As more and more school districts open for the new year, a renewed demand for internet resources, including bandwidth from service providers, file capacity from central servers, both school district and tech companies like Microsoft and Google, and transfer protocols, are rearing their ugly heads.
It’s enough to make a teacher scream in despair or, in a fit of nihilism, get up and dance to techno-music. Certainly, the online teaching experience is like a frenetic dance of admitting students to live Zoom or Teams meetings, taking note when the technology kicks them out, readmitting, inviting back, inviting back, inviting back all while trying to deliver live instruction, monitor student comments in the chat, record attendance, explaining where to find the assignment files, how to download, and where and when to upload, answer questions about the learning, read that priority email sent by the district or administration, ignore (if possible) the constant Teams notifications, explain to students they are in the wrong class and should report to their scheduled class …
Is the music driving you mad? Go ahead, the link is over an hour long, turn it off. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has.
Too bad we can’t turn virtual learning off. Or, to distinguish it from virtual schools like FLVS or a school district’s version, remote learning.
Techno-blues are here. GOT has noticed that an hours-long delay has cropped up in student-teacher emails during the day. Because he was giving a quiz, GOT didn’t want to distribute the file in advance, but when he emailed it, the students didn’t get it. Previously, a student had emailed her teachers about an issue she was having. The email showed up in GOT’s inbox five hours after it was sent.
Students are complaining that they cannot download assignment files placed in the grade portal. Some are having no trouble; others are. GOT suspects the issues are multiple, but the age of the device is a factor. Older devices have more trouble.
Student uploads of completed work: same issues.
Sometimes, the students download a file, work in it, but don’t save their work as a new file for upload. They end up submitting the blank assignment file that they had downloaded.
Many of them don’t upload in the proper formats. Focus, the grade portal website, needs to have a PDF file or a Word document for the teacher to make comments and mark corrections. Pictures won’t work. Yet, despite the requirement, many students continue to upload pictures and then get fussy when their work is not graded.
Techno-ed is time consuming. The burden falls on the teacher to plan alternatives for the prescribed methods of providing assignments and accepting submissions. GOT is using the class notebook (Microsoft app) as another means of distributing work and receiving submissions. In fact, that is a more efficient and effective way of providing teacher feedback. To encourage students to place their work in their online notebooks, GOT is giving an extra point of credit to students who do so. Those who submit via the standard means, GOT is downloading and inserting their submissions into the notebook.
Going forward, GOT will also email the daily assignments to his students the day before. Multiple ways is the key. But it takes more time.
Students are taking advantage of the situation. But teachers should be reluctant to assume that students are skipping as in logging into their class meeting, but walking away believing that the teacher won’t notice their absence. Teachers could get around this by requiring students to turn on their cameras, but that is problematic as well.
Beyond the privacy issues, some students have devices without cameras. Some cameras no longer work because the software drivers are outdated. Also, video feed from 25 to 30 home computers bogs down Team’s or Zoom’s performance.
GOT is reluctant to call out a student. This past week, he had a student in a meeting who previously had reported that he couldn’t access assignment files. He posted in the chat to ask the student if he was successful for that day, then asked via the audio. There was no response.
After muting his microphone for privacy, GOT called the parent. She said that her child was sitting beside her looking at his computer and handed the phone off. After talking with the student, GOT was able to direct him to a means of finding the assignment (spoiler alert: not via the grade portal) and he got to work.
Thus, students have to be given the benefit of the doubt. Parent communication is vital, but that’s a lot of phone calls! Phone calls that wouldn’t have to be made if the students were in the classroom.
Please understand GOT is not complaining, but trying to give you an idea of what it’s like to provide remote instruction. Unlike last spring, when the instructional ‘cake’ was baked, cooling on the rack, and only lacked the frosting to finish the year, we are now looking at the recipe book, reading the instructions, finding that some of it is outdated or questionable, and like master chefs, are experimenting with the recipe as we go to mix the batter.
Because, home learning or not, the state of Florida insists that every student’s cake will be entered into its annual competition. Even if the judges can’t tell divinity from pig crap, students will still be judged. We need to get the recipe right.
GOT approaches 1,000 word in this post and hasn’t even mentioned the impossibility of delivering the support services required by IEPs (Individual Education Plans) and 504s (plans for students with disabilities who do not qualify for an IEP.)
How do you individually work with students in a way that maintains privacy to provide the specified accommodations when the meeting apps have no means for that unless the entire class hears the conversation? A teacher could start a separate meeting, but that means leaving the class meeting, and given concerns about bullying and other inappropriate behavior, school districts are insisting that teachers monitor their meetings while they take place.
If a teacher ends the class meeting, then the synchronous meeting requirement ends as well. Plus, the teacher is not available to answer student questions while they are doing the work.
Techno-blues. Remote learning is not an ideal situation. It is making the best of a bad situation–the practices needed to maintain public health during a pandemic. But we can’t pretend that the pandemic is over, either. Bringing all students back to their campuses is not a good idea. There will be a morning after, but we are not there yet. In the meantime, let’s dance.