Our kids are schooling from home, in masse, for the first time.
Let’s take this opportunity to improve the schooling environment, from this day forward.
Our school system is setup for in-person learning only. This requires large real estate and staffing expenditures. In this model, teachers are also being pushed to handle large class sizes and complex issues. These teachers have to be specialists in many topics. Schools in rural areas can struggle to attract talent to teach.
Today, Data about our kids learning is mostly anecdotal. There are notes and some grades, but not a lot else to help guide a student’s success through their schooling.
Kids who have disabilities are often forced to fit in, in ways they cannot naturally accommodate, due to how they were born. For example, expecting a child with autism to be still in a chair for six hours and self-regulate is not reasonable. When they erupt, we are somehow surprised by their reaction.
Let’s stop these absurdities and take this opportunity to move our educational system forward.
Here are six approaches education policy professionals should enact now
If there’s a teacher who is amazing at chemistry, or fifth grade literature, or art – and they live 600 miles away – still use them. Let that teacher give classes live or recorded, and the best skilled teacher be able to reach students. This benefits the teacher who may love this niche more than the rest of the things they are required to teach. Also, these frees up teachers from having to be excellent at everything. They can have some focus in what they are naturally strong and interested in.
Make use of social activities and peer learning. At the same time, allow for kids to use Zoom to connect to meetings from a different room (or home) if they are prone to being distracting. When there are social activities, have more tolerance for movement and the like to allow more balance. Expecting young minds and bodies to have perfect behavior in chairs for six hours has considerable issues. Split out individual online activities from group ones to better the learning environment.
With online learning, you have many more data points to evaluate students by, instead of a handful of tests. You can look at each lesson, comprehension and other data factors to assess how a learner is progressing, and what they are retaining.
The data insights will tell a better story of a child’s progression in a topic, as well as their struggles. This can be used to assess achievement, certainly. But perhaps more powerfully, can directly shape specific teaching to their strengths - as well as discovering new ways to percolate their success.
If a portion of a class could be online – either for a fixed time or if a parent had them at home some – the physical class size would be smaller. Instead of 40-50 kids in a class, one could see 20.
This also creates an opportunity for a new role. Sometimes our kids need some 1-1 help to get through that one math concept, say for 15 minutes. What if there was a battery of specialists available online, to walk them through this one part. Yes, there could certainly be a set of online lessons, ready to go
If we are commuting less, driving to and from school, and then work, we will produce less greenhouse gasses. What would one day a week, or 20% less commuter traffic do for our air, water, and sanity?
Clearly computers and datacenters burn energy. However, power plants (green or not) are much more efficient than the engines in our cars.
Of course, not all parents can work from home due to their profession or employer’s support. That said, what if employers were given considerable tax incentives for creating some work from home days for their employees? This would enable them to support this change, or perhaps a flexible work schedule. They could also have online learning options for their workforce to work from home and learn a new skill - that benefits employee and the organization.
Over a very short period of time, schools could use data to help as private industry does. Yes, ethics must apply and this must be used for good. That said, the patterns of learning and shape of this data would help confirm that this teaching approach is effective (as a product) in student retention vs. another. The system would learn who the student is, how they learn, where they struggle, and customize an approach to their success. Data insights could also show larger patterns for different types of learners, subjects and approaches – that cannot be seen at all now.
Let me be clear, teachers do an amazing job, every day. They are heroes, pure and simple.
However, the system they operate in needs a makeover, and positive use of existing technology would help them, our students and our society. We have an incredible opportunity here to build on what’s happening and move forward. If this inspires you in any way, please reach out to your state’s department of education and district, and share your ideas. Your voice here will make all the difference.
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Chris has worked in tech for 30 years, and healthcare tech for 8 of those. He's on the advisory board of Harvard-Based Think:Kids, and runs Rad Dad Rules. He is the proud Dad of two awesome kids, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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