Remote Learning: An Educational Revolution!

Remote Learning: An Educational Revolution!

“If I had an option to stay online, I would because we have more time to work on our class work. Also, we can try and figure out how to learn something by ourselves and be more independent. With online learning I can login from wherever I want. The teachers also let us be more independent by giving us sources and letting us have the opportunity to figure it out.”

“When I was doing online learning, I enjoyed it very much. It gave us more of a freedom, like what we would do when, and it would feel great. My dad travelled, and online learning gave me more family time. The teachers were great and online gave us a lot of opportunities to talk to the teacher alone, like through email.”

Above comments from my students capture the essence of remote learning!

As long as employees in the corporate world were working from home, everyone raved about the benefits of going into the office. But when the offices opened up, many employees wanted to stay home since they saw the benefits of working from home.. “In a survey of remote workers by Morning Consult and The New York Times, 86 percent said they were satisfied working from home.”

Why should schools be any different from the corporate world? I was one of those teachers who would have called the 2020-2021 academic year the best teaching year of my life.Twenty students logged in for 2 hours of synchronous work and 2 hours of asynchronous work.  They logged in from various places such as Washington, D.C., Seattle, Harrisburg and South Korea. They learned to ask questions through chat and email, collaborated with each other, and kept track of asynchronous work.  Every video camera was on and every assignment was turned in on time! While I might be the exception in achieving success in remote teaching and learning, it also made me analyze the basic necessary conditions needed for a successful online classroom.

And, from now on, successful online instruction should be one of the components when we strive to return to normal.

But what if normalcy means pre-pandemic practices that were more of the same, just because that’s what we are most comfortable with?

What if normalcy does not include remote learning, which would seem normal to my students?

I hear a chorus of voices telling me that I am not thinking about the special-needs student who should be taught in-person, that I am not sympathetic to the child who is craving for social interaction, or that I am not thinking about the child who lacks internet access. And therefore, "no" to remote learning.

The fact is that we did not re-think the delivery of the curriculum to suit remote learning, but instead created a carbon-copy of the in-person curriculum. We set ourselves up to fail and then concluded that the resulting statistics proved that remote learning does not work.

I was determined that my students’ face-time was meant for discussions, clarifications, mentoring, and cheer-leading. They worked with paper and pencil or dry-erase board and marker, built models and did hands-on activities with their cameras pointing towards the activities. They ran around their house hunting for examples of pulleys and levers, watched the State of the Union Address and the passage of a bill in Congress. They read from books, and wrote outside in their backyard. They even built a Rube Goldberg machine at home from recycled materials! They conducted their social lives on the driveways and in parks and while biking.

As students followed me on Google Meets, I taught my entire unit on sedimentary rocks and runoffs by walking around the greenbelt and showing them the real stuff. Isn’t this much better than showing them videos or pictures? This Eanes ISD teacher hit the road to teach history.

What if I say that by not offering a remote learning option that we are not listening to the needs of those children who are introverts, who are subtly bullied or those who are medically fragile? Are we providing the best learning environment for those who have to help out their parents financially or those who need additional time to pursue their passions such as sports?

We provide an in-school option for students who cannot handle remote learning, so why do we not provide an online option for those who thrive on remote learning?

Are we assuming that ALL students prefer in-person because, “According to a survey of 1,000 parents of K–12 students, 45 percent would opt to keep their children fully online given the chance, and 22 percent would choose a hybrid model for their children.”  “A fall 2020 RAND survey of district leaders found that 1 in 5 schools have already adopted or plan to adopt virtual schooling after the pandemic.” (Is Virtual Learning Here to Stay for K–12?)  Locally, only one of the school districts in central Austin, the hub of technological activity, is offering remote learning for the 2021-22 year!

Before the pandemic, we did not know that remote learning could be an option or that a proportion of students would actually thrive on it. Post-pandemic, we know that it works, as long as some basic conditions are met, such as a dependable internet connection, parents who support online learning, students who are willing to explore on their own, and district policies that  lay out the guidelines for remote instruction. Are we deliberately forgoing a wonderful opportunity to create personalized learning for our students? The pandemic has given us an educational revolution...let’s not squander it away!

Revathi Balakrishnan,  2016 Texas Teacher of the Year, teaches fifth grade in Austin, Texas. She also has experience working with gifted students and believes in bringing in Shakespeare, chess, robotics and coding as an integral part of the classroom experiences. She is a recipient of the Horace Mann Excellence in Teaching award sponsored by NEA Foundation.  One of her interests is in making the Indian-American community aware of their civic rights and of issues like equity. Outside of school, Revathi enjoys gardening and reading. She is grateful to NNSTOY for providing a forum for her blogs.

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