5 Hours of Zoom per day is NOT Digital Learning

Julie Taylor, Head of School, at The Bridge School, outlines what makes for an excellent - and complete - digital education programme.

The Bridge School virtual tour
Over the past two decades, digital learning has evolved into a legitimate, rigorous, and viable education option for millions of learners across the globe. This process of understanding the learning needs of both students and teachers in the virtual realm take years of study, leaps in technology advancements, and having the appropriate tools to enhance the educational experience.Travel back with me to the year 2003. I was a third-year elementary teacher, jumping into one of the United States’ first virtual K-8 schools. When the school year began, we had just 75 brave students and parents across Arizona, willing to forge into the unknown world of virtual learning. For most students, the local brick and mortar type of school was not meeting their needs; either emotional, physical, or educational. In this new school, most of the curriculum was online. Students were independently moving through the curriculum. Parents would fax or mail work samples to me through the US Postal Service. As the teacher, I would have regular conference calls with the parents and students to determine the students’ academic progress. This was a manual process which took a lot of time and organization.A few years later, online meeting rooms started popping up. Services like Zoom and GoToMeeting allowed teachers (and others) to meet virtually, use web cameras and utilize whiteboards to engage students. This was quite possibly the most pivotal tool in online learning. However simple it seems to create and schedule live web sessions, the truth is that online synchronous classes take time to plan and even greater effort to engage students. I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a national group of instructional coaches whose sole purpose was to work with virtual teachers on their live instruction. We studied and observed hundreds of hours of live web-based teaching. We learned and further developed best practices in small group instruction. We led professional development sessions focused on student engagement, academic feedback, and standards-based learning.Fast forward to March 2020; COVID 19 put the entire world in a tailspin. Schools and teachers around the globe were scrambling to find online resources for their students to maintain some type of learning. Many schools made assignments “optional” during this time and too often, learning came to a halt.For the 2020-21 school year, a majority of schools around the globe have had to implement some type of “distance learning” or what I like to call “emergency distance learning”. Emergency distance learning has been implemented with varying degrees of success. I have literally watched schools require students to be on Zoom meetings for 5 hours per day. I have seen schools report record numbers of truancy and failure rates. This is not a knock on the hard-working teachers out there trying to make education “work” through the pandemic. This is simply to say that all distance learning opportunities are not created equally.

Emergency distance learning is not the same as a complete digital education programme

The digital education programs that succeed today have been built on decades of research and planning. I believe there are three main digital components that are necessary for the foundation of a strong digital education program. The first piece is a student management system that accounts for grades, course history, credits and transcripts. The second is a user-friendly Learning Management System (LMS) where the courses are held. The final key to a successful digital education program is a digital curriculum that supplements teacher-led instruction.For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the LMS and the digital curriculum. Students need consistency and simplicity to be able to focus on content. One of the biggest mistakes a school can make when moving to the online platform is requiring teachers to figure out what and how they want to teach online. Don’t get me wrong - teachers are, in fact, the subject matter experts. I would argue, however, that the wholistic experience for the student shapes the foundation for learning. This year, my local middle school has used 3 different online platforms for their students. The user experience has been terrible and confusing. Whether it is Canvas, Blackboard, Google Classrooms, or Schoology, it is the job of the school administration to pick a platform that will be utilized across the entire school.Speaking of user experience, taking a curriculum that was designed for in-person instruction and posting PDF worksheets online will not motivate your students to engage. Lecturing in Zoom for hours will not produce the same results as in-person instruction. To get the best out of distance learning you need a solid digital curriculum that combines reading, short bursts of video or live instruction, and interactive practice opportunities. At the school I lead, we utilize the StrongMind digital curriculum. Our students and families have found this curriculum to be engaging and interactive. All of the textbooks and reading materials are found within the online system. Teachers love it because it supplements (it does not supplant) the instruction they are providing. Additionally, the digital curriculum gives the teachers real time tools and data to understand how students are doing in the course, including what areas students may need additional remediation. Teachers can easily see which students to invite to a small group live session covering specific standards. Students can use this type of curriculum in an in-person model and easily transition to a distance learning model with no interruptions.The COVID pandemic has created an opportunity for schools around the globe to offer distance learning. The good news is that we already know what a successful digital program can look like. A successful digital program is not 5 hours a day of online meetings, but a wholistic digital curriculum program where student thrive! Success is not limited to a one size fits all approach, but instead can be tailored to your school/district needs.
Julie Taylor of The Bridge School
Julie Taylor, MBA, Head of School
. Julie Taylor has spent the past 20 years helping students find success as both a teacher and administrator.  A true pioneer in online education, Julie was a key administrator for one of the largest online K-12 schools in the nation.  Julie and her team successfully led the school through technology breakthroughs, lobbying efforts, and a successful accreditation process, all while online learning was in its infancy.Julie has served in roles including; teacher, principal, and Head of School.  Additionally, she served as Director for national math remediation and instructional coaching programs.To find out more about how The Bridge School can help your family or school, contact Julie at .
Verano Learning Partners is a non-profit organization dedicated to collaborating with schools to provide the digital tools needed for hybrid and online success. To find out more about Verano Learning Partners, visit www.verano.org.

Learn more about The Bridge School

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