For me, blended learning has always been a necessity because it adds another element of creativity, provides otherwise unreachable resources, and promotes collaboration in education. It also allows for multiple kinds of learning environments to help differentiate instruction. Moving from brick-and-mortar classrooms and blended learning to solely online education was not where I thought I was heading when I set out to be a teacher years ago, but it has changed my perception of what learning looks like and also made me a more flexible and mindful curriculum designer. When I started, there were some undeniably frustrating days. How do I reach students? How do I keep them engaged? How do I know they are learning? As I progressed, I reminded myself, these are the questions every teacher must face every year no matter how the curriculum is presented. There are simply different ways of observing what is successful and who needs support. It is up to us as educators to develop a course design that encourages and provides resources to foster the best possible learning experience for every student no matter what way the curriculum is presented.
And then COVID-19 happened. Even though I am an online educator with my curriculum housed in Moodle, I still was not ready for this challenge. Although not a typical to an online teaching experience, I was used to meeting with my students whenever possible to check in, to see facial expressions, and make personal connections. That loss was palpable.
These changes have made it apparent how valuable it is for educators to be able to go seamlessly from an in-person to online to offline experience. Of course, few if any are there yet, but I think this needs to be part of our new-found educational literacy in the teaching world. The set-up is difficult, but the results are undeniably valuable now and even when we are back in classrooms.
Setting up our classrooms to be both online and in person, having that flexibility, is important for students who are at home because they are on medical leave, for parents wanting to check in, for collaboration with colleagues, students, and parents, and for having a supply of back-up resources ready for every situation. It’s valuable for substitute teachers. It’s valuable for teachers in the moment who need to differentiate instruction. Here are some scenarios. Did Johnny fail a test on algebra? I have a tutorial for that. Did Anika struggle with synonyms? I have an interactive video for that. Today, I need to have individual meetings with my students, but I want anyone not meeting with me to work on another assignment. There’s a simple solution because there are projects, readings, and activities ready to go in their online course. As it happens, this online course also hosts audio files, transcripts, and has printable and downloadable materials so that students without internet can take materials home on their school provided device or to their personal computer. Do I need my student to catch up on a lesson, unit, or semester they need to retake? Well, I have a credit recovery options available. Are a few students way ahead? That’s great because I can open a section in my online course that has extra resources, so the student remains engaged. I can do all of this because I already have my collection of tools, resources, curriculum, and my course designed in an online space where students and parents can go to seek guidance, examples, and choose the next step in their educational experience.
Many educators have gradually started this process well before now and have some online space set aside with supplementary materials, lesson plan outlines, and activities. but most of us were not ready to teach everything this way. And for classes like welding and physical education, there may not be experiences that compare with hands-on education until we get advanced virtual reality capabilities, but there are still detailed and complementary online curriculums that can reinforce previous or prepare for future educational experiences. The good thing is that we have a lot of tools to make online education a wonderful addition to our classrooms, even if we don’t yet have the infrastructure.
I work in distance learning at CA BOCES, so I know that through Learning Resources, it’s possible to find content for all types of classes – core, electives, AP, honors, CTE, and credit recovery. This is an invaluable tool chest because educators are juggling so much right now. We don’t have time to transfer all of our content into an online compatible form, try to reach all of our students at home, learn new technologies on the fly, continue to teach regular classes, prepare new material, and learn how to set up a course immediately all while keeping up with our own families. We have all tried and as successful as possible, but if you’re like me there is always more that’s possible and always a way to improve. If your district belongs to the DL COSER, CA BOCES might be able to help provide pre-made curriculum and as educators, we can supplement with our own material until we have time to create our own online classes.
I’ve found that the curriculum is excellent. It was created by education experts and is updated regularly to make sure that it’s current. Further, it includes resources that would take teachers months to gather. When I’ve used it, I’ve kept what I like, and added my own materials based on my expertise. Maybe as a teacher, I know that I have a better assessment or direct instruction, or my co-teacher has personal experiences that are invaluable to the learning experience, so I add those into my course. Maybe it’s clear that you know exactly how to engage your students, so you replace or add to the provider’s content with your own short videos. There are so many options and what I’ve learned using online content is that I don’t have to do everything. I can rely on my strengths, my knowledge of students and their lives, and my ability to tailor the best educational experience for students and I don’t have sacrifice parts when something unexpected happens. And to add to that, I can reach out to specialists at CA BOCES and get wonderful professional development on how to work in Moodle or another online platform, to help me make changes to my courses, to implement new digital resources, and to be ready in this interconnected and blended world. That is truly a blessing during this time of change and unpredictability.
By: Christina McGee, CA BOCES Learning Resources
Video of Josie Preston, Guidance Counselor at Genesee Valley Central School, reflects on the district's Summer Digital Credit Recovery Program.