Well, this coronavirus situation is truly shutting everything down. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has shut down all public schools in the State for the rest of the month, which means my little private school is transitioning to distance learning today. Students are coming in from 8 AM to noon to pick up whatever they need, and then we’re hitting the ground running with distance/remote learning tomorrow.
So far, everyone’s being surprisingly calm about it. The students are probably anticipating a two-week holiday where they can blow off their work. They’re in for a mildly rude awakening. Part of that collective teenage instinct is probably correct: it’s not going to be nearly as rigorous (or draining) as face-to-face classroom instruction. But it’s not going to be two weeks of goofing off, either.
My older colleagues are panicking a bit, as they’re struggling to transition over to the Google Meets software. I really sympathize with them. I’ve played around with it a bit and have figured it out, but I understand the deep structure of how computers “think.” I was coaching one colleague earlier who didn’t understand the concept of copy-pasting. There is a real digital divide.
I don’t bring that up in a mocking sense, either—I’m certainly not the smirking Millennial here—this transition is unprecedented, and my colleagues, young and old, never anticipated this step. Nobody did. We’re going to be working very hard to maintain quality instructional time in a radically different format.
That said, I’m trying to approach this situation with a spirit of optimism. It’s an opportunity to try some new instructional techniques. I’m particularly eager about the prospect of pre-recording my lectures, and having that audio available. It’s an idea I’ve had for years, but there was never any practical push to do. Plus, the time required to record a good lecture just wasn’t there.
Well, necessity is the mother of livestreaming, it seems. I may use the blog—as I did last summer with my History of Conservative Thought course—as a way to deliver lecture notes, too, which also checks the box of getting a post done every day. If I can figure out how to do it, I will also post my history lessons to my SubscribeStar page—these lectures would certainly qualify as some “premium content.”
Of course, if this distance learning stuff goes well, it will beg the question: to what extent do we still need face-to-face education? I think it’s necessary, but I’ve long suspected—and I write this as a teacher—that a good bit of the school day and year is filler. I try not to make my classes fluff, but we all know there’s a good bit of riffing and such thrown in.
My ideal school calendar has the school year start the Tuesday after Labor Day, with classes and exams wrapping up the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. Make Spring Break two weeks (Jesus and Easter deserve their due), and keep Christmas break two weeks—or expand it to three. In exchange, eliminate all the piddling little holidays and administrative in-service days. Cut out the filler and get to the basics.
That’s not ideal pedagogically, but it would sure make for a lot of time off.
Well, that’s all I’ve got today. Gotta get back to setting up these classes. Stay safe out there—and wash your hands!