Schools need to reopen. It’s as simple as that. There would be no greater disservice and act of negligence to the students of our country if we continue to take away their ability to learn in a classroom. But yes, the coronavirus is still prevalent and we need to ensure that we open as safely as possible. This can be done. After her tough interviews on Sunday, it looks like US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos needs my guidance on how to reopen (at least some) schools and I’m willing to help her for the good of our country.
First off, we can’t continue to pretend that remote/online learning is or will be an effective way to teach and/or develop students. We need to act as if schools don’t open then it’s the same as no schools period, and that cannot happen. Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, discussed the other day how with all these arguments over going back to school it has become such a problem that we aren’t even talking about how we would effectively teach kids remotely. It would be a disaster.
Educating our students is a foundational promise of being an American citizen. The ability to have an in person, zero-latency mode of communication with no interruptions, and a real, human feel, is inherently better than a Zoom call that has delays, pauses, and awkward interruptions. Not opening schools would set back the US education system years and it may be incalculable to actually know the detriments this will do to our kids.
The worst part is this issue has turned into one that seems almost entirely political. It is time for leaders in America to demand students stop being used as pawns to help either political party win an election this fall. Everyone needs to work together to reopen schools and we need to have reasonable conversations about this. Reason and compromise have to move this country forward, and let’s start that with the students.
And from personal experience, I can say there is no greater excuse for distractions, cheating, and overall laziness than an online class. It is difficult to fully retain any real information from these sessions, and I think most people would agree with me. We need to segment our different levels of education: elementary, middle, high schools, and then colleges. We have to focus on getting at least some of these segments back into the classroom so we can then focus more exclusively on the more challenging groups.
I think colleges, especially with absurd tuition costs, need to have in-person options for learning this year. Or at least some semblance of it. If not students should not pay full tuition. Remote learning is a ripoff and exploiting us. Read some of my thoughts about that here.
So, when I heard Indiana announced that all ICORE business classes for the fall was switched online, I realized it’s probably only a matter of time before every class is put remote. One of the main reasons why it seems like they won’t be having in person lectures/classes is because of the risk that COVID plays for the professors. This is a fair concern and no one should have to go to their job, especially as an educator, potentially risking their lives. So, in order to have colleges and universities be in person this fall I have come up with this strategy:
The iTeacher Plan.
This is a proposal that is mainly geared at college students but can also be moderated to fit potentially older high schooler as well. That is the idea that students can come together in a classroom, mostly socially distant, while the professor teaches lectures, lessons, and discussions via webcam from a remote location. It gives students the ability to sit in an environment that they are used to and can have real conversations about real, complex concepts while being facilitated by a teacher on a projector screen. It’s almost like a flipped classroom.
Obviously, this is assuming the professor does not feel comfortable going back to the classroom because of the risks of catching the virus. Students who have the same concerns can stay home and attend the classes on the same Zoom call as well without penalty. But, we know the risks that are involved with this virus and how the death count for people under 35 is virtually non-existent. Knowing these data points should give students and teachers the ability to choose whether or not they want to attend in person learning. Masks can be worn. We even have data to suggest that young people don’t transmit the virus so those living at home might not put others at high risk. Regardless, every college town that has a majority of students living outside of their parent’s household should adopt this strategy. It should be implemented right when the semesters begin.
Colleges and Universities also have the opportunity of doing this because it is fair to assume the students at these schools are mature enough to make decisions for themselves and behave appropriately in these class settings. The professor can give the material and lead the discussion while the students participate responsibly. I’m sure it is even possible to split up classes in half to have groups in different classrooms/lecture halls at the same times so they can be even more socially distant. This allows curriculums to stay largely the same and have an actual “school” type feel. This idea is obviously flexible and it obviously needs to happen.
Sure, it would be more difficult for high schoolers to do this because they are generally in smaller buildings and also don’t have most of the maturity levels that college students have. A possibility could be for teachers/administrators who opt in to being at school can be on hall monitor duty and make sure classes and students are under control and maintain social distancing. This cannot become a labor issue about crossing some picket line for the teacher’s unions either. Again, kids aren’t political tools.
To help with space restrictions, different grades can come into school on different days/times of the week. This can give them at least some chances to have human interaction and develop much needed skills that we learn in school beyond just a textbook. This plan may not be perfect, but it’s a start towards a solution. It’s also the only real compromise that I’ve seen.
You can also see why this plan doesn’t make sense for younger kids because they need much more attention and supervision that a virtual teacher would not provide to students or concerned parents. But still, this is a plan that could generally lead us into a direction that fulfills the promise of education and will get us back on track of teaching our students. With kids being back in school we can then learn more about the spread of the virus while also looking into ways to specifically help our elementary and middle schoolers. At some point we have to assume some risk and we have to be willing to act on it for the best interest of everybody.
If this idea looks familiar its because it is. Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, the early 2000’s Nickelodeon sitcom, used this dynamic of a teacher remotely teaching her students in the show. Who would’ve thought that Ned was still teaching me how to survive school during a pandemic almost 15 years later.
And seriously, if we can somehow get this plot into the hands of Betsy DeVos and the Federal Govt. I will take no charge for saving the US education system this fall. I only want credit. Let her know that we can have schools open and we can keep everyone safe.