Friday, June 12, 2020

On Remote Learning--Show Me Their Faces

Remote learning is a big topic these days. I'm always reading about it. Not only that, I've been doing it for three months. WSJ and the Post say it's awful, though I don't remember them ever saying that about the cyber charters that infest these United States. They're pretty well-known as patently abysmal. A lot of them are scammers who get paid for students who never show up.

Now I'm personally familiar with at least some students who never show up. Starting next Wednesday they become my primary professional focus. I'm not overly optimistic about the prospects of most students currently failing my classes. They seem to be failing all their others as well. I mean, I'll make myself available, but some of these students have been unreachable for weeks. I'm going to focus today on the students who've passed, which is almost all those who've been showing up to my Zoom classes.

Here's my big complaint--I can't see them. I have no idea what on earth they're doing behind those avatars. Are they listening? Are they playing video games on their phones? Have they muted themselves so they can watch video? Are they sleeping? If so, are they even sleeping alone? Who knows? Certainly not me. They could be doing anything. If they were in my classroom, I'd walk over and orient them one way or another.

Actually, if students were showing their faces, I'd feel confident giving assessments. If I could actually watch them in real time, and if I could see what they were writing in Google Classroom, I'd be confident enough to believe it was them, or at least most of them, actually doing the work. Earlier this morning I gave students credit for homework that I'd entirely gone over in class. Now some of them know the material, and I know they do. At least one of them doesn't. I have been taking ten points off for late homework, but honestly that student deserved a zero.

The student I just mentioned, and several others, come to my online class most or all of the time. However, when I call on them, they don't respond. Now there could be a lot of reasons for that. Once, I called a student, she didn't answer, and when I said her name again she wrote in the chat that she was in the bathroom. Evidently she brought her device with her, if indeed she was there. Now if she had her camera on, I'd see she wasn't there and call on someone else. I have no issue with kids using the bathroom, but as things are, some of them may be spending entire classes there.

The simple requirement that students show their faces would make this easier. Of course, there are students who likely cannot. With 10% of NYC kids being homeless (Great work, Mayor de Blasio.), I'm sure there are students who simply cannot do it. Perhaps we could make allowances for special circumstances. But the default should be camera on, assuming we want to do this right.

For a few weeks, I offered extra credit to students who left their cameras on. It turns out the only ones who took me up on it were my very best students, the ones who I'll be deciding whether to give 98 or 99 later this week. (Actually I'll give them all 100. It is, after all, the apocolypse.) The others just ignored me. The students currently failing for being there (but not really being there ) continued to use those icons. After all, there's a great advantage when the teacher can't tell you to stop playing with your phone, to wake up, to turn the light on in your brain, to answer a question, to pay attention, or even to pretend you're paying attention.

Here's the thing--we're going to be doing this remote learning thing for the foreseeable future. There's no way we can open schools the way we did last September. The more I read about what Tweed's planning, the more I think they have no viable way to safely open the schools. Yesterday I heard someone say the chancellor anticipated it would be too risky for 20% of staff to report to school buildings. You might determine that means the chancellor is very concerned with those whose health is more at risk than others.

On the other hand, you might determine the chancellor is not concerned with the other 80% of us. It's not a big logical jump. Even if you're 21 years old and all perky and stuff, you might not want to contract Covid. It could be detrimental to your health. And just in case that isn't enough to give you pause, you might live with your parents at that age. You might live with your grandparents at that age. I don't need a medical degree to know that it isn't just how sick you can get, it's also how sick you can make others.

Now sure, I kid the chancellor a little bit. But I've got the definite impression he wants to open schools to some degree or other. I've seen no evidence that any of the plans I've been hearing are safe. In case that's not bad enough, it doesn't appear he, or any of the geniuses who work at Tweed, have given thought one to how we who do the actual work can do it effectively.

A simple thing like seeing student faces would make a world of difference.Why doesn't the chancellor know that? Because he's never done this work in his life. Why doesn't he just ask those of us doing the work?

If you see him, do me a favor and ask him that.
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