Guest post via @MrOrreBiology: What happens when you are suddenly not available? The case for going digital.

Have you ever had “life” just happen and you could not be at work?  Like a, drop everything, family emergency, nothing about work matters, kind of moment?

I have. Most people have. And if it hasn’t happened to you yet. It will.

For educators, this can be an especially difficult dilemma because not showing up to work means kids are left without a teacher, and the stakes are high. Their education is paramount.

Thus, suddenly being unable to make it to work can become doubly stressful because you are adding the stress of leaving your students in a lurch ON TOP of the emergency that you’re dealing with.

I have had this happen to me several times in my career.  Though, the ones that have occurred in recent years have been much less stressful than those in the early years of my career.  What’s the difference? 

Blended learning and organizing my class content on Canvas and Google.

I’ve spent a lot of time promoting the use of Google Docs and Canvas, for the purposes of enhancing the educational experience, differentiating learning, and preparing students for the 21st century.  This is all true and good, but here’s another important reason.

If you have all of your course content on Google and a Learning Management System, your sudden absence has less of an impact on your students.

Here’s a question to think about if you’re a teacher.  If you were 15 minutes late to class and your kids showed up, the door was unlocked, and they came in. What would they do? 

Would it be a free for all? Would kids be texting, playing Fortnite, or socializing with their friends, or would they sit down and follow a routine you’ve built such as doing a warm-up, getting homework out, pulling computers out and checking Canvas, etc.?

Here’ another question.  If you suddenly couldn’t make it to class, would it be a lost day?  Would you have to tell a colleague to get Movie blah blah blah and tell the sub to play it and make the students do a page of notes?  Or could you lean on what you have organized electronically?  Tell your colleague to write on the whiteboard: “Go to Canvas and do today’s…..”

Here’s one step further.  What if you suddenly couldn’t make it to class, or the remaining 3 weeks of the semester?

You get the picture.  What this really boils down to is this:

Are you teaching in a teacher-centered classroom, or a student-centered classroom?

Are you the center of the classroom universe or are your students?

Are you the Sage on the Stage or the Guide on the Side?

I can talk till I’m blue in the face about how important going digital is for your student’s education, and you may agree or disagree with me, but here’s an argument that I think really drives home the importance of going digital:

By blending your course into the digital space you extend yourself, and your vision into the digital space. You ensure that you are there, even when you aren’t.  You ensure that the learning outcomes are not sacrificed, but reinforced.  Your class becomes more robust, stronger, and powerful.

Technology will never replace teachers, but technology sure does make us better and more effective.

This has other implications too.  I often hear teachers say that they can’t be absent another day, or they won’t take any days off for professional development because their students can’t have them be gone.  What I hear them saying is, “I’m the sage on the stage and the center of the classroom universe. My students can’t learn without me.”  If they had created a course that was blended into the digital space, they would have a student-centered classroom, and know that their students would be just fine.

Obviously, they can’t be gone ALL the time, and there are certain things kids must have you there for.  For example,  I would never leave them to their own devices with a sub to run a lab that was dangerous or had expensive lab equipment.  If I taught an elective like shop or culinary, then yeah kids aren’t going to get the same experience without me because they can’t do it without me.  This is, however, is the exception to the rule though. Most all classes could get by for a few days here or there with NO problem.

So, ask yourself:

  • What would happen if I was late, or missed a day/week suddenly?
  • What systems and routines do I have in place for my students to follow?
  • Would my students follow these routines in my absence?
  • Do I have my labs, activities, projects, assignments, worksheets, etc. in a digital format?
  •  Am I the Sage on the Stage or The Guide on the Side?

Here’s some advice:

  • Put ALL of your content in Google Drive.  This allows you to share with students or colleagues in a moments notice. This includes calendars or assignment sheets.
  • Create MOST, if not all,  assignments in your LMS, such as Canvas or Google Classroom.  Build a routine of students turning work in electronically, so if you were absent, they would have no problem turning it in, and you could grade if from anywhere.
  • Collaborate with colleagues.  By having common assignments, it’s easy for them to step in and teach the lesson at a moments notice.
  • Use videos (screencasts, recordings with a Doc Cam, YouTube, etc) for delivery of content.  This way students can still learn content without you being physically present.
  • Use the announcement feature for sub plans.  Better yet, don’t call them sub plans. Call them “student plans.”  Post your plan as an announcement, and direct the sub to tell kids to see that announcement.  If you have time, you could even record a video giving them your instructions in person.
  • Implement some element of Project Based Learning.  When students are working on projects that they are self directed in, it’s easy for them to continue working even if you are absent.

Becoming the guide on the side if you are the sage on the stage can be difficult if you are deeply ingrained in this methodology, but if you can make the effort, you could save yourself some significant stress in the most stressful of times that pull you away from class.  Isn’t it worth a try?

  • Here’s a great book on building “The Student-Centered Classroom.
  • Follow my YouTube Channel 1CoolThing to learn more tips and techniques to make your class more digital
  • Post your thoughts or experiences in the comments. Have you benefited from having a blended class during a stressful time when you couldn’t make it to class suddenly?
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