It’s not too late to fix online learning

Here in Detroit, school has been in session for less than a week. If I had a dollar for every educator, parent and student who has reached out to me in the last week lamenting the hot mess of online learning this year, well … I’d have a lot of dollars.
Maybe it’s too late to write this. Maybe we’re too far down the path of scotch-taping together this broken school year to consider throwing it out and starting again, but I’ve never been good at shutting up when it is clear we can do better.
So I’m telling you all (again): “This school year is going to be mostly remote. We have to do online education better (or families will opt out).”
I think the fundamental issue with many virtual education plans is one of perspective. Here’s a test: Which of these statements best describes how your school district is thinking about online learning?


A. Virtual education is a temporary inconvenience for a short time while we focus on transitioning back to traditional face-to-face schooling as rapidly as possible.


OR
B. Virtual education is the primary method through which most students will learn this year. It is not something the majority of us were trained to do well, but getting it right is essential to the success and health of our students, educators, and families.


If you are operating from perspective A, there’s little incentive to do virtual learning in a way that is innovative or takes you outside of your own comfort zone. You’re probably not giving much thought to what’s best practice, what’s developmentally appropriate or what makes sense for families. From this perspective, virtual learning is simply a stop-gap measure until we can get back to “real teaching and learning.”


More: Online school is a nightmare. No one is fixing it.
More: Kids dodge online teachers with fake glitch, while some schools see real challenges
Leaders of districts like this are prioritizing things like “keeping the schedule the same” so we don’t have to redo it once “real” school starts back up.
Even though there is no research-based correlation between the number of “live” online learning hours and learning outcomes, these virtual learning plans simply took the regular school day schedule – seven hours a day, five days a week, with six to eight transitions – and pasted “virtual” across the top, rather than doing what those who have long taught online know is best practice: mixing in asynchronous modules and reserving limited “live” teaching time for active learning, small groups, one-on-one teaching, opportunities for questions and student engagement.
Models based on this perspective present impossible challenges for parents juggling work and multiple children and turn students into “Zoom zombies” without opportunities for the human interactions that make face-to-face settings valuable, such as being able to privately ask a teacher or classmate a question.
More: ‘Where are the kids?’ Inside the first day of online learning for one Detroit school
More: Schools in Detroit and elsewhere return to class. Here’s what to expect
In contrast, if you’re operating from perspective B (and I’m suggesting you should be), you recognize that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and that huge numbers of families and educators are choosing online education even when given the face-to-face option.
In other words, you approach getting virtual learning right as difficult, but essential. You acknowledge that success is going to require more than devices and internet for all students (as important as that is), and advocate for virtual learning plans that build on the knowledge of educators who have done it for decades – you know, experts. You pay attention to the Michigan Department of Education’s “Learning At a Distance Guidance” which warns leaders that: “Learning at a distance will not look anything like learning in a classroom … Remember that the goal is not to replicate a normal six to seven hour day; that is not feasible or advisable during this extraordinary time.”


School districts operating from this perspective would accept that online is this year’s norm, and build district-wide schedules with reasona…