Are We Ready if Schools Shut Down Again?

Aug 7, 2020

Credit Jeri Burger

In a follow-up conversation on e-learning, the answer is, probably not.

I asked Jason what keeps him up at night about the pandemic and the opening of schools for the fall.

Schools are opening up around the Tri-State while facing the possibility that the coronavirus could shut down in-person learning again at any time. I followed up on a conversation I had back in April with former Harrison High School teacher Jason Bailey, who is now the Director of Innovation and Design for the State Educational Technology Director’s Association. We discussed how much e-learning has advanced during the shutdown.

SB: “One of the big questions that we talked about earlier was that teachers didn’t feel like they had experience (virtually) introducing new material. And that was certainly a big challenge that needed to be overcome. How has that gone?”

JB: “You’re right. Professional development is the current stumbling block. When you look at back in March, the federal government put out the CARES Act funding. That started trickling down to states and then states to districts. It seemed like that funding, while it was available to be spent on several things, districts and states really looked at how to increase connectivity, how to get more devices to students. But even while some of those issues aren’t fixed, perhaps the bigger stumbling block is how do you help teachers do well if they have that access to it?

And you know, that’s one of thing that our organization has been involved with here in Indiana, launching this e-learning lab which is really focused on putting some tools in teachers’ hands where they can get professional development at their own speed. That they can get into these resources and find out how to use some of these digital tools that they may have heard about, but don’t have any experience using.”

SB: “Can you help me understand, in the case of the e-learning initiative in Indiana, how that helps teachers introduce new material?”

JB: “The E-Lab serves several different purposes.  It’s got community, where teachers can talk with one another and share ideas. It’s got examples of what a good digital lesson looks like. In some cases, we have teachers trying to construct a virtual lesson to deliver new content that may go beyond just getting all my kids together on a Zoom call and having a conversation.  So, how do you build engaging content that students can use? There are a lot of free and easy to get your hands on kind of tools, but teachers finding those, teachers seeing those employed well, that’s not easy if you don’t have people in your building or people you know who can help you over that hurdle, that’s what the e-learning lab is about. It’s got some great videos of how you can introduce new material, and examples of people doing that in other content areas.”

SB: “How well do you think this is going to work? We are here now, the schools are opening up. From a blended learning perspective, are we ready for that to happen?”

JB: “I definitely think we have more potential in the blended realm than we did this time last spring. I’m more hopeful in that realm. I’m also a little concerned that we may have put too much stake in our ability to be back in-person. I know that’s what everyone agrees would be nourishing for the kids, that’s what everybody wants to see happen, but the reality of that is you see districts opening and on the first day a positive case and they have to change things very quickly. So, everything I see and read says there will be a need in part or in whole for schools to shut down, or students to be out at some point.

So, how do we invest enough in the virtual side so we can shift gears and pull that off better than we did last spring? I don’t know, and it may be district to district. I’ve seen people doing investments in specific tools, I’ve seen districts putting cameras in every classroom with the idea that the teachers will be there regardless, broadcasting classes and if a good portion of their class is out, they’ve still got the access to go on as they would and have students tune in to those lessons. Other folks have invested more in the traditional blended realm of having a good learning management system, making sure that teachers understand how to deliver content whether they’re in person or at home and maybe both at the same time.

Is it better than it was in the spring? For sure. Is it what it needs to be for business as usual regardless of how the pandemic goes? No. We’ve been trying to help teachers go digital for a decade or more, it’s not going to happen in three months, regardless of the resources. It’s a mindset change, and that’s difficult.”