Friday, April 23, 2021

Is Remote Learning Here to Stay?

A Daily News article explores that this morning.  It works for some families, evidently:

“When they’re home, they can be one on one with you,” said Livingstone, a single mother of a fourth and eighth-grader who doesn’t work because of a disability.

I can see how it would appeal to people who have no issue staying home and supervising their kids. These days, though, that's likely a relatively small group. I can also imagine how supervised students might function better in online classes. If my kid were in an online class, I wouldn't allow her to place a cat picture up in Zoom and nap through classes. (Alas, a good portion of my students lack that level of supervision.)

And indeed the article covers drawbacks in online education:

“It doesn’t replace the magic that being in a classroom does, either instructionally, or just taking care of kids,” said Nate Stripp, a teacher at Middle School 50 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who’s also completing a masters degree in educational technology.

I don't know who Nate Stripp is, but I agree with him. I am acutely aware that what I've been doing for the last year does not compare with what I've done for most of my career. I'm constrained in many ways. For one, I simply do not trust the notion of giving tests online. I can't imagine why someone, especially someone hiding behind an avatar, wouldn't a. look up the answer on Google, b. text a friend for the answer, c. check classwork for a solution, or d. all of the above. 

More importantly, I don't believe that subject matter is the only thing we provide students. We are role models. On a fundamental level, every student who sees us sees people who get up every morning and come to work. They see people who've gone to college to acquire career qualifications. Beyond that, I certainly hope we model reasonable behavior, not to mention the joy inherent in this life we're fortunate enough to have. It's so much harder to get that from a computer screen. 

I love computers, and my little MacBook is like an extra appendage. I'd use it in class whether I were home or in the building. That said, it's not at all a substitute for being face to face. Right now, I don't even know what a third to even half of my students look like. At a parent teacher conference, I saw the face of a young girl whose forehead I'd been looking at all year. I had actually imagined what the rest of her face looked like, somehow, and I was shocked to see her face looked completely different from what I'd imagined.

In fact, it's not all that important for me to know what her face looks like, especially if she chooses not to share it. She's shy, which is why she wouldn't show her entire fact onscreen. This notwithstanding, I knew she was in class every day. I knew she would answer questions addressed to her, and I knew if I assigned work she would do it. I can't say that for all of the students who leave up avatars. Years of practice have compelled me to ask questions of everyone, and every day I lose precious time questioning students who aren't there. Maybe I should give that up. (Maybe I will, and maybe I should've done so months ago.)

Certainly, given the vaccine, many more students will be in buildings in September. However, given the vaccine is not yet available to anyone under 16 years old, it won't be 100%. Given also the year we've had, I'm sure remote learning will be around in some form or other. One encouraging thing is to hear Bill de Blasio make a statement that isn't insane on its face:

“Either a kid’s in school five days a week period, or they’re remote five days a week, no more blended,” he added.

That makes sense. Hybrid is kind of the worst of all possible worlds. We don't have enough teachers to do two things at once, and it's more a stupid idea than a compromise of any sort. Maybe there are teachers who enjoy teaching remotely. I know I'm not one of them.

There is no substitute for live, face to face instruction. We faced an emergency and did the very best we could under the circumstances. This notwithstanding, unless we find a way to keep our children safe, i.e. get them a vaccine, we won't be able to return to what we consider normal in September.

These are interesting times indeed.

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