Uncharted Territory

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For many of us, the upcoming year is going to be something like we’ve never seen before. Whether starting fully in-person, cohort/hybrid model, or remote, teachers are having to figure out how to best support our students during this pandemic. We learned a lot of lessons when in-person schooling quickly transitioned to online in March. Many of us struggled with how to continue the learning process for our kids. Do we continue with our pacing and content? Should we try independent projects? How much should we assign our students? When should we schedule our Zoom or Google Meet sessions? How many sessions should we schedule? The questions were endless. And no one had any answers, as many of us were dealing with more than just want happens in our classrooms.

When the 2019-2020 school year ended, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. This summer, I tried my best to put some serious space between my professional and personal self. However, even though I had every intention to not focus on the upcoming 2020-2021 school year and what that would look like…I focused on it. How could I not? 

Several weeks ago, the governor of California provided guidelines for schools and districts. He clearly stated certain metrics that must be met in order for in-person (with social distancing measures) to resume. With those metrics, it meant that my district had little choice but to inform students and other stakeholders that the school year would begin online. 

There are a bi-jillion reasons out there about why we should return to in-person, hybrid, or remote. Everyone has a valid point. And there are no easy answers. But what I’m a bit concerned about are the various plans that educational organizations, districts, and schools are putting out there for distance/remote learning. The idea that in-person schooling can be replicated online is not possible. It’s just not. The effective instructional strategies that my district has been training us on for the past several years cannot be effectively replicated online. Holding daily Zoom or Google Meets with students thinking that direct instruction via video will have the same effect as in-person instruction is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

What I would love to see is a complete rehaul of the way education looks in public schools. Why try to replicate what occurs in-person when there are so many other ways to engage in the learning process via technology? Why bring 30 students together in a Zoom or Google Meets session so that a teacher can talk at them for 30 or 45 minutes? And why are we making students stay online while they do their work? I’ve heard that some district plans suggest putting students in individual break-out rooms (in Zoom) while they work on a task. 


And then while perusing my Twitter feed, my friend shared an interesting document:

While the arguments put forth here are certainly legitimate and the comments in the thread make good points . . . my point is . . . we are in uncharted territory. 

There’s pros and cons to that, I know.

However, we now have an incredible opportunity to change how learning occurs with our students. One of the benefits of online learning is that one is no longer bound by the constraints of a traditional school day (Christensen et al., 2013; Liu et al., 2014; Watson et al., 2014). Technology gives students and teachers more opportunities to make learning meaningful and authentic (Jonassen et al., 2008)—well, at least it should

We shouldn’t plop students in front of a live video multiple times a day so that they can see their teachers talk at them. Why not use flipped lessons to provide direct instruction and then give students the opportunity to choose the process or product to demonstrate their learning? For some students, this aligns perfectly with their drive for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. This also allows for flexibility and choice for the student. For students who would like a bit more support and structure, why not simply offer open office hours (via your video conferencing tool of choice)? Or what about this? Why not schedule short webinars for students who would like live instruction? Afterwards, students can ask questions and then go off to figure out how they want to demonstrate their learning.

Children are not much different than adults when it comes to learning (Bransford et al., 2000). They know what they like. They know what motivates them. They want agency and voice in what they do. They want to engage in meaningful tasks. 

So…why not take this opportunity to use technology as a tool for differentiation? To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to get together via Zoom. It’s been nice to connect with friends this way. But those meet-ups occur once or twice a month for maybe an hour. However, the proposed structure that is being handed down by many districts are putting students and teachers in front of a camera for anywhere between an hour and a half to upwards of four hours a day (the total time depends on district policies). Think about it this way…would you like to sit in front of a camera for several hours a day while someone talks at you? What about working in an individual break-out room with your camera on for several hours? 

Don’t get me started on the bandwidth or data issues that this poses for many of the families who are already struggling financially. 

My point is, since we are in uncharted territory…why not break the chains of the traditional school model? Why not consider ways that technology can be leveraged to offer students more opportunities to master important skills (e.g., reading, writing, listening, speaking, digital) in a different format? The research-based best practices for online learning can and do work. We just have to be willing to not just think but work outside-of-the-box.


Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and schoolhttps://doi.org/10.17226/9853

Christensen, C., Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2013). Is k-12 blended learning disruptive? An introduction to the theory of hybrids. Clayton Christensen Institute. https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Is-K-12-blended-learning-disruptive.pdf

Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R. M., & Crismond, D. (2008). Meaningful learning with technology (3rd ed.). Pearson Education.

Liu, M., Scordino, R., Geurtz, R., Navarrete, C., Ko, Y., & Lim M. (2014). A look at research on mobile learning in k-12 education from 2007 to the present. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46, 325-372. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2014.925681

Watson, J., Pape, L., Murin, A., Gemin, B., & Vashaw, L. (2014). Keeping pace with k-12 digital learning: An annual review of policy and practice. Evergreen Education Group. https://www.evergreenedgroup.com/keeping-pace-reports

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