Pandemic Virtual Learning





An elementary teacher’s reflection on the current emergency online learning situation.





It has been five weeks since the start of what we can modestly call a whirlwind of online education. The world has accepted the fact that we were not prepared to fully comprehend the demands that a global situation of this magnitude would bear down on society, the economy, and more personally education. Having to rapidly thrust an entire education system into the realms of virtual instruction with no proper time to analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate these structures is like flying a plane in and out of a major hurricane without a compass. Sure, you probably had some idea, a plan perhaps, but the reality is that this situation that we found ourselves in is not ideal for what online learning is truly meant to be. Mind you this coming from a person who had just finished a degree in instructional design and technology a mere six months prior.


Any educator could attest to the fact that classrooms, students, and situations are not text book cases in black and white. So, why would I think that this would be any different from what I learned about designing online instruction and the ice bucket cold reality that is the Pandemic Virtual Learning. Yes, this new emergency online hybrid, whatever we might call it, deserves a category all on its own because, honestly, there is not sufficient research or case studies providing any sort of clues or advice on handeling this new form of online learning. The purpose of this reflection is to highlight some thoughtful, ‘light bulb’ moments from my experiences in the past five weeks from a professional viewpoint as not only an elementary teacher, but also a mother of a primary student, and an Instructional Designer graduate.


This post will focus on the elementary and primary online learning experiences and gained knowledge as I have navigated through this Pandemic Virtual Learning. One of the first reasons that I title it as such and not as true online learning is because this was not something that everyone asked for. This form of instruction and teaching was forced on everyone which makes it a very different situation than true online learning the kind that learners seek out and volunteer to do on their own.


This brings me to my first point, training and orientation needs to happen prior to forcing online learning onto the masses. Granted in this current situation little time was allotted for this, but this is pinnacle to a successful online educational structure, especially when the participants are not volunteers. If I could reverse the hands of time, I would have held parent live sessions to help teach them how to navigate our LMS (learning management system) specifically to their child’s classroom needs. Yes, I provided tons of video tutorials and written instructions, but at some point, like with what happened with the teachers, there were too many video tutorials and instructions to go through and it just got overwhelming. Learners stopped watching the videos and just started diving right into the hands-on situations. It was like chunked instruction thrown all at once to teachers, parents, and students.


With the Pandemic Virtual Learning situation parents are a key part of this equation because let’s face it, most elementary students have not developed the ability for self-efficacy and independent learning, yet. They need a lot of facilitation and guidance at the start and it is a known ideal that self-efficacy is a key factor in learning success (Bandura, 1971). The learner has to be able to motivate themselves and have enough technology skill to be successful at online learning (Smith, 2015). But how do you motivate someone who is being forced into a learning environment they didn’t ask for? Not only them, but what about their guide or facilitators, the parents? We must get the parent’s buy in and willingness to help first, before a student can engage in online learning. At the elementary level a student’s success in a virtual learning environment will only be achieved if parents are willing to learn and aide in the navigation and explanation process. One of the key components of online instruction is to be motivated to continue on your own. Elementary age learners need a lot of motivation to continue with any task. If the learning is too hard, which learning new technology can be, then motivation will lack and success is not achieved. A good plan of action is to properly train and motivate the teachers designing the lessons, so that they can properly train and motivate the parent who is required to facilitate for their elementary age student, so then the student is motivated to navigate and learn their new skills. Yes, eventually even the primary student develops some form of self-efficacy as I have seen in the past two weeks with my own child who every day needs me less and less. Unless it is something that needs to be read.


This leads me to my second point online learning requires a high level of reading skills and comprehension (Smith, 2015). In order for students to independently navigate through their own lesson they must be able to read the instructions. Most primary students are not able to read instructions on their own. Navigating and having to read or follow directions on assignments is not a best practice for online instruction for elementary age students. When designing lessons for elementary age students it is best if all written directions are provided with an accompanying audio option and an image (Palaigeorgiou & Papadopoulou, 2019). Recorded video lessons and modeling are best for this age group, but be mindful that until the individual learner has developed the independent skill of recognizing when they need to review the lesson again, they will most likely skip over the lesson and try the assignment themselves or watch it once and not review it as needed. This is where parents and teachers need to have realistic expectations that most assignments, depending on their level of involvement on demonstrating skills, will need to be revised a lot before the student demonstrates mastery. Primary students need to be taught how to tackle online instruction in chunks or steps and to be diligent at reading, viewing, and focusing all forms of directions and instructions. Being good at following written or audio directions is key for online instruction. This is a skill that will need to be molded and grown in primary students but can be done with repeated exposure to this form of learning.


In a perfect world there would be an LMS (learning management system) that allows teachers to include audio components to their written directions when they create the assignments. A proper and highly functional LMS is pivotal to motivating learners and facilitators to continue online learning. When the navigation system of the course or assignments is difficult and the creators or students have to work or take extra steps than necessary, this deters the learners from continuing the learning because navigating the technology is too hard. The purpose for an LMS system is to provide a seamlessly navigational shell that learners can easily breeze through to find and locate items. For elementary age students and their parents this is especially true. To motivate primary students to learn, the learning platform needs to start with a kid friendly LMS system that is familiar to them like navigating a video game.


Having an age appropriate system in place is important but also providing students with multiple modes and easy tools to accomplish assignments is vital for primary students. Forcing primary students to type out responses or even essays can be unmotivating and cause academic frustrations. Technology tools need to have the ability for primary students to use voice typing to ease this hurdle in online learning. Programs like Google Docs has this feature but it is the only one of the Google products and most kids do not know how to locate it. There are extensions that are applied to web browsers that can do these functions, but they are not easy to locate or install and use. Students are not able to do this on their own and need a parent assisting them. For elementary age students this is a hurdle.


What would be ideal are icons and functions on kid friendly programs that allow the student to locate all the functions they need with ease and little facilitation from a parent. One of the best programs I discovered in my studies was called VoiceThread. This program has big easy icons that students locate with ease. It is a program that allows students to turn in assignments by means of video, image, text, or audio all housed in one place together. So, the student is not hunting and having to open different programs in order to choose their mode of learning preference. Providing students an easy way to turn in assignments in whatever mode they choose is highly motivating for a learner.


Keep in mind that one of the problem areas with this Pandemic Virtual Learning is written assignments. These primary virtual learners have been taught and were learning to write their thoughts out in pencil and paper form, now they are being asked to do that in type form. They have not had enough exposure to this form of thought transformation process. What has come to my attention is that elementary age students give less thoughtful responses than they would in written form. Their grammar is worse because they are not fixing their typing mistakes. So, are we truly measuring what they can do if this form of written expression isn’t something they are comfortable with yet? How long will it take for students to develop this skill and start producing responses and ideas equally to that of their written form? These are rising questions and topics for needed research with this new turn that elementary education suddenly finds themselves in.


Finally, the most contradictory enlighten concept that I discovered from this new online learning experience is that flexibility is not always ideal for primary learners. One of the main components that was drilled into us as instructional design students is that a benefit of online learning is that it needs to be flexible for the learners to do on their own time. Well, this theory is ideal for older self-motivated learners who have willingly wanted to engage in online instruction, but for these young pupils and their parents this is not them. They are a new category of online learners. What I found was that giving students a due date to complete a lengthy assignment meant they were going to do it on the day it was due and not work on it little by little on their own. Elementary students have not developed the skill to self-regulate and pace out their assignments on their own. Some parents and students wanted an outline that told them what to do each day and some even wanted it by each hour. While others preferred to get on a couple times a week and complete all assignments at one time. It appeared that some primary students wanted and needed to be told what and when to do a task rather than a more fluid go at your own pace structure. This makes sense with how the student’s daily life at school is structured. They are told where to be and what they are working on every day. Some students struggled with being given the choice to work on what they wanted and when they wanted to or could. Putting in place this sort of structure posed a problem for our new home facilitators, the parents. Some were not able to help their students at that particular time, so while some students needed more structure others needed a more flexible system.


This all stems back to students not being able to self-regulate at this young age. This is a skill I believe will develop, and develop quickly, if we continue on this path of Pandemic Virtual Learning. Unfortunately, there was no time to properly prepare anyone for this new form of education. All we can do is write notes, papers, and blogs of our journey through this new adventure and hopefully new grad students are already setting up case studies to gauge the impact and implication of this Pandemic Virtual Learning. We need to compare the differences between these new online learners and those that have already been studied. We need to reimagine what are best learning practices for young learners like primary students in a fully immersed virtual instructional program. We also need to redefine standards, assessments, and expectations to better fit what students can and cannot do because of the gap in online technology skills.

References
Bandura, A. (1971). Social learning theory. New York City: General Learning Press. Retrieved from http://www.asecib.ase.ro/mps/Bandura_SocialLearningTheory.pdf


Palaigeorgiou, G., & Papadopoulou, A. (2019). Promoting self-paced learning in the elementary classroom with interactive video, an online course platform and tablets. Education and Information Technologies , 24, 805–823. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-018-9804-5


Smith, E. A. S. (2015). Examining instructor perceptions of learner and instructor characteristics of online elementary students: A case study. Available from Education Database ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1727140049). Retrieved from https://go.openathens.net/redirector/ace.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1727140049?accountid=31683


Posted 5/21/2020 © Marsiette Burgess