Some schools are back to 100% in-person learning at this point, but most are starting with either hybrid (apparently called “blended” in NYC) or all-remote.
As I am (thankfully) mostly retired, do I still have skin in the game?
Well, yes — for at least three reasons. One is simply that I care: I know lots of students, fellow teachers, and parents, all of whom are stakeholders with different stakes. A second reason is that I am currently supervising a new teacher who is teaching remotely. A third reason, the most practical one, is that I taught a fully remote class over the summer of the dread year 2020 and expect to be doing so again in the summer of 2021.
Let’s give a little context to this post, which is my fourth one about Zoom-based teaching and learning:
- On July 3 I gave my initial impressions after one week.
- Then on July 28 I lamented the impossibility of giving secure assessments.
- On August 15 I looked back over the experience.
- What is there to say now in this post? The good news is that I ended up feeling reasonably comfortable with the Zoom environment, as did my students. The bad news is that it didn’t begin to compare to the standard in-person experience. Collaboration and cooperation were difficult, and there was no way to read the room, no way to tell anyone’s reactions or who was doing what.
Since I always hate it when people complain without offering solutions, I am going to explore a few paths for solving the problems:
- Reading the room continues to be a major impossibility, especially when some students freeze their cameras or are audio only. It all reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s novel The Naked Sun, which posits a planet in which each individual is isolated almost all of time, accompanied only by large numbers of robots, and it is socially taboo for people to “see” other other, which refers to meeting in person. It’s fine to “view” another person, which is remote access via a holographic equivalent of Zoom. (This was in 1957, mind you!) Since it’s holographic, it’s almost — but not quite — the same as seeing the person live. We’re not there yet, even though Asimov imagined it 63 years ago. At the moment about all I can think to do is to insist that cameras remain on and live, although some school systems are reluctant or even unwilling to enforce such rules.
- In order to generate student discussions, I am enthusiastic about the ideas in “6 Classroom Strategies that Work for Generating Student Discussions Online,” an article by Kara Newhouse. I will try these next summer.
- As for the impossibility of giving secure assessments, one of my colleagues tweaks quizzes and tests so that each student gets their own numbers, thus never having the same questions as a classmate. There is software that helps with this. I am not so enthusiastic about this technique, and it won’t help with non-numeric questions, but at least it’s a start. And, of course, I could just decide not to worry about it, although that goes against the grain.
- Finally, John Spencer unsurprisingly has a lot of good ideas for improving student collaboration in these settings, even including individual accountability. I’ll try these too next summer.
I also have this entire school year to glean ideas from my colleagues and from my supervisee who will be teaching remotely. Although the summer of 2020 was surprisingly successful under the circumstances, I am confident that I can build on what others do, in order to make summer 2021 significantly more so.