may still be haphazard and reliant on whole group approaches because it is familiar. Established protocols for communication and feedback including both whole group and individual. Communication logs are closely monitored and tracked through an LMS. 
Seat-time requirements may still be an important factor leading to extensive time on the computer for learners and greater stress on families. In some cases seat-time has been replaced with content mastery and competency-based assessment. In others, there is a working solution so that schools meet the seat-time requirement in ways other than hours sitting in front of a computer screen. 
Hardware and Internet access are inconsistent creating inequity for some students. This is changing however, as schools and districts across the country are starting to distribute computer hardware and Internet access to those in need. Fully online learning providers distribute computer hardware and other supports such as enhanced Internet access. In the case of part-time virtual programs, equitable access has been provided through school computer labs. Since this is no longer possible, there is some risk that these students will also experience inequities.
Still very much teacher-led. The teacher is the central figure of power and knowledge, and directs what is learned and how it is learned. Focus on student-centered instructional practices. Students are provided opportunities to take responsibility for how content is learned as well some choice in how mastery is demonstrated. 
System-wide and policy irregularities (reliance on policies not amenable to online learning, lack of system supports, crisis decision-making processes) may interfere with coherent application and may also create confusion.System-wide support from multiple stakeholders (administration, LMS and platform, site coordinators, clear evaluation criteria supported by established best practices). Policy irregularities may exist but in general, policy has been thoughtfully implemented over time. 
Variable parent participation (many parents must still work full time and from home). Other responsible adults may be enlisted to help. Online tutoring supports may help here, but only if it is affordable. Parents, or another responsible adult, are highly engaged in the learning process. Parental support is the cornerstone of effective online learning, especially for younger learners. 

This new normal highlights, in stark reality that perhaps wasn’t apparent before, how access to computers and the Internet is still very much limited for so many of our students. It is also becoming clearly evident that our school policies are woefully outdated. Of course, no one expected such a drastic change in our everyday lives that has resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. But, now that the inadequacies of our current system have been revealed, there is no better time to rethink the national and state level policies that drive our decision-making at the school level. Just to name a few… 

  • outdated seat-time requirements 

  • those that focus on grading over mastery of content 

  • inflexible workday policies for teachers 

  • policies for students with disabilities that do not account for alternative therapy delivery methods 

  • challenges with our infrastructure in reaching all students, but especially those that are underserved due to poverty and low socio-economic standing. 

Below are some resources for further information as well as some articles that may spark an idea on how we can better support schools, teachers and parents. 

Aurora Institute Announces Federal and State Policy Agenda

NCTQ How are school districts adapting teacher work policies for emergency closures?

Idaho’s two largest districts call tens of thousands of families to map Internet access

Parent supports

District Administration School leaders make quick adjustments to online learning: How educators can adjust assignments so parents can help 

EdSurge A Challenge For Remote Teaching During a Pandemic: Making Classes Feel Relevant

School Supports

NSCC Leading communities of courage through disruption 

CER Urging States to Continue Educating Students with Disabilities, Secretary DeVos Publishes New Resource on Accessibility and Distance Learning Options 

Educating All Learners Alliance  

Teacher Supports

Teachers find ways to connect with their students  

5 Strategies for Teacher Self-Care 

PBL for Remote Learning

Collaboration strategies that work online…

Collaboration online can be daunting, especially when you are tasked with learning how to use new technology tools while at the same time continuing to support student learning, safety and well-being. But there are effective ways to bring some of the more traditional strategies you may be familiar with to the online classroom… 


Jigsaw activities involve small groups that collaborate and become experts on a topic and then share (or teach) the concept to others, who then take the information back to their respective expert groups. Jigsaws can easily be facilitated using group and whole-class asynchronous discussion forums, in synchronous live meetings in web conferencing tools that include breakout rooms or a combination of both delivery methods. I frequently use this approach (that I borrowed some years ago from my colleague Lisa Dawley) for the learning background information on a topic:

This approach provides an opportunity for students to focus entirely on one aspect of a topic so they can prepare an initial post that is well-crafted, it allows them an opportunity to interact with their peers in an academic setting, and it provides the teacher an opportunity to evaluate how well students follow directions in a highly structured setting so they can adjust instruction accordingly. In addition students learn (quickly) about important background information before embarking on a new unit or lesson. This activity is also good for a review of subject-matter already learned. I typically only interject in the discussion to let students know that I am reading their posts (important for engagement) and to correct any misconceptions. 

Jigsaw Instructions

Use the course texts, the resources provided in the research links provided and/or search for your own resources to assist you in answering questions from one group below (Set up groups of questions – I typically have three groups, otherwise it gets too complicated to follow).

Groups 1-3: Some important question? (This will include a different question for each group with one or two subquestions and perhaps a request to share a video, image or other piece of information that demonstrates, confirms or substantiates the response.

Discussion Board Instructions: (Include precise instructions for how the discussion forum will be structured.)

1. Answer questions from ONE of the above groups of questions. Post your answers in Week 2: Some Important Question discussion forum.

2. Write a critical response to at least THREE classmates, one in each question area (group). In your response, offer your insights, suggestions, further questions, praise when deserved. Your goal is to assist your peers in furthering their own learning through thoughtful reflection.

Role Play

Role-play can be a fun and risk-free strategy for remote learning. It is particularly useful for allowing learners to become comfortable in using discussion forums and, depending on the objectives of the activity, to develop a sense of camaraderie with peers. And role-play actually tends to be easier to implement online, because of the lack of a physical presence. In a face-to-face classroom, it can be difficult for learners to truly be in the roles they assume, for the simple fact that their actual presence brings with it some predefined characteristics. Thus, face-to-face role-play can often seem a bit silly. However, when learners are physically separated, the characters they create become much easier for others to believe in.

Examples of simple role-play activities include discussions or debates on various topics, in which learners take on the roles of newscasters, celebrities, talk show hosts, musicians, and historical figures. The role-play process involves setting the scene for the activity by creating a realistic scenario and developing questions and guidelines for the activity. Some wonderful Websites are available for facilitating role-play. For example, the NASA site has many resources for teachers and students and can be a rich source of material for establishing scenarios, providing resources and basic information, and allowing students to view images and videos of all matters related to space. 

Student-led discussions

Student-led discussions provide learners with an opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of a topic and also to demonstrate leadership skills—an important 21st century skill. Learners will be especially motivated if allowed to negotiate the topics of their discussions. Just make sure you set the ground rules for behavior – preferably with student input. Even though you may only participate moderately, you must still monitor the discussion forum for misunderstandings and misuse. 

Panel discussions and debates are other peer-led activities that replicate more authentic learning situations. Discussion boards are effective for these types of activities, as well, but if you feel adventurous, you might try Kialo, a collaborative online debate visualization tool, or Tricider, a brainstorming and decision-making tool. You might also experiment with Glogster, Canva or Visme to add a visual component to student-led discussions.

Problem Solving

Collaborative problem solving is a key 21st century skill. Common group problem-solving strategies used in the classroom include consensus building, Think-Pair-Share, Fishbowl, case study, collaborative writing, model making, and so on. Many problem-solving activities can be handled easily through whole-class, asynchronous discussions, in which the instructor simply poses a problem and asks learners to find a solution. However, more structured methods for solving problems can be facilitated through small-group discussions. Most LMSs have a group feature for this specific purpose. You might also consider assigning email pals or “Web buddies” to work in collaborative document creation sites, such as Google Docs.

Traditional face-to-face problem-solving activities can be transformed into online activities, if you are willing to think through how to modify the tasks involved in a given activity to accommodate the need for a delayed time response. For example, if you are familiar with Fishbowl activities, you know they involve two groups of learners: One group is in the “Fishbowl,” while the other group is designated as “Observers.” The idea is that the Fishbowl students speak, while the Observers listen carefully and cannot respond for a specified period of time. This activity can easily be facilitated online with a threaded discussion board. To do so, divide your class into two groups, allowing group 1 (Fishbowl) to contribute the first half of the week and group 2 (Observers) to contribute the second half.

Keep in mind that not all group problem-solving activities must be facilitated using text communications. Consider allowing the use of audio or video communications, as well. 

Presentations and Product Development

Although we often assume that a presentation is some form of slide show using a tool such as PowerPoint or Keynote, it can take on many forms. Google Slides offers a collaborative feature that other popular tools do not. Moreover, a presentation does not necessarily need to be live. It can be a recordinged or image or text based, using the rich resources available on the Internet. Offer alternatives for students to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives—for example, audio- and video-sharing using tools, such as Flipgrid, Screencastify, Voicethread, or Podbean; photo-sharing tools, such as Flickr or Pinterest; and online infographic creation tools such as Canva or Visme

Collaborative Websites, or wiki’s, are possibly the most versatile Web-based collaboration tool. Google Sites is a well-known tool that features a collaborative option. In addition to being well suited to shared writing, websites can be used for shared project and product development and as an authentic public dissemination tool. These types of tools have a database as their backbone, so they have the added benefit of maintaining a history of revisions that can be accessed at any time. This ensures that earlier versions will not be lost and also provides a mechanism for recording contributions. For example, a collaborative Website can be a useful tool for a shared writing activity, in which students read and edit the work of their peers. Each time the site is edited, a record of the change is noted that can easily be located later for grading. 

Low Tech Solutions

For those students with equity and accessibility issues, this article on Continuing Remote Learning for Students Without Internet provides some easy modifications that provide low tech solutions to content delivery. Here’s another good blog post on the topic. I’ll quickly summarize below some of the many options below: 

  • Dial into Zoom sessions with a phone (an associated phone number is always included in a scheduled Zoom meeting)

  • Provide instructions for how students should collaborate by phone if needed. 

  • Offer optional and alternative activities if students are not able to collaborate with classmates online. They may be able to collaborate with siblings or parents to emulate, as much as possible, a similar experience. 

  • Allow enough time for students without Internet access to complete assignments and still have time to download and upload assignments when they can access a hotspot. 

  • Enable offline access for G Suite on Chrome 

  • Google Docs can also be accessed offline with a simple extension

  • See if your LMS offers offline access to course materials (Schoology and EdX do)

  • Use a USB flash drive to copy and share materials – including webpages 

Let’s get creative…

Teachers across the country are finding ways to interact, engage and motivate their students. From teacher parades (following social distance guidelines of course), to massive Zoom call recordings of teachers waving to their students, it is evident that we embrace those things that allow us to stay connected with our students in ways that increase our physical presence. This is a good time to collect and share some of those ideas…

  • Districts are “boosting” wifi signals so students without home access can access the Internet from the parking lot. Adding wifi to buses and food delivery vehicles which provides a way for students to upload and download assignments quickly. Idaho districts have even gone so far as to order 400 hotspots so students can connect with cellular devices. 

  • Grades have become a bit of a sticky-wicket but states, districts and schools are considering multiple ways to create a system that is equitable and fair. Colleges are waiving entrance exam requirements. 

  • Districts are supporting online Professional Learning Networks to create a common space for teachers to gather and collaborate. Check out how North Carolina teachers are sharing their experiences and expertise on their Remote Learning Resources Hub. You can set up a hub at OER Commons. Also check out Remote Teaching and Learning with OER. If your school or district doesn’t have the resources for a complex portal, try sharing resources using Diigo – it’s simple and easy for everyone to use. Or start a simple shared Google Sheet.  

  • Teaching remotely for younger learners can be especially challenging. Commonsense media has created complete distance learning packets for grades K-2 on two topics; digital citizenship, and parents and families. They also just announced the opening of Wide Open School, a free collection of curated resources – good for teachers and families. The best part? No login required! Digital promise also has a repository of free Online Learning Resources

  • Take it easy on yourself and your students. This article by Rob Jenkins, Associate Professor at Georgia State Perimeter College illustrates precisely the message we should be conveying at this time of crisis in education: 2 Principles Guiding My Reluctant Online Conversion. First, students must be held harmless at all costs. This pandemic is not their fault and we would only add to the catastrophe if the results are lifelong damage because of it. The second, do not allow perfect to be the enemy of good, speaks to our acceptance that good may need to be good enough for now. We’ll get better, but now is not the time to try to live up to our ideals of perfection. 

Some creative strategies for engaging your students…

One area that I’ve been involved in for quite a few years is technology supported project-based learning (PBL). PBL is a model of teaching that encourages student-centered instruction, that is focused on authentic hands-on activities and products. Collaboration is an important component, as is reaching out past the classroom into the larger community. PBL is a great way to dip your toe into online teaching strategies and methods while constructing a lesson using a tried and true method. Check out the PBL for Remote Learning resources from PBLWorks. 

Beware… shameless plug coming… You might also be interested in checking out my summer course offering of EDTECH 542: Technology Supported Project-Based Learning (Section 4202; Class Number: 42192). This is a fun and joyful way to engage in timely lesson development following the tenets of PBL, while gaining a better understanding of the nuances of effective online teaching practices. Not sure about your technical skills? You can easily learn as you go – a template is provided for you using Google Sites. If that’s too much for you, a simple Google Doc will also get the job done!

This is a 10 week course offered from June 1 – Aug 9, 2020. Even better, the Boise State Graduate College is waiving the admissions fee until May 31, 2020!  (search “Graduate College-Boise State University” on facebook.) 

Common tools and familiar strategies for remote teaching….

For this post I decided to focus on some of the more common tools that can be especially effective in transitioning to online learning using more familiar instructional strategies found in all types of classrooms and content areas. It’s just a quick overview of a few essentials that are easy to use, free or very inexpensive, and typically only require the teacher set up an account (not students) which makes it very easy to implement quickly. Some tools, primarily those that are focused on assessment, do require student accounts for tracking purposes.

G Suite for Education and Google Sites perhaps the most well-known of all the tools, Google products are easy to use. The collaborative aspects of their tools are what makes them especially useful in remote learning where it can be challenging to find ways to bring students together. I do not include Google Classroom here because it is not freely available to everyone. 

  • Scavenger hunts
  • Writing roulette 
  • Journaling and reflecting
  • Creating presentations
  • Shared findings and projects 
  • Reaching a larger audience 

Padlet – no login required for students. Nothing to download. Lots of good privacy options. The only downside is that they charge a subscription fee. Generally speaking, students don’t need their own accounts but for an extra few bucks it might be worth it to have the option. 

  • Building a Word Wall (vocabulary)
  • Thinking and research notes 
  • Writing an outline 
  • Brainstorming or sharing a project idea
  • Shared findings and projects
  • Introductions 

Flipgrida free and easy video recording tool. Grids are created by the teacher and shared with students so no student accounts are needed. Flipgrids can also be embedded directly into some LMSs. 

  • Introductions 
  • Online discussions
  • Project presentations
  • Reflection 

Diigoa resource sharing site. It’s easy to use and moderate. Set up a group, designate permissions, and share away. You must download a special tool for your toolbar but this just makes it that much easier to save and annotate shared documents.

  • Research
  • Note taking
  • Synthesis of ideas
  • Critical evaluation of resources

Tricider  – I don’t see this tool used much and I’m not sure why. It’s a great tool for supporting high level thinking and decision-making. 

  • Taking a poll
  • Debating a topic
  • Generating ideas

Teacher Productivity Tools 

EdPuzzle – This tool is different from the others in that students won’t necessarily interact with the tool itself. Instead they interact with the product created from using the tool. Edpuzzle is a teacher tool that allows you to adapt any video by integrating questions or narration. 

  • Formative assessment
  • Direct instruction 
  • Remediation and enhancement

Screencast-o-matic – Another teacher productivity tool. This is a screen capture tool that is easy to use and very inexpensive for what you get. You can use it for free but you are only allowed one saved recording at a time – beware, in the free version new recordings will overwrite the old ones. Loom is another option that can be conveniently integrated into your Chrome browser for easy and quick video sharing. 

  • Video feedback and assessment
  • Recorded lectures (please keep them short)
  • Tutorials 
  • Enhancement or remediation of content

Here are some other helpful resources…

  • concept mapping tool
  • Quizizz for fun assessment challenges
  • Learning Menus using Google docs are an easy way to provide choice
  • ReadWriteThink has lots of free and useful interactive tools
  • Phet simulations are helpful for science and math concepts
  • Mathalicious offers math lessons based on real-world scenarios

So you’ve made the move to a remote classroom. What next?

Once you’ve shifted to a remote classroom, gotten your communication protocols established, and made sure everyone is safe and somewhat settled, there are a couple of items that still need your attention. The first is student privacy and Internet safety. It can be exciting to host your first successful web conference, or to set up a classroom website for sharing and displaying student work. In that excitement though, don’t forget that FERPA laws still apply and they apply in online settings in ways that can be quite different than in face-to-face classrooms. For one, you no longer have the physical school surrounding you and your students. This refers both to the building, separating your students from public and peering eyes, but also the software and hardware services that protect anything bad coming into the classroom portal. Rather than being fearful of the unknown, take some time to educate yourself about the most common privacy and safety issues you and your students might face. Here are just a few tips to get you started: 

  1. Try to only use your school LMS for sharing information. Do not post links to meetings or other events/activities in a public forum (such as twitter or facebook).

  2. Never post images of students in public. Even if their names are removed. 

  3. If students are going to be posting on social media or blogging sites, make sure you get parental permission if they want to use their name or image. Otherwise, use invented names or monikers – and absolutely no images. Watch out for, and remove other identifying information such as school name, address and photos. 

  4. Host all class discussions in your LMS. You can easily host video discussions using tools such as Flipgrid or Voicethread. Check with your LMS provider to find out which audio/video tools integrate with their platform. 

  5. Do not post web conference meeting links in public. This is a privacy issue but it is also a scamming issue. Check out this Edsurge article on Zoombombing for more. This doesn’t mean that you should be afraid to host live meetings, just that you need to use common sense when setting up your meeting space. 

  6. Never share grades in public or in open discussion forums within your LMS. 

  7. Thoroughly vet any and all web-based resources used in your class. Do not assume because it sounds like an educational site that it is safe for young children. Don’t just look at content, pay attention to the types of ads that are on the site, read reviews if available, look for signs of credibility. It’s best in the beginning to try to stick with one or two good educational resources such as PBS, Khan Academy, and Discovery Education. Educate your students about this as well. Commonsense Education is a one-stop shop devoted to digital literacy. 

  8. Use education-based tools for sharing on the Internet. Edublog, by WordPress, is one example of a blogging platform created just for educational uses. 

The second is accessibility. This is a big one and it can be overwhelming to think about while in crisis mode. But it has to be at the top of the list so that we make sure we are reaching all of our students to the best of our ability. Obviously, it is not possible for you to begin designing a web-based, fully accessible curriculum – we have been challenged to do that even before the crisis. However, there are a few easy things that you can do to get started. 

  1. Play around with the accessibility tools on your own computer so that you are knowledgeable about what is available already. Even if students use a different computer system than you do, the accessibility features on most computers are very similar. 

  2. Always prepare text-based documents in a program that allows for text-to-speech access. This means no .pdf files unless you use the “make accessible” option available in Acrobat Pro.

  3. Use captions on video content. 

  4. Try to create multiple representations of content whenever possible. CAST is a good resource for principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). 

  5. WebAIM is a good resource for accessibility in general. It can be overwhelming so find one or two things that you can do right now. You might focus in on vision and hearing supports to start.

  6. Communicate often with parents. 

  7. If all else fails, go back to basics. Use the phone if necessary. 

  8. Check out How to Serve Students with Special Needs from Afar from EdSurge for some great tips. 

It can seem overwhelming when life as you know it has moved to a space that is unfamiliar. The best defense is not fear, but knowledge. Educate yourself so that you will be better prepared to support your students. They are counting on you!