Fixing the gap between student-teacher connection and instructional technology.
GUEST COLUMN | by Daniel Green
Not long ago, if you asked the average person what they thought about remote or hybrid learning, they wouldn’t have had a strong opinion.
That’s no longer the case. By March 25, 2020 all U.S. public schools had closed. Schools in all but two states remained remote through the end of the school year. Going into 2020-21, while some schools began to figure out how to safely offer in-person and hybrid learning, many stayed remote to start the year, including 74 of the top 100 districts. As schools nationwide navigated remote and hybrid learning for the first time, it required them to invest significantly in training and planning as well as in software and devices.
‘Over the past two years, we saw our education community rise to the challenge, as they showed up on their students’ screens every day with innovation, adaptation, passion and grit.’
Change at this scale is hard. While many districts were already exploring remote and hybrid options pre-pandemic, progress that was planned over the course of a few years was suddenly compressed into a few months. Over the past two years, we saw our education community rise to the challenge, as they showed up on their students’ screens every day with innovation, adaptation, passion and grit.
The Connections Between Us
Reflecting back, it’s clear that each learning modality provides a unique set of advantages and challenges, but in every case, success relies on a connection between the teacher, the student and the curriculum. While this connection is at the heart of many tools, the last year exposed several areas where more innovation is needed.
In remote learning, connecting teachers and students became more difficult. Aside from the social and emotional implications, teaching itself became more challenging and time-consuming. In addition to digitizing lessons, many teachers had to learn new tools and how to combine them to replicate proven instructional strategies, while figuring out how to keep kids engaged from behind a screen.
Additionally, time that was once spent on instruction in physical settings was now spent setting up technology or making sure students transitioned successfully from lesson to lesson. From lesson join codes and multiple open tabs, to assignments spread across LMS platforms, students needed to jump through hoops to simply attend class or complete an assignment.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, modulating instruction was hard. Long-standing techniques for getting student feedback, like asking for a show of hands or walking over to a student’s desk, weren’t the same. No tool or technology will ever replace or match the effectiveness of a teacher’s nuance in delivery, personalized approach, and ability to know each student’s needs.
Reaching Students More Meaningfully
While technology can never replace teachers, the pandemic opened a technical Pandora’s box. Districts went 1-to-1 faster than ever before, largely due to funding like CARES, to enable students and teachers to stay connected as best as possible. Now, as many students re-enter the classroom with laptop or tablet in-hand, we need to continue making that investment meaningful in the physical classroom, while remaining prepared and resilient to the unpredictable – from the waves of this pandemic to inclement weather and beyond.
In addition to increasing resilience, many students excelled in remote or hybrid learning environments. Increased asynchronous time during remote learning afforded an increased level of personalization. This gave some students the ability to slow down and take the time they needed to learn a concept instead of struggling to keep pace with the class. For others, this meant having the time to go deeper or explore an area of interest.
And as the remote learning curve settled over the course of the pandemic, students benefited from a more inclusive learning environment. Instead of assistive technology sitting alongside the curriculum, it was now part of the technology everyone used.
‘Instead of assistive technology sitting alongside the curriculum, it was now part of the technology everyone used.’
For example, at the edtech company I work for, our integration with Microsoft Immersive Reader helped make sure students with learning differences or those needing language support could understand the same content and participate in remote, hybrid and in-person settings, all without additional work on the teacher’s part. These advancements help close the experience gap among students while also increasing the overall accessibility of the curriculum. The gains that made learning more personalized and accessible cannot be forgotten as we shift toward in-person learning once more.
These are only a few glimmers of how technology, combined with flexible learning environments, can help us reach students more meaningfully. We owe it to our students to keep innovating and improving our educational system, and we owe it to our teachers to provide technology that allows them to best support student success. Flexibility and continued investment in remote, hybrid and in-person learning will improve our resilience and will help meet the unique needs of every student. For edtech to truly fulfill its potential, we must keep asking: how can we continue to use instructional technology to enhance student outcomes?
Daniel Green serves as VP of Product Management of Nearpod, an interactive instructional platform that merges formative assessment and dynamic media to create engaging learning experiences. He has led product innovations such as co-teaching, live lesson annotation and several realtime activities like drag and drop. Previously he led product and technology at Verba Software, a company focused on affordability of course materials. He also served as a product and technology leader at VitalSource, a global higher ed leader in digital classroom content technologies. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a MBA from Union University. He is based out of Nashville with his wife and four children. Connect with Daniel through LinkedIn.