Staff enablement for distance learning: how to help navigate remote and mixed formats

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As schools prepare for the ‘20-‘21 academic year, administrators face tough decisions for how to maintain student and educator safety while maximizing the quality of educational programming. For better or worse, remote formats must and will continue to play a substantial role in that programming for primary, secondary, and higher education institutions. The good news is stakeholders have more experience with remote and mixed formats than this time last year and can use learnings to help ensure faculty have the support and guidance they need to be successful in the coming months.

In a post on this subject at the start of the outbreak, we explored the key requirements for standing up a distance learning program across secondary and post-secondary levels. Here we’ll explore 1) how to evolve the program evaluation element of that process and 2) what can be done to better support educators in delivering coursework in the coming months.

Creating a repeatable framework for needs assessment

At this point in the average school’s experience with remote learning, educators should have a fairly clear view of what works and what does not in terms of their own idiosyncratic experience. Administrators should create mechanisms for aggregating these experiences to identify common threads, extract key learnings, and create a roadmap to address problem areas. These data should be synthesized and integrated into refined programs going forward.  Key parameters of this feedback loop should include:

Coursework and content sufficiency

    • How well has program content transferred to remote formats?
    • Are there certain aspects of curriculum that are better suited to mixed or remote formats

Technology sufficiency

    • What challenges have educators and students faced in implementing new technology platforms?
    • Are there gaps in our existing infrastructure that need to be addressed to facilitate engagement with students?

Student outcomes

    • How does the current format work within the environment in which students find themselves?
    • What level of participation are we seeing from students in programs?
    • Which interventions have best supported students with learning challenges?
    • Have we provided options for different learning styles?

Educator outcomes

    • How well are we using internal expertise in remote formats and technology?
    • How comfortable are educators in using technology options at their disposal?
    • How well informed are teachers about participation rates and challenges faced by their students?

While each program is different and will require a nuanced approach to program evaluation, these four categories should help guide analysis for how administrators can improve student experience and better support educators. Administrators can solicit feedback from educators quickly with minimal disruption in the form of a survey or focus groups to aggregate perspectives and quickly identify pain points. Smaller working groups can help identify underlying causes for these pain points, and help to provide educator feedback on potential solutions.

Moving from insights to action steps

It is important to note from the outset that there is no silver bullet to deliver a comprehensive overhaul and maximize outcomes for all stakeholders. Program improvement should be seen as gradual evolution. It will require a longitudinal roadmap to meet near-term objectives of minimizing curriculum disruption and long-term objectives of delivering sustainable programming. This means making the most of what you have in the here and now, making smart decisions based in the economic reality of your institution, as well as the long term goals for distance formats.

To understand what can be done with learnings from the program evaluation process, institutions should think strategically about the types of interventions that are actionable in the near-term vs. long-term. Here is an example in practice of how to move from feedback to problem statements, through to solution planning:

Depending on your institution and the set of immediate dynamics, some problem areas will require both near-term and long-term planning. In practice, this exercise can help show where areas of overlap exist in terms of both problems and solutions. Supporting faculty first and foremost requires listening to their feedback from experiences with nascent remote programs. Creating organizational proficiency in this area will require a clear understanding of both near-term and long-term goals, as well as a clear-eyed view of what works and does not work for educators today.

Authors

Jaime Batista

Jaime Batista

Principal, Santa Barbara

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