K–12 Distance Education

Moving to Remote Instruction Immediately: Where to Get Started

As coronavirus changes life as we knew it, these education experts offer advice on how to make the transition to online instruction.

Moving to K-12 Digital Learning FAST: Where to Start

Numerous districts and schools across the country suddenly find themselves in the position of having to teach students at home due to changes introduced by the national response to coronavirus and COVID-19. While every school has its share of early adopters, people who have been flipping classes and using blended learning for years, there are plenty of other teachers who are new to the process. To help schools make the transition as quickly and comprehensively as possible, THE Journal reached out to education technology experts across the country to answer the questions we believe nearly every educator is rushing to answer right now.

Most of my teachers haven't done this before. Where should we start with them?

Videos work better than worksheets. It's really easy to put a worksheet online and think that's making your curriculum digital — that's a path I've walked down myself. We know our students learn best from us. If they can't be with us in person, then the next best thing is a video of us, even from our phone or [computing] device to help maintain our relationship — because that's what will keep students working.

— Rick Bray, Instructional Technology Professional Development Specialist, Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES)

If teachers begin to incorporate arts-based assignments to their online instruction, teachers can simulate the same engaging activities they typically do face-to-face and have the opportunity to involve a student's parents or family members, too. For example, if you're working on a history unit ask students to create a song that represents a historical figure and perform it for their family. There are endless opportunities for students to create and learn at home, and free resources to support that instruction.

— Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Start where you can! Teachers likely have email, so start with sending information that way. From there, can they share how they are leveraging technology.

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

Educators tell us it's helpful to start the transition to remote teaching with a recognition that classes will be both asynchronous as well as synchronous, and that's ok. Some of the time, teachers may have the opportunity to connect with their students via video conferencing and messaging tools, but much of the time, learning will be asynchronous and students will be required to read, watch instructional videos, and study independently. Identifying the easy, go-to technology that helps with both aspects of teaching will help ground teachers and allow them to focus on lesson plans. For instance, a lot of teachers tell us they are using Zoom or Google Hangout Meet for video conferencing with student groups and Google Docs for essays and written work.

— Matthew Glotzbach, CEO, Quizlet

Remind teachers that the best practices they use in their face-to-face classrooms are important to uphold in the online classroom. Some of the best practices will need to be adapted, but it is important that teachers prioritize relationship-tending and clear communication. From a curricular standpoint, help teachers make decisions about what the most critical lessons and assessments are related to their curriculum. "Less is more" will be a helpful guiding philosophy. Give teachers the autonomy to make judgments around priorities within the curriculum to ensure students are meeting necessary standards without having to complete superfluous assignments. From a technical standpoint, be sure to provide teachers with training and resources they need to successfully facilitate learning remotely. Let them know how to get support with technical questions and how to answer basic student questions about accessing online curriculum and submitting work.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

I would start with Zoom. The software offers a robust platform to host most online courses, and have a free version that is suitable for most teachers and students.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

1. Setting up a course shell for [teachers] is a first priority to give them a space where they can upload material, connect with students and post assignments. The platform should automatically enroll students.

2. Provide tips and tricks available for faculty members new to online technology.

3. Have the faculty start with a few simple tools — for example, drag and drop a syllabus and content for that week's activities and set up a discussion area for students to work together on activities.

4. Add an activity feed that offers a Facebook-like experience on the course homepage where teachers can post activities and have conversations with students.

5. And as they get comfortable, help teachers with gradebooks, quizzes or more advanced features to keep students on track for success and engaged.

— John Baker, CEO, D2L

I would encourage administrators to have their instructors learn how to use video conferencing tools and once they feel comfortable with those tools, to promote the idea of having remote professional development through webinars and video conference calls so they can understand the student perspective. They will learn about some of the distractions that occur when a student is remote. If they are aware of some of the distractions, they can address them and help students navigate them.

— Josh Nichols, veteran teacher and CEO/founder, CrossBraining

Start with reassurances: Our goal is NOT to create a beautiful, fully-featured, six-hour-pers-day online learning experience for all students. The goal is to prevent students from losing any ground while school is out and work on fluency or automaticity for what they've already learned. Start with reading then add some writing and math. Kids can do lots of age-appropriate science "experiments" at home just cooking with the family. Next steps could be replicating what happens in your face-to-face class online. There are lots of free tools that will let you upload a PDF so your students can annotate on a worksheet. You could do a video call with a conferencing app. Send your students links to newspapers or content sites. If you're already using different apps in your classroom, use them more.

— Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

Same question regarding students: If they don't have experience with online learning, where's a good place to start?

Start with providing information that they can read or maybe even print out. Give them a list of things to do — it can be to make something, to research something, watch something or "go" somewhere like a on a virtual museum tour or virtual field trip. Provide a list of resources; a quick Google search will provide lots of things that can be used, but to ensure they aren't overwhelmed, point out a few that you recommend.

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

Start by going simple. Use technology that students may already be familiar with, such as Google Classroom and Google Docs. If the district is utilizing ClassLink or Clever, students will have an easier time logging into various online services. Set clear expectations for what needs to be completed with [plain] and concise instructions. Don't forget to share these expectations with parents as well, because the parents will be the student's first line of support. Even if students are not learning new materials, providing reinforcement activities will stop students from regressing.

— Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

When introducing technology for the first time, allow for ample time for students to assimilate to their new online learning environment. At the K-12 level, parents and mentors will play a key role in ensuring a smooth transition from physical to online learning environments and they, too, will need support from schools and administrators.

— Sara Monteabaro, Lead, Learning, MIT Solve

Most students should have no problem getting used to an online platform like Zoom given Generation Z is more tech-savvy then anyone. The biggest problem students may have is not getting distracted by the rest of the internet while watching their course. Therefore, I'd recommend closing all other applications such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

My biggest advice for students is to make sure they are setting aside enough time to go through group activities.

— John Baker, CEO, D2L

While most students tend to feel confident around technology, teachers need to avoid making assumptions that students will all understand how things work. It is important to be crystal-clear in communication of how to navigate technology, course content and expectations for student work and participation. Create screenshares or screen shots with instructions for using the technology, as needed. Provide clear instructions around how to submit work to the teacher (using Dropbox, email, Google Drive, Microsoft Teams, etc.) and what to do if they don't understand or can't get the technology to work.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Take a structured approach. Students benefit from the natural cadence that classes and regular activities provide. In this new online learning world, students will benefit from creating some structure for themselves in their day, tackling specific classes at times in the day when they regularly have that course, and scheduling breaks for lunch and snacks. Regarding online tools, today's students have grown up in an environment where technology is all around them. Experiences like connecting with friends via social media or Facetiming relatives to stay in touch have helped prepare students to make this transition, even if they've never experienced online learning before. While nothing can replace time in the classroom, students should feel empowered to take on this challenge like they have with every new digital tool and social app — connect with peers, practice, ask questions and personalize it.

— Matthew Glotzbach, CEO, Quizlet

Can we really say any student doesn't have experience with online learning anymore? Once kids are old enough to have any screen time, they're learning online. Online games, YouTube, google, even TikTok and Instagram — all places our kids are learning new things. The trick is to make it something we want them to learn.

— Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

What are the easiest components of a course to transition to online delivery — the low-hanging fruit?

Slides. Slide decks are extremely easy to upload into any online teaching platform.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

Things you would normally give students time to work on in class as an independent practice makes an easy transition online because they are self-lead assignments that you can simply upload, have the students print and complete at home. For example, in a third-grade unit on the Civil War, assign students to research the historical event and then create a theatrical event to perform in front of their parents or family.

— Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Submission of written work is the easiest and most familiar form of work that students can complete. The process of completing and grading student work is almost identical to the process in the face-to-face classroom. Using discussion boards for group discussions, student questions that may impact the group, and supervised "student lounge" areas are intended to mimic the face-to-face discussions that occur in a class. These types of groups are familiar to students and teachers who have used message boards or social media sites like Facebook. Teachers do not need to address every comment a student makes, but they need to be sure to monitor the discussions. Uploading images of work products, videos of presentations or voice recordings of student responses is another way for students to demonstrate their understanding. Again, these are technologies many students will be familiar with, but they may not know the nuts and bolts of the academic technology. While additional formats (videos, images, etc.) bring variety to the ways students can show what they know, they also may bring additional challenges, so a "plan b" is important to have ready ("If you can't create a video, make a transcript and email the Word doc to your teacher...").

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

The low-hanging fruit is dragging and dropping content to share with a class and then using the activity feed to keep the class on track for what comes next.

— John Baker, CEO, D2L

Anything that the teacher already has ready to go — weekly spelling words, the next assignment, start with what you've got. Then think of what would have been next, is it something that would be read or taught then quizzed? Is there an online resource to point students to? Can they collaborate online to "discuss"? Starting with providing something versus being overwhelmed with everything is definitely the way to go.

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

By using Google Classroom, teachers can quickly set up an online course and create modules. Not all materials need to be teacher-created. Many content providers have offered free content. (Check THE Journals' continually updating list here.)

— Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

Are there offline activities we should be promoting?

Definitely! We don't want students sitting in front of a screen all day. In fact, screen time should be 50 percent or less of traditional seat time. So that means teachers need to encourage students to get creative each day with what we like to call "creativity challenges." There are many free resources out there with anything from kids' exercise videos to art tutorials. Perhaps students can look at works of art by Andrew Goldsworthy (who uses found objects to create art) and then go outside and create their own found object art.

— Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Read, read, read and then write, write, write. Also, get out of the house and play (where possible and at safe distances from others). Physical activity will make kids' brains work better as well as fight off boredom and depression.

— Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

Many districts are creating packets for students to complete. These packets are being shared on district websites, and some districts are even offering to print them for students who do not have printers.

— Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

1. Students should be encouraged to get plenty of sleep, adequate nutrition and physical activity. Because this will be a challenging time for many of us — teachers, students and their families included — encouraging students to participate in self-care is important.

2. Provide resources for families with food security issues to access food within the community. Many schools are providing one or meals for students (and their families). Food pantries, churches and civic organizations may be able to help as well.

3. Encourage students to get physical activity whenever possible. Going outside (if they can do so without coming into close contact with others), is important for everyone to keep their bodies moving and to get fresh air and vitamin D from the sun.

4. To combat feelings of isolation and to help resist the temptation of going to friends' houses or other public spaces, students can interact with family and peers using social media or interactive online games (board games, card games and video games).

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Encourage young children to have "play" time or "creative" time — doing LEGOS, art projects and the like. For students with siblings, how can they work together? Can an older student help a younger sibling? Can kids watch something and after it is over talk about it and ask each other questions? I had mine watch a live broadcast from the Cincinnati Zoo and discuss it afterwards; my oldest daughter made a quiz for my youngest daughter while she was writing about what she learned.

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

I would encourage studying without any technology. One of the most difficult part of studying these days is avoiding distractions. Students typically have an enormous number of distractions: email, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. There really is no reason for all of this technology when it comes to studying. Therefore, I recommend parents actually take away or turn off the technology for an hour or two so that students can focus specifically on whatever subject they are studying. This means your student may need to hand over his or her iPhone, iPad and MacBook. Although they won't be a huge fan of you when you swap these out for books, they will appreciate it later when their knowledge skyrockets!

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

While the natural inclination is to want to move quickly to video and lecture capture, students prefer an asynchronous form of learning, meaning they don't have to be online at a certain time and can listen to a recorded lecture or take a quiz when it is convenient for them. Plus, asynchronous allows you to tackle bandwidth challenges for students at home — they can use Wi-Fi on any mobile device to download videos or rich content to their learning platform, then listen to them later.

— John Baker, CEO, D2L

How can our teachers include active forms of learning in what we're doing?

Allowing students to explore something they're passionate about can make learning broader and deeper. Design an experiment, read a book, write a poem, draw a picture — do something on a topic that ignites your curiosity.

— Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

There are many ways teachers can be active in students remote learning. They can leverage a video call to "teach" a new topic and be available for "office hours" or take questions via email to check in with students to see how they are doing, if they need help with something or even need more to do. It can also allow teachers to understand what is working well and what isn't so they can adjust and address.

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

Teachers can poll students to schedule online synchronous discussions using a video chat client, either as a whole-class or small group experience. Discussions could be held using a chat feature or discussion board with a "real time" back-and forth rather than an asynchronous experience.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Ask questions. Most online software platforms allow you to poll the audience and engage with the audience. Use these tools.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

Teachers can incorporate "brain breaks" to break up instruction with activities like sending students on a scavenger hunt for three objects in their home relevant to the lesson being taught.

— Susan Riley, CEO and Founder, The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

Teachers should work to balance the more passive and traditional learning such as reading texts and watching videos with activities that help engage students and get them involved in the materials. Today, teachers can take advantage of the numerous free resources and supplemental study tools to offer students active learning opportunities outside of traditional coursework. Interactive games and quizzes allow students to take what they are learning and test how well they are keeping up with the curriculum, ensuring they don't fall behind while at home. Teachers can also encourage friendly quiz competitions among study groups. These shareable tools will keep students collaborating on the subject matter and learning together, while they can't physically study in the same classroom.

— Matthew Glotzbach, CEO, Quizlet

How do we make sure our students with accessibility issues are being taken care of?

Online content should have audio materials accompanied by text transcripts and video materials should either have a transcript or be captioned to accommodate users with auditory handicaps. Teachers and educators should work directly with parents to accommodate students with physical disabilities who may require additional technology.

— Sara Monteabaro, Lead, Learning, MIT Solve

The same way you differentiate in your live classroom — if your student needs audio, make sure they have it. Or screen readers. Send students home with any tech tools or devices they use at school.

— Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

Students who have accessibility issues documented in a learning plan (IEP or 504) will need these accommodations met by their teachers. [Regarding digital equity,] provide students with laptops, as needed, and provide families with resources for internet access. Comcast is an example of an internet service provider committed to providing low-income families with two months of free internet in response to the pandemic (restrictions apply). If students have technology at home, but it is being shared by multiple students and adults, stress the importance of scheduling time so that students can complete school work, parents can complete their work-from-home tasks, and everyone can access technology to connect with friends and families.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Ask the student [and his or her family] what kind of help they need.

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

Is now really the time to adopt new technologies?

No — the time was yesterday. Coronavirus is just forcing schools into the 21st century a lot faster. Schools should have been teaching online a long time ago.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

If you do it with humor and humility, absolutely. Everything isn't going to work perfectly the first time, but modeling experimentation and failure could encourage students' own grit and resilience.

— Hilary Scharton, VP, Strategy, Canvas

Yes. I think shifting students to as much of an online model as we can is the only way for us to save the school year. I don't think many schools will reopen this semester. There's a high probability that schools will be shut down for many weeks. A number of schools we already work with are lending a hand to schools that are shifting to online to offer a high-quality experience right out of the gate rather than struggling to make that transition.

— John Baker, CEO, D2L

Limiting the number of new technologies students and teachers need to navigate will reduce frustration and further disruption to learning. As technology becomes familiar and the bugs are worked out, educators and tech team members can identify further needs (think: nice to have vs. necessary to have) and add new resources/tools that will best support teaching and learning goals. Get clear on the goals you have as a school or district and avoid jumping around from one tool to another as much as possible. Relying exclusively on email or other existing tools (Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) for a few days while getting clear on goals and appropriate tools will minimize confusion, lost time and unnecessary spending.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Given the challenge of quickly training teachers on new technologies, many schools are...looking to maximize the value of tools they already own. Students and staff need tried, true, and proven tools that offer secure protection and minimize disruptions to instruction. Schools can look into implementing tech that allows for messaging, screen monitoring and easy integrations with other frequently used tools — in order to support distance learning by mimicking the traditional school environment.

— Dan Verwolf, Senior Manager, Technical Sales Engineering, Lenovo Software

Core competence in remote connectivity is critical now in order to lead communities effectively through the immediate COVID-19 crisis… However, only forward-thinking educational leaders have developed this as a discipline; and, they are now leading effectively despite the connectivity challenges that exist. Other leaders require a catalyst in order to get past "the way things have always been done." Remote connectivity technology has existed for years. The current crisis provides the catalyst leaders need to inspire new ways of doing work. To be sure, many will revert back to the way they've always done things and find themselves, unfortunately, in exactly the same situation in short order.

— Andy Krenz, Director of Education, Thoughtexchange

Now more than ever is the time to incorporate appropriate technology solutions that can be implemented en masse as students, teachers, schools and universities all move to online learning at once.

— Sara Monteabaro, Lead, Learning, MIT Solve

What's essential and what's non-essential in developing our digital learning plan for the next two weeks?

As schools and districts transition to digital learning, student safety should top the list of essentials. While educators can generally get a sense of how most students are doing when they're together in the classroom, losing that face-to-face contact makes it much harder to gauge how students are handling both the shift in their learning environment and the uncertainty brought about by this pandemic.

— Paget Hetherington, vice president of marketing, Gaggle

Essential: Create study schedules and plans for students so they stay on track.

Non-essential: Having study groups is more likely to lead to more distraction than learning.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

Ask the question: what is the minimum amount of work students need to complete to keep them moving forward in the curriculum? Identify the assignments that are superfluous to students attaining learning targets and make those assignments optional or eliminate them all together. Be objective and willing to rework your lesson plans.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

The three components needed are conferencing tools, learning management systems to distribute and receive assignments, but most importantly, when students are at home there needs to be a classroom management system that helps teachers confirm when students are on task. This will be the key to a successful remote learning experience. Even though the distance learning format may be new for some teachers and students, schools should implement tools that allow teachers to view what their students are working on and struggling with, answer questions they may have and provide ways to minimize distractions that easily occur in the home. Streamlining digital instruction through tools that integrate with teacher favorites like Google Classroom and Clever are integral to a successful distance teaching experience.

— Dan Verwolf, Senior Manager, Technical Sales Engineering, Lenovo Software

The most essential thing is to keep students learning. It might not be the same content a teacher planned and each kid might be learning something different but keeping them engaged and interested is key. One way to do that is to encourage kids to create a daily schedule. There are dozens of sample COVID daily schedules that can be found online that can serve as a template but [the goal is] getting kids to help decide what they will work on (younger kids may some guidance) and when. This will encourage them to feel like they have some small say input on their schedule and engage accordingly.

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

It's essential to not simply create busywork. Families will need to support your students at home as they complete their remote learning activities. Make sure every assignment is a worthwhile activity and that students know where to get support if they are struggling.

— Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

During the first two weeks, it is important for districts to make a list of what is essential to NOT implement. I would put new technology on the non-essential list because there are a number of other things to address at this time. District and school leaders need to get a pulse of their staff and have support in place for them and their students. Make a list of the technology and learning platforms that are already in place and how the IT staff and educators are going to implement them with intention, so that the learning is meaningful and addresses the learning standards for those learners.

— Josh Nichols, veteran teacher and CEO/founder, CrossBraining

What about the two weeks after that?

The priority right now has to be on students in grade 12 so they can prepare for university and not allow this situation to have a big impact on their performance. That means figuring out how to offer exams, including proctored exams or open book exams. We need to come up with equitable solutions for students as best we can. We have to remember some students have to make choices. They might have to buy either a phone or a laptop and won't have both. [So, choose tools that only] need a browser.

— John Baker, CEO, D2L

Necessity is the mother of inventions and innovations. There are teachers in every school who love being beta testers. Give them the task of looking for solutions to current problems. Districts need to use this time to start planning for distance learning. This pandemic has forced all industries to think about remote work and remote learning. K-12 educators have an opportunity to be at the forefront of this discussion and to help students understand these future skillsets they will need to be effective in this new economy.

— Josh Nichols, veteran teacher and CEO/founder, CrossBraining

Continuous communication and continuous improvement are going to be key as there is so much we can learn from others; it's important to take note and adjust as needed as we don't know how long this will be our new "normal."

— Kara Longo Korte, Director, Product Management at TetraVX

By the time schools are into their third and fourth week of virtual learning, teachers and administrators will have a better sense of what's working for students and teachers so far and, hopefully, they will have a better sense of the duration of time the schools will remain closed. Using feedback from teachers and students, identify best next steps. If students need more of a challenge or report that they are spending minimal time on their work and are still doing well, teachers can identify ways to increase the engagement and rigor of the work either by changing expectations on assignments or bringing back some lessons that were initially omitted.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Should our teachers worry about finals or big projects during this period?

If a project or final exam is easily transferrable to the online environment, there may not be a need to adapt. If the assignment can be scaled back somewhat without impacting the learning goals, this may make the workload for the student and teacher more manageable. Schools and teachers will need to consider that finals (and all work students are turning in) will be difficult to proctor remotely. This may be waived completely, or schools may ask students to sign an "honor code" document promising to complete their own work (maybe just for finals; maybe for all work). Alternately, schools could ask a parent or guardian to sign a document stating they will proctor the student during exams. Any of these options could present challenges, so the schools will need to determine the best approach for their community.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

Replace final exams with projects students can turn in.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

There are no reasons why most major projects can't continue unless they require going into a lab environment... And alternative projects can be assigned if those the students were working on can't be completed online. This is where asynchronous learning is better than real-time learning. Students need the space to work on projects with groups or individually over a period of time. In terms of exams, we have to make sure students are still on track for success. Teachers matter greatly in this effort — they need to be able to adapt nimbly for all challenges students may have.

— John Baker, CEO, D2L

What should we do about students who don't have good internet access?

Schools should aim to provide alternative learning materials or hotspots to students who don't have good internet access. There are several telecom companies offering support to districts at reduced prices, including Kajeet, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Cable companies are also offering free internet to K-12 students who qualify.

— Kevin Dorsey, EdTech Advisor, GoGuardian

This is a tough one. However, 81 percent of Americans own a smartphone (versus only 74 percent with a computer or laptop). Luckily, most online learning platforms now have an app that can be used on a smartphone in [situations where] students lack accessibility to a computer or laptop. Use smartphone data (hopefully their parent has unlimited data) or ask a neighbor [for access] to Wi-Fi.

— Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

If students are unable to secure internet at home, the school's technology team will need to work with state and local resources to secure a hotspot or sign the family up for free internet from a service provider like Comcast. If students have limited access to a computer and the school is unable to provide a laptop, they [should] be allowed to turn in work via email attachment or Google Docs, particularly if there is new software that is not compatible with the computer a student is using.

— Carol Ribeiro, CEO, VHS Learning

The key is simplifying. When designing online curricula, less is more. It's important to use technology that students are already familiar with whether it be via mobile phones or computers. If students do not have access to technology or strong internet connections at home, teachers and educators can send students home with paper-based content and clear instructions.

— Sara Monteabaro, Lead, Learning, MIT Solve

Find more resources for schools during the COVID-19 crisis here.

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