As our administrative oversight duties for our Online Secondary School have dwindled, I’ve begun to consider what might be our next challenge. It was exciting supporting teachers as they shifted to a fully-online model, but I am less excited about supporting them as they return to an adaptive or hybrid model in their home schools for Quadmester 2. So, I have chosen to conclude my duties, and reserve some of my remaining available work days for the next exciting challenge.
I am very proud of the online school that we have built, and of the teachers who have made it such a success. Here are some of the reasons why I think that this model has worked:
Online Teacher Networking
Our online teachers have been drawn from more than 30 different secondary schools and from our long-term occasional team of teachers. They have come together, most never having met each other, and have built course and department teams that have shared resources and supported this new model of instruction. As they return to their home schools, they will bring with them a rich toolkit and strong connections to their colleagues.
Online Student Agency
Our online students have been guaranteed that 25% of their program is self-regulated. They see their teachers for 3 full periods every two days, and have one period in which they work at their own pace utilizing materials from their LMS. This has provided them with some flexibility, while developing their self-regulation skills.
The timetable for our online school has allowed for consistent sequencing and scaffolding, so that teachers who teach two classes of the same course can proceed with both in the same order. In the current adaptive model, teachers see one cohort in the first half of the week in person, teach synchronously in the afternoons, and then see the second half of the class in the second cohort in the last half of the week. This means that any hands-on activities are either conducted in advance of the theoretical lesson, or afterwards, but rarely will they encounter the cycle of theoretical and hands-on in the same order.
Our online teachers have been able to establish routines and norms and consistently reinforce them in each class. This creates a safe environment for learning, and minimizes frustration for both students and teachers.
Our online teachers have developed facility with either MS Teams or Google Meet, and with Brightspace/D2L or Google Classroom. They have added Padlet, Mentimeter, Pear Deck and Bitmoji classrooms, and experimented with other online tools to enhance their instruction and assessment. With these tools, students can easily access class materials while in class, and when completing homework tasks. They do not need to shift from digital to paper, nor from screens to in person.
Our online students can sleep in, and arrive in class on time in only minutes. And when they conclude their class, they can immediately move to their chosen activity. Those attending in person are spending time in transit, in sanitizing activities, and dealing with interruptions that come along with in-person group activities. Other than technological failures, interruptions to class flow are rare online.
Because course tools and materials are organized by the teacher, students who struggle with organization are better supported. There are no more crumpled papers at the bottom of backpacks!
Online Professional Learning
Our online teachers have risen to the challenge, shared best practices, and sought out new strategies. We enjoyed several teacher-led workshops, entitled “Log and Learn”, over the past two weeks. Their modelling of their classroom practices provided our teachers with inspiration. I was impressed by each teacher’s presence online, their strategies that enhanced their students’ engagement, and with their positive approach to online learning.
Online Student-Student Connection
Our online students benefit from teachers’ support of collaborative activities, through the use of breakout rooms, threaded discussions, and other digital tools. Because they know that their students may not know each other, they have added activities to support connection and building of community. And while the lesson is in progress, students can utilize Chat functions, or other back-channel tools, to connect with each other without distracting the entire class. No more side conversations, or passed notes!
Online Student-Teacher Connection
Within their digital environments students see their teachers’ faces and class materials clearly. Most of the time the teacher’s face, or the tools they are manipulating, are the sole focus on the screen. Their focus can also be directed by the teacher to others in the class as they contribute to the lesson. Chat serves to provide in-the-moment connection, and email is a necessary tool between classes.
At midterm, we saw instances of high achievement in many classes. We questioned this, and challenged teachers to share their assessment data, and to explain how they determined midterm marks. They reported that they had students who were able to fully explain concepts, and make connections and apply their learning. They had triangulated their data, and it indicated that many students were achieving much greater success in this online environment than they had been in person.
Of course there were also the other extremes. Most of these were challenges of attendance and of technology, both of which are “fixable”. We need to know more about those who have not succeeded in this environment, and how we can better support them as they move back to a hybrid model.
I am very worried about this new hybrid model, and concerned that it will lose the benefits of the current F2F classes AND lose the benefits of the fully online model.
But I am hoping to be proven wrong!