As schools across the country continue to experience disruptions to traditional learning, there’s an urgent need for guidance on everything from fostering high-quality online learning experiences to cultivating vibrant online communities to devising scalable and sustainable digital strategies.
Arizona State University leaders came together on April 15 to share their expertise and lessons learned from their own forays into digital immersion to help the K–12 realm leverage online learning. This was the focus of “Breakthrough Mindset: Scaling Digital Immersion Learning,” a webinar hosted by the Consortium of School Networking and the School Superintendents Association.
“The ASU community has been extremely inspirational in terms of how they’ve demonstrated remote resilience, from faculty to students to staff,” said Samantha Becker, executive director of creative and communications at the University Technology Office and project director of driving K–12 innovation at the consortium. “They’re stepping up in a lot of creative ways to keep learning happening, keep virtual collaboration strong and to bolster emotional resilience during this time.”
The webinar opened with the panelists’ views on the biggest myths that are causing educational leaders to feel overwhelmed with online learning. These myths included the perspectives that online learning is passive, impersonal and inferior to face-to-face instruction.
“The fear of the lack of face-to-face can be mitigated with how the program is designed,” said Julie Young, vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU, managing director of ASU Preparatory Academy and CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School. “There are programs out there rich with project-based learning and problem-based learning with collaboration, discussion, dialogue and live lessons. Students are able to come together with their teacher, but also with their peers.”
The panelists also shared their thoughts on how educators in the district central office can design good content and teaching that doesn’t change whether learners are receiving it face-to-face or online.
“We find it really important to do a reverse design process, identifying learning outcomes, moving to assessment and then to creating content,” said Julie Greenwood, vice dean of educational initiatives of EdPlus at ASU and associate professor in ASU’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. “What we’ve been working on at ASU is adaptive and personalized learning technologies. These are ways to use artificial intelligence to help support the students with immediate feedback.”
Greenwood emphasized the importance of getting students away from their computers with active or applied learning assignments. She provided the example of an algebra assignment where students had to take a picture of their surrounding environment and identify a mathematical function within it. Students wrote out the function, crafted a written description and created a video presentation. She said the assignment leveraged technology and encouraged students to use a variety of skill sets.
The panelists discussed a variety of resources available to help learners, parents, faculty and educators in K–12 school systems transition to online learning. These resources included ASU for You, Teach Online, ASU Remote Teaching Toolkit, Global Online Academy and the Digital Learning Collaborative. Each resource has a growing set of digital education assets, such as training videos, YouTube series, curated educational resources, exploration-based lessons, instructional design resources and more.
The webinar concluded with a discussion of strategies for humanizing online learning to promote the social and emotional health of learners, educators, faculty and staff as well as critical lessons learned toward shaping the new normal of education post-COVID-19.
The panelists shared how togetherness is particularly important now in a time of social distancing. They advocated for people to bring their authentic selves online, whether that’s a child making an appearance on a remote call or an educator changing their virtual background to reflect an expression of who they are as a person. They also encouraged people to schedule “walk and talks” to promote physical well-being.
“We’re at a critical place in the history of education,” said Young, who has spent the past 25 years of her life in digital education. “I’ve been a longstanding believer that you never waste a crisis. … We, as the educators, have an opportunity and a responsibility to not just wait this out, but to deeply engage and see how we can look at education differently, with the students at the center of our thoughts.”
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