Sunday, February 21, 2021

Why Completely Asynchronous Doesn't Work for PL

Got your attention? Great. This sounds like an extreme statement, and I agree it is. I make this statement based on my experience of being a student taking asynchronous sessions and as a coach designing professional learning opportunities for educators. Also when I say 'doesn't work' what I mean is that it isn't the most optimal design for motivating and engaging learning. Let me explain.

It's all about connection

I believe the most critical component of any learning environment is the connection and community that makes learning real. When I am in a professional learning session, say a workshop or conference session for example, I get more out of it when I somehow connect to the other participants and the person leading the session. Feeling this connection is definitely possible in an online synchronous session. This type of session might start off with a 'how are you feeling' today rating discussion.


Then could involve breakout room discussions, sharing, and/or collaborating using various strategies. These types of activities help create a community and connections.

It has been my experience that in a totally asynchronous session or online class no matter how many activities you build in to try and get the students to interact, it often will simply become an obligation and not build community. For example, if I'm a student in a totally asynchronous online class I'm more likely to just check off my requirements. If I need to post in the discussion and respond to two of my fellow students I'll do it, but will I do it to build relationships or simply to check off the task and move on? I feel more often than not in this type of environment it is the latter.

Do asynchronous classes have their place in our learning plans?  Sure, if all you want to do is provide students with a repository of materials and tasks for them to complete then this might be a possible route. An example might be the required trainings for the year to fulfill state and federal employee requirements. If all you need is to prove that the employee saw, read, and /or listened to the materials then asynchronous is an easy solution. But, if you want a dynamic collaborative learning environment I just don't think it is the way to go.

So what might be the solution?

Here's what I have found that has worked when designing online sessions for educators, especially in the last year.
  • Create a session that includes both synchronous and asynchronous components.
  • Conduct an initial 'kickoff' synchronous session where the participants can meet and start getting to know each other. They also get an overview of class expectations and know how to get support as they need it.
  • Design asynchronous work that allows the authentic application of the learning goals. Also, have them be prepared to share when we meet again.
  • Weekly check-ins work best. If the class is 3 weeks long then you would design an initial kickoff, with two more sessions, one every week. These sessions would include a scaffolded approach, as well as time for sharing and collaborating. (to continue building your community)
With this type of example, I could have an online discussion as part of my asynchronous work, but since I have met my fellow students and started to build relationships I'm more apt to truly engage in the discussions.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you design engaging professional learning for educators online? How do you create and build a collaborative learning community? Have you been successful with asynchronous sessions where educators are actively engaged with the content and each other? Please share in the comments.


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Compliance vs Engagement

 It is December. December 2020. We look behind us at a Spring emergency closure and then look to the present fluid educational situation of hybrid, remote and this rollercoaster ride we are on in education. I've said several times this is a fluid situation. It's hard to predict what will happen, especially with surges of the virus and exposures leading to quarantines and the rearrangement of schools either moving classes around to provide supervision or the decision to go fully remote.

During this time we hear a lot about engagement. How do you engage students remotely? I just don't feel my students are engaged, and even if they are I don't know unless their cameras are on. More and more you see the word engage in professional learning titles, and on faculty meeting agendas.

Don't get me wrong, engagement has always been important in education. But I want us to make sure we aren't getting engagement and complaince mixed up.

I have found myself asking this question a lot during my coaching sessions. 'What did engagement look like before Covid in your classroom?' Of course as teachers are all different, this answer is often very different. Some talk about the wonderful problem based learning they did, having students explore concepts with hands-on, minds-on wonder. Some talk about walking around their classroom monitoring students in groups talking through a lesson/activity. Some talk about looking up and seeing students working on whatever they gave them to do that day.

I will argue that we have to be careful of not confusing the two... In face to face teaching it is easy to see compliance, and easy to get most students to comply. You give directions, hand out the assignment and students work on it then hand it in. Many students understand how to 'play school' they know that this is how it works to get through. When students are in front of us it is easier to get them to 'engage' with the work. To comply.

Enter remote and hybrid learning where you don't see students, they aren't in front of you so you can talk them through work. They aren't right there for you to redirect them when their mind wonders off, looking outside the window.

Let's not forget, our goal is minds-on engagement, working towards something that is worth learning, that the student believes is relevant and interesting to them. Compliancy is not enough. I don't want complaincy, I want eyes wide-open wonder. I want excitement that comes when students figure out something they didn't know before, come up with a solution to a real-world problem, or publish their writing to an authentic audience.

There are many smart people out there having these same conversations. Now is the time for us to break out of our past old thinking of what school looks like. Now is the time to think about what engagement looks like. Barbara Bray interviewed Chris McNutt in November and talked about Humanized Pandemic Teaching. I highly recommend you listen to this podcast. They talked about the difference between compliant and engaged.

How do we create this engaged, human-centered classroom? As an educator start by asking yourself: 'What does engagement look like to you?' What are the students doing? What are you doing? Are you giving students a voice? Are they invested in the learning? How might this look like in your content area?

Let's start with these questions, and then we'll be able to start the conversations with our colleagues. I don't believe any teacher just wants compliance. So, how will you engage your students?

More to come as we look further into what we want our 'new normal' or 'new now' to look like.

Another article worth reading:

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Hybrid Lesson: A Possibility

 As we try to juggle this new hybrid classroom I get asked a lot about what this might look like. Going from totally in-class teaching and learning to hybrid and remote with the added technology components to manage it can get confusing. Many teachers are simply having a hard time wrapping their heads around it all. I've proposed several possible logistic arrangements in this Jamboard. But here I will give you a scenario of how a lesson might go.

Before we start, let's look at what would be needed for this lesson to happen totally as-is: (realizing you can easily substitute depending on what you have available to you)

  • Hardware: Desktop computer hooked up to a presentation screen, Chromebook, webcam (whether stand-alone or Doc camera used as a webcam), and a mic
  • Software: Zoom, Nearpod

Classroom Set-up:



Teacher process:

  1. Log into Zoom on desktop as host (mic and camera facing the front of the room)

  2. Log into Zoom on Chromebook as co-host (mic and camera off)

  3. Open up Nearpod on Chromebook and start Live Participation Lesson

  4. Students log into Nearpod on their own device (both in-class and remote) In my room the link would be pushed out through Google Classroom.

  5. The teacher teaches from the front of the room to start (both in-class and remote students can see them) then rotates around the room

  6. The teacher drives Nearpod from a mobile device (in this case a Chromebook)

  7. All work is available via Google Classroom. For total remote students who do not attend via Zoom they would complete a student-paced Nearpod posted via GC.


You may notice that in this scenario there really isn't a need for an interactive presentation screen being on in the classroom. Students are interacting in Nearpod, and the teacher is monitoring student work through Nearpod, as well as walking around the room checking on in-class students (and chat via Zoom for remote students). No need for the teacher to be stuck at the front of the room!

There is also no need in this scenario for monitoring software as the teacher is monitoring student work via the Nearpod dashboard. Students that aren't producing work can then be checked individually as needed.


Other Options:

  • For some questions, or interactive media in Nearpod, the teacher can put students in pairs (in class or with breakout rooms on Zoom) to discuss and work together, completing individual Nearpod to submit. In this scenario, the teacher is moving from group to group and/or monitoring work via Nearpod view.

  • The teacher wants to demonstrate? No problem: screen share Nearpod and go into student view then complete (I do), next problem students do on own or in pairs in breakout rooms (we do), then students do the next problem independently (You do). In this case, the teacher would screen share and demonstrate via the desktop so that students zooming in can see it and the in-class students can see it on the interactive whiteboard in front of the room.


Software alternatives: You could easily do this via Google Meet and using Peardeck. The set-up would be slightly different for Peardeck but the same idea with the teacher driving it from their mobile device by opening up the Peardeck dashboard.

What do you think? Add your additional ideas below in the comments!


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Seeing Through the Fog

 This week we kicked off our Google Classroom Camp for 125 educators and leaders. On the morning of our first online session, I took my usual walk with my dogs. This morning's walk was a little earlier than usual as I wanted to complete some finishing touches to the online portion of our camp.

When I passed the first overlook this was my view:


No view... just fog. (and the sun trying to poke through) Now, if I was new to this view I wouldn't know what was on the other side of the fog. But I'm not new to this view. I walk here basically every day so I know what is on the other side of the fog.
Here's the next overlook on that morning, and on another morning:


On this foggy morning, I stood out and thought 'this is where we are right now.'  We are in the fog. As educators the situation is fluid, changes being made daily, new information coming at us hourly.

We are in the fog.

But here's the thing. We are educators. We know what is on the other side of that fog. (just like I knew what was on the other side of the fog that morning) We know because we are educators. We know that our students are on the other side of that fog. We know what learning looks like. We know what creating a safe and engaging learning environment looks like. We've seen it. We've celebrated in it. We've laughed in it. We've been there, we've seen what is on the other side of this fog.

Although things are very different than what we've experienced in the past, the bottom line is we know what to do. We know we need to support and nourish (both academically and social emotionally) the students who will be in our classrooms this fall.

So, give yourself a break and breathe.

Make a list of ways you make students feel welcome in your classroom.

Then brainstorm a list of how you can do the same things in a virtual environment. ie do you have a morning meeting? How about on asynchronous days you post a short good morning video and introduce a question that students will answer and have other students respond to as well online? If you are hybrid with different cohorts post the question everyday and have both your in-class students and home students engage together. This could be our morning routine.

Now, make a list of the routines and procedures that you have in your classroom.  
Do these current routines work well? Can they transfer to a virtual/hybrid environment? How would they look? How can you teach these to your students?

Start with one area of content at a time and follow these steps. (identify how you did it before, think about how it can be adjusted or changed to suit your new environment)

Start planning for simple lessons to get you started in the year. Think 'getting to know' procedures (getting to know each other, getting to know the procedures, getting to know the digital workflow)

Start with what you know- good teaching and good learning, and welcoming students into your learning environment.

Remember: your attitude and mindset will set the stage for your climate and for your environment. 

See through the fog to what you know.

We've got this because we are teachers.