Bob Shepherd. Is a former teacher, editor, curriculum designer, and assessment developer. He believes that a return to in-person instruction would be “an unprecedented catastrophe.” But he defines remote learning as a guarantee that any real learning will be remote.

How to find a path forward give the dangers of reopening and the tedium of remote learning?

He writes:

Clearly, if we are to depend on remote learning, we must address some serious issues:

–How do we ensure that kids have home access to high-speed internet connections and computers and software?

–How do we ensure that poor kids who no longer have access to free breakfast and lunch programs have regular meals?

–What do we do about kids whose parent or parents have to work? Who is going to watch the kids?

–What do we do to compensate for the loss of the safety checks that schools provide with regard to dangerous home environments, ones in which kids are inadequately cared for or subject to abuse?

–What kinds of learning can be conducted remotely and how? What would ideal remote/distance learning look like? Yes, we ALL understand that remote learning stinks. It’s child’s play to make the long, long list of its deficiencies, but, if we haven’t a sane alternative, what can we do given the circumstances? What does the best better-than-nothing remote learning pedagogy look like?

These are all big questions. We should be thinking very seriously about them, now. Instead, we are thinking about how to “reopen safely,” which is like thinking about how to jump safely out of airplanes without parachutes.

One way to begin thinking about the last question–the one about remote learning pedagogy–is to ask, what can we do well at a distance? In what ways can computers actually be used effectively, at a distance, as learning tools? What are they good at? Well, they can be used

to provide easy, ready access to enormous numbers of texts. What if every poor kid in the US had a gift card for purchasing online books from a curated list, for example?

for direct instruction videos. (How many teachers have simple video-editing software and know how to use it?)

to provide directions for projects to be carried out by students on their own.

to provide demonstrations–walkthroughs of procedures, for example (think of how-to recipe videos, for example).

to provide curated links to instructive materials online. The Internet is the freaking Library of Alexandria writ large.

to collect assignments and return them with feedback. (How many teachers have been instructed in how to use Word editing features or Adobe Acrobat mark-up tools for marking manuscripts? Precious few, I imagine.)

to do online check tests or quizzes with immediate feedback. (How many teachers know how to use Zoom’s built-in quiz feature? How many know how to use online quiz-making programs like Kahoot?)

to provide instructive graphics–picture galleries, maps, timelines, and so on.

to conduct online discussions and some modicum of community via Zoom.

to provide sharepoint folders for collections of class documents. (How many teachers are skilled at organizing such sharepoints?)

to present beautifully typeset equations. (How many teachers know how to use the Mathtype add-in for Word to do that?)

NONE OF THIS IS IDEAL. OF COURSE IT ISN’T. But it’s better than risking the lives of students, teachers, administrators, staff, and relatives and acquaintances of all these. But here we are, wasting time discussing safely jumping out of airplanes without a parachute when we could be spending this time instructing teachers on using these tools and setting up mechanisms for teachers to share with one another what has been working for them in their online classes.

One thing that should be avoided like the plague, I think: online computer instruction programs with diagnostic tests and instructional modules. These are failed behaviorist programmed instruction modernized with graphics. They are extremely demotivating. Kids hate them, and what they learn from them, mostly, is to hate what they are supposed to be learning.