By Elpidio R. Estioko
For public and private schools that employ the traditional way of instruction, they were forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to shift to distance learning via online classrooms. While this is not new for virtual institutions such as the University of Phoenix, this is new for traditional schools, that find it challenging to put up their own distance learning classrooms and how to navigate with technological features.
In order to avoid spreading the virus, public and private schools were ordered to close until further notice. This was perceived as the strongest antidote for students, teachers, and the educational community to stop the virus from spreading.
Under The Opening Up America Again, a three-step plan towards economic recovery unveiled by President Donald Trump, schools are expected to re-open in the second phase of the plan. This definitely impacted school administrators and teachers to be creative and innovative to be able to continue classroom instructions using the distance learning program. Students need not stop learning and must continue to go to class, so school administrators shifted the classroom to distance learning.
However, creating the virtual classroom is easier said than done! It needs a lot of preparation from planning the content-syllabus, identifying and providing the resources, to finally implementing the program on the internet.
School administrators immediately formed their technology teams and set-up their operations center for distance learning to help teachers work from home. Teachers also need to make sure students have internet access and computers, so they can complete their assignments and participate in classroom activities. For those who don’t have access to computers, teachers need to send enhanced packets to the students by mail, so they can comply with the curriculum.
There was a need for administrators and teachers to partner with telephone companies, Zoom, Facebook, Skype and other online entities to ensure students have online access.
Honestly, I am having a hard time working on the program despite the fact that I used to teach 7-week college courses online for Axia College, University of Phoenix and Extreme Learning based in Morgan Hill as academic coach online for elementary and high school students. That’s different because all I need was to manage the classroom which was already in place compared to this time where I need to set-up my own virtual classroom.
Aside from preparing the curriculum, I have to learn, just like my colleagues in San Jose Job Corps (SJJC), how to manage the distance learning classroom. It’s really hard because things that would normally take a longer period of time to prepare and implement, we’re trying to do it in a matter of weeks. We need to learn fast, be creative and innovative, then contact our students individually in the light of the corona pandemic.
Shifting from classroom lessons to e-learning has substantial challenges, so we need to cope through a variety of innovations to make distance learning possible.
In an article written by Stephen Beal in the National Catholic Register, he wrote: “Parochial schools are exploring new ways of teaching students remotely, while continuing to deliver a distinctively Catholic education, as the corona virus pandemic sweeps across the country. While the transition—or, in many cases, a sudden shift—to distance learning represented a dramatic change in life for schools, many also were prepared for it in different ways”
Take note that in a regular classroom setting, students who need clarifications could raise their hands and get answers immediately… say, having difficulty in logging into the computer due to user name and/or password issues.
We can easily assist students and show them how to fix the problem. With distance learning, it might take a couple of back-and-forth emails or phone calls to solve the problem.
Most teachers use Google Apps for Education, which provides a whole array of programs, including a specialized browser suitable for students doing school research. Teachers create their Google classrooms and incorporate the lessons on a weekly basis giving the students daily assignments. My colleagues have their Google classrooms set-up already, but I have yet to set-up my own, which may take a few days.
This time, we teachers need to use the video-conferencing service Zoom instead of a face-to-face lecture/discussion. The distance learning model is evolving as teachers explore new tools and encounter problems along the way.
A source reveals that “if students at home spend more time online, it might increase a problem that will hinder the distance learning program. It increases the chances that they will be exposed to harmful content like pornography, or inappropriate messages that may be harder to block with filtering software, not to mention monitoring of their internet usage becoming much more of a challenge for parents.” This is one problem we need to safeguard.
For schools that switched to distance learning, the Arrupe Virtual Learning Institute is sharing its experience with others. When the schools were closed in the first week, according to the same source, “the institute hosted sharing sessions on Zoom for teachers to share insights and tips on e-learning and distance learning.”
Jeffrey Hausman, president of Arrupe said: “We’re just trying to help at this point… We plan to hold two sessions a week, one for teachers and one for administrators.”
While there are many challenges in setting up the distance learning classroom at this time, there’s a need to do it and do it fast as the corona crisis will stay with no definite time frame when it will be over!
This is also a chance for us teachers to be innovative and creative! Thanks to COVID -19 for giving US a chance to hold our classes virtually under siege!
ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedback, comments… please email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.