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What Have Educators Learned About Distance Learning?

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  • #101
atyy
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Coming back to the on-topic discussion, for those of you who had to teach remotely and had your first experience at teaching lessons online, after the semester/quarter/course is over, do you think you have gained knowledge and skills to teach courses online? Or do you think that you need more training to be more effective to run online classes? If it is the latter, are you doing anything about it? Does your institution provide you with the opportunity to get the necessary training to run remote classes?
One of the things I use is PollEverywhere, which is the online version of the old-style clickers for students to respond to questions in class. I finished most of my teaching before classes went online, so I didn't have to figure out how to do that online, but I see there are courses from my institution about how to do that, so will probably take one of those courses before next semester.
 
  • #102
anorlunda
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Salman Khan. https://www.khanacademy.org is a pioneer in and perhaps the foremost practitioner of distance learning. His opinions on that topic are worth listening to. Here are his TED talks.


 
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  • #103
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Salman Khan. https://www.khanacademy.org is a pioneer in and perhaps the foremost practitioner of distance learning. His opinions on that topic are worth listening to. Here are his TED talks.


This is fine and dandy in principle, but how has it been practiced in reality?

I often teach a General Physics class for pre-med, bio, life-science majors who would rather stab their hands than take a physics class if they have the option. They just want a "C" so that they can move on and apply to med school and take their MCAT exam. That's their goal. Now try motivating that type of students and tell them that I'm teaching them how to learn and the amazing wonders of physics.

And btw, it is still debatable if Khan Academy videos are as effective as many have perceived. First of all, it has flaws, be it minor or significant. I've written about one that is right in my wheelhouse. But there have been studies where their effectiveness is still being questioned. See here, here, and here, for example. As a supplement, sure! Even I use one or two of them now and then. But as a replacement for primary source of teaching? Nope!

So his idealism and effectiveness are not commensurate with one another.

Zz.
 
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  • #104
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I really like Salman's approach especially the notion of watching a video as homework instead of having to really struggle with no help at home and going to school with the anxiety of not getting your homework completed and having to then scramble with friends to figure it out.

Then again maybe that was a good thing as it taught collaboration under fire and little time.

In my school days, we had none of these resources and had to rely solely on what we remembered from class, what we wrote down as notes (math notes were the hardest to write) and what we could figure out from the book always doubting if the book answer was right.

I had one classmate who did really well in English, History classes taking extensive notes of everything that was said. I couldn't do it, my mind would focus on the notes and then I didn't hear what was said or what was written and why. In contrast, I did well in math because I didn't take notes, I watched and learned. My friend did poorly in math because he couldn't make sense of all the notes he took.
 
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  • #105
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Was it a small class that he could manually word the question differently for each student, or did he have some software that would automatically vary the questions from student to student?
I have given thought to the best way of preventing cheating and the best I have come up with is individual and different assignments for each student (they can even suggest one - that happened a few times in my degree). And the thing I hate is creative thinking on a exam - make the questions similar to tutorials. The creative part should consigned to the assignments.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #106
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The NY Times has an article exploring the very diverse approaches considered by colleges and universities to reopening.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/19/us/college-fall-2020-coronavirus.html

This one is far out-of-the-box.
Team Wildcat suggested turning residence halls into protective cocoons for living and learning.
“We have students functioning in pods, almost like family units,” Dr. Cardarelli told her colleagues, describing the idea. “They’re spending most of their time in residence halls together with the same students.”
Professors would come to the dorms to teach, she said, or do it via videoconference. This would reduce circulation and transmission of the virus, and make it easier to do contact tracing, her group theorized.
The student pods would take turns going to the dining halls. And, Dr. Cardarelli added, “no more buffet.”
 
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  • #107
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The biggest challenge was the sudden shift without adequate time for planning.
Even now, professors in some schools are being told to prepare for four possibilities in Fall 2020:
1) Begin online, transition to in person
2) Begin in person, transition to online
3) Online all semester
4) In person all semester

With finite time, very few teachers can do as good a job with those four possibilities as they could with 2-3 months to prepare for a known delivery method.

If a school is going to force a transition to online, the more time teachers have to plan and prepare, the more effective the learning will be.
 
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  • #108
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The June 2020 issue of Physics Today has an article on the struggles and effort that various physics faculties and schools went through during this past school period.

https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/PT.3.4492

A few of the steps that were done were similar and familiar to my experience. The one thing that I was glad that I did was that my original classes all had "Pre-lectures", or what the article called the "flipped mode" (probably due to FlipIt Physics) where the students had to view videos or read something before they come to the first class of the week when a new topic will be covered. The pre-lectures were meant to introduce the concept of the topic, so that the students had some idea of what was to come.

When we went totally remote, I expanded that, because by then the pre-lectures became a major source of the material. So I was very glad that I had that structure in place already and the students were familiar with the pattern. That part of it went very well.

It's a good article because I always want to know what other instructors did, and what might be the best-practice method in doing something. This is more tangible than some esoteric philosophy of teaching that some talking heads spew in a TED talk.

Zz.
 
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  • #109
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The biggest challenge was the sudden shift without adequate time for planning.
Even now, professors in some schools are being told to prepare for four possibilities in Fall 2020:
1) Begin online, transition to in person
2) Begin in person, transition to online
3) Online all semester
4) In person all semester
I still like the idea of online lectures and say two one hour highly socially distanced tutorials with just a few students. For professors that are in an at risk group they will of course get a teaching assistant or other professor to lead the tutorials. It's similar to the UK model which has been in place for many years and seems to work quite effectively.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #110
My wife also taught middle school for nearly 30 years and although she retired last year she still keeps in touch with many of her teacher friends in Ithaca. She tells me that they are finding remote teaching for middle school and lower to be pretty much a disaster. Some kids do OK but most do not. The reasons are numerous but the main ones are lack of computer equipment / Internet and student's lack of home supervision and commitment/interest.
My spouse also taught middle school in Oregon for 30 years and is also in communication with current teachers. My son is a high school band teacher. I taught in a university setting-primarily freshman-level business (IT) and participated in the early designs of on-line courses at a large university that now has more than 15K on line students. The switch to any on line learning situation is highly individualized. It is extremely difficult for any student and their teachers to quickly switch learning and teaching modes. Given the discussion already posted I strongly believe that concentrating on testing performance as a methodology to gauge either student success or teacher effectiveness is not a reasonable or appropriate process to use.

In a schoolroom setting we get to control or at least interact with many of the variables of "place." The place environment is a foundation element in all learning. We know how and when learning happens when we get to manipulate the place variables-this in turn let's teachers emphasize content while responding to place realities. Of course, on-line learning completely removes "place" from the envelope of learning and teaching. In fact, teaching in on-line environments that do not involve analogs to the classroom environment such as a Zoom or Google Meets are little more than hopeful chances for learning. And those that do include on-line classroom meetings not much better. Humans learn better in the context of others. Expecting or measuring performance of either learning or teaching in on-line situations is completely the wrong thing to concentrate efforts. I don't have a near term solution other than restarting traditional schools and using 100% daily testing for virus infections to guide us regarding which room a student attends. I am quite concerned about the lost generation that could arise if we are not able to return to better learning environments. The on-line method is failing now and will continue to fail. In my son's rural school district, fewer than 40% of students even have internet at home or available, let alone a computer.
 
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  • #111
mathwonk
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While these assessments seem largely correct to me, the phrase "lost generation" oddly inspired an optimistic thought in me. I myself learned almost nothing in the first 12 years of school, especially in middle school, because of the very low quality of schools where I grew up. But eventually, when exposed to higher standards, and motivated by need, I did at last learn something. So my hope is that even a lost year or so of quality instruction may not doom an entire generation.

At the moment, some people of my acquaintance are working as online tutors for children who are missing their usual instruction, and it seems to be working well, at least for those students with funds to afford it and motivation to take advantage of it. Perhaps states could invest in such personal help more, but as to what can substitute for motivation, I think no one has a complete solution. Encouragement seems key, but that might be available via Skype or Zoom, with the right teacher. I.e. while in - person instruction seems ideal, perhaps it is personal, in the sense of one on one, instruction that can help significantly, even if remotely...? Just a thought.

added: maybe this emergency could spur increased provision of internet service, and online instruction, to the general public. Some of us remember the 1960's when quality instruction from Berkeley math professors was freely available on tv, (e.g. John Kelley on Continental Classroom). I still have the textbook, Introduction to Modern Algebra, 1960, on my shelf.
 
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  • #112
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I sympathize with both sides on this subject. One side being return to face-to-face teaching, and the other side being full-speed-ahead-online. There is no minimum-risk bright line between those extremes. An institution that makes the wrong bet faces existential threats.

It would help greatly to know if the pandemic problem is permanent or temporary (and how temporary). But we don't have a crystal ball. Uncertainty in a major factor paralyzes decision making in all fields. Education is no different.
 
  • #113
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It's absolute performance. The grades are not curved.

I have talked to a couple of them, and they were my strong A students. One student flat out told me that she dispised online classes because she knows that she needs human contact. She learns more when she talks to a teacher or another student. The other student said that the lack of "human supervision" caused him to simply slack off (even though I've been hounding him for not doing homework and missing pre-lectures, etc.).

Zz.
I am also teaching live to my students. Sometimes when we have covered something new and I have set them a task based on it, I give them the option of staying connected with me as they work through it, or disconnecting to work on it on their own. I have noticed two students, among the brightest and who need no help whatsoever, staying online with me, working through it at my no-faster-than-the-slowest pace. They like that contact.

I have also found that some of the nicest moments are when they are working on something individually but stay connected, with mics open, to chat to each other about their work (and sometimes about other stuff) as they work. It feels like being back with them in the classroom.
 
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  • #114
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Yes - that is my observation when I did my degree part time. It was like the tutorial method often used in England. There, instead you go to a big lecture, which could be online, to hear the material. You read the textbook, notes etc and then attempt the exercises. Then you have small, say 2 hour tutorials, once a week, with the lecturer, and you go through your work and discuss any issues.
That's along the lines of a flipped classroom.
 
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  • #115
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There is no minimum-risk bright line between those extremes.
Let's be clear. The risk to students is minimal. As I said nearly two months ago,

here are good reasons for colleges to close, but student safety is not one of them. Do you know how many people aged 15-24 died of covid in the US? 37. Total. Out of a population of 43M. Given a college full-time enrollment of 12M, that means 10 or 11 college students. Compare that to ~50 students murdered per year.
That 10 or 11 number is now up to ~17. This would be full-time college students. Part-timers skew older, and are more at risk. So around 3 students per month.

One problem (of several) is that those three universities will be sued into oblivion. No matter what steps they took. The next month, three more. The month after that, three more. No university administrator wants to be one of those statistics.

Let me toss in one more statistic. College students are actually at less risk of suicide than the general population. (Source: Suicide Resource Prevention Center). It's about a factor of two. Presently about 100 college students per month lose their lives to suicide. For those who like trolley problems, something to consider.
 
  • #116
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That's along the lines of a flipped classroom.
I used to sub for a teacher who used the flipped classroom concept. It all depended on how motivated the kids were to actually sit down and watch the video lectures. I found some were good and some bad. I could tell after one or two times in the classroom who wasn't doing their "homework"....
 
  • #117
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Let's be clear. The risk to students is minimal. As I said nearly two months ago,
That's the same argument we get from party goers in the bars and on the beaches. What about the risk to their grandparents and elderly faculty? All the virus suppression strategies have a strong altruistic element.

One problem (of several) is that those three universities will be sued into oblivion. No matter what steps they took.
I agree. I think there is an urgent need for national legislation giving safe harbor liability immunity for businesses, universities, and institutions who try to follow the guidelines. IMO fear of getting sued has a huge chilling effect. Educators and others should be supporting lobbying to get the legislation.
---
Relevant to this thread, is this article from a legal blog. Hybrid means some students on video with other students in the room.
https://reason.com/2020/06/17/the-difficulties-of-teaching-a-hybrid-class/
 
  • #118
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That's the same argument we get from party goers in the bars and on the beaches.
That's exactly right. The issue is College Student Mary might infect College Student Sue who then goes on to infect Great-Grandpa Joe. However, if we are going to make that argument we shouldn't pretend we are doing it for Sue's benefit.
 
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  • #120
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I just had the confirmation that both of my classes for Fall 2020 will be run remotely, which means that it will continue with what we did during the 2nd half of Spring 2020. The only difference here being that campus facilities, such as computer centers, etc. will be open and available to students who wish to come in and use those facilities, unlike this past spring when the entire campus was shut down.

The technical issues were one of the major problems that I had this past Spring, because about 1/4 of the students in my Astronomy class didn't have wifi where they lived, and they also didn't have either a good-enough computer or didn't even have one to be able to attend live, synchronous lessons. Luckily, all of my physics students didn't have that problem. Even with the school lending out equipment and hotspots, it was a scramble during the first 3 weeks of the shutdown.

Now that we already know in advance what will happen and what to expect, all parties are more well-prepared this time around, I would think. I know I am more well-prepared to do both classes online this time around, since I've been expecting that ever since I started my summer vacation. I mentioned in my earlier posts that I've enrolled in two Quality Matters workshops during the summer to get formal credentials as an online instructor, but more importantly, in learning a few more important skills as an online instructor and conducting online classes. I've completed one already, and it was a very useful course. It forced everyone to look at an online course from the point of view of the student via examining the Quality Matters' extensive rubric. I learned an amazing amount of information that is valuable not just for any online classes that I will run, but also for the face-to-face classes that I hope to get back to after this pandemic blows away.

I have one more workshop to attend at the end of July on online teaching skills. I may not use everything that I've learned in these courses, but it is nice to know what the current best-practice methods are, and what have been tried and what didn't work.

Of course, the issue with General Physics courses are the labs. In my case, it is even more of an issue because many of my labs are incorporated within my lectures, i.e. they are not separate sessions or separate activities from the lessons. So that has been a struggle for me to now try to separate them out, and to find alternatives. I've been browsing through the material at Pivot Interactives, and I've been quite impressed by it. An instructor in my dept. is currently using it for a remote class during the summer session, and it seems to be going well. So this is something I'm seriously looking into before I fully adopt it. I still have about 1 1/2 months left before everything must be finalized, so it's going to be a rather busy next few weeks.

Zz.
 
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  • #121
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Kudos @ZapperZ . As always, it is not the money or technology that makes the difference, but rather dedicated teachers.
 
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  • #122
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I agree that now we are better prepared and to go online from September won't pose the same problems as this time round.

However I'm also aware that this year, we went remote with students we already knew, with whom we had already established relationships having been running those same groups for 5 or 6 months on campus.
September will be different, we'll be faced with new intakes and won't have that same opportunity. For me, as a HS teacher, classroom relationships are central to the whole process and it's going to feel very strange to me.

If what we end up with some form of 'blended' learning, with a mix of onsite and online, then that will be alleviated somewhat, but it sill still take longer to build those relationships.

We will see. In the meantime, I will have a look at Pivot interactives so thanks for that!
 
  • #123
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  • #124
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I agree that now we are better prepared and to go online from September won't pose the same problems as this time round.

However I'm also aware that this year, we went remote with students we already knew, with whom we had already established relationships having been running those same groups for 5 or 6 months on campus.
September will be different, we'll be faced with new intakes and won't have that same opportunity. For me, as a HS teacher, classroom relationships are central to the whole process and it's going to feel very strange to me.

If what we end up with some form of 'blended' learning, with a mix of onsite and online, then that will be alleviated somewhat, but it sill still take longer to build those relationships.

We will see. In the meantime, I will have a look at Pivot interactives so thanks for that!
Are you given any kind of professional development to train you on running online classes? Unlike college level courses where college students are expected to be a bit more independent and do self-learning, HS students require a bit more of a structure and more meticulous planning. After all, HS teachers require credentials to teach HS students, unlike college level classes. So are you provided proper training to run HS online or hybrid classes?

The biggest mistake that I've seen many instructors do is to think that they can simply port what they were doing in face-to-face classes to online classes with some minor modification. Even with synchronous sessions, this is definitely not the way to do it. If I've learned anything, it is that online classes are a different beast than face-to-face classes, and have to be treated differently. And this includes the psychological aspect of it, i.e. how do you get students who are either just watching you on their screen, or students who are studying on their own asynchronously by going over the material, to engage with the class and the material.

There is one unique problem that many STEM instructors face that many people and course designers outside of STEM fields do not appreciate. In STEM subjects, especially math, physics, engineering, etc., we often discuss and solve problems by sketching and writing math equations. These are almost automatic. In fact, in my physics classes, sketching the problem is a requirement to receive full credit in solving that problem. This part is horribly tedious to do with online classes during a synchronous session.

Sure, there are whiteboard apps, capabilities, etc. on various videoconference programs. But most of us do not have a touch screen computer, and trying to draw using a mouse is absurd, and forget about trying to write an equation quickly. Whiteboard or touch-screen accessories to be attached to your computer is horribly expensive, and my school certainly does not provide any kind of allowance for us to get one for every instructor that needs it.

I managed to solve this issue a few years ago when I was running a hybrid course. Luckily, I have an iPad, and I manged to find a way to use my iPad as a writing implement during a synchronous class session, allowing me to sketch, write equations, etc. as if I have a white board in class. I'll describe more of this in detail if anyone is interested to know how I did it, but I'm interested to hear how everyone here overcomes this problem with your online classes.

Zz.
 
  • #125
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Are you given any kind of professional development to train you on running online classes? Unlike college level courses where college students are expected to be a bit more independent and do self-learning, HS students require a bit more of a structure and more meticulous planning. After all, HS teachers require credentials to teach HS students, unlike college level classes. So are you provided proper training to run HS online or hybrid classes?

The biggest mistake that I've seen many instructors do is to think that they can simply port what they were doing in face-to-face classes to online classes with some minor modification. Even with synchronous sessions, this is definitely not the way to do it. If I've learned anything, it is that online classes are a different beast than face-to-face classes, and have to be treated differently. And this includes the psychological aspect of it, i.e. how do you get students who are either just watching you on their screen, or students who are studying on their own asynchronously by going over the material, to engage with the class and the material.

There is one unique problem that many STEM instructors face that many people and course designers outside of STEM fields do not appreciate. In STEM subjects, especially math, physics, engineering, etc., we often discuss and solve problems by sketching and writing math equations. These are almost automatic. In fact, in my physics classes, sketching the problem is a requirement to receive full credit in solving that problem. This part is horribly tedious to do with online classes during a synchronous session.

Sure, there are whiteboard apps, capabilities, etc. on various videoconference programs. But most of us do not have a touch screen computer, and trying to draw using a mouse is absurd, and forget about trying to write an equation quickly. Whiteboard or touch-screen accessories to be attached to your computer is horribly expensive, and my school certainly does not provide any kind of allowance for us to get one for every instructor that needs it.

I managed to solve this issue a few years ago when I was running a hybrid course. Luckily, I have an iPad, and I manged to find a way to use my iPad as a writing implement during a synchronous class session, allowing me to sketch, write equations, etc. as if I have a white board in class. I'll describe more of this in detail if anyone is interested to know how I did it, but I'm interested to hear how everyone here overcomes this problem with your online classes.

Zz.
I use my own android tablet & pen to teach from (using Lecture Notes and an app to cast it) but very few of my students have pens/styluses(styli?) to do the same. School has subscribed to a great platform called ClassKick which allows teacher and students to work on same document - the app itself allows either pen or keyboard use so should suit all, but of course the lack of pens is makng it too frustrating for them, Cost will be an issue whether it falls to the students or the schools to provide these.

A far as the training goes, we've had some ad hoc training on apps and platforms to support online learning, but as you hint, lots of these are not particularly useful for science/maths where diagrams and equations are necessary. It's likely that there will be more training available, I think, in preparation for the new school year both as the usual providers adapt to new circumstances and as colleagues discover and share new ways of doing things.

Interesting times ahead.
 

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