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When the coronavirus pandemic hit and schools closed, students in Sarah Schroeder’s educational technology classes at the University of Cincinnati suddenly found their skills in high demand.
Schroeder responded by changing the end-of-term assignment for her preservice teachers from an online learning project into a community service project to help local educators and parents make the transition to remote learning.
“When this all hit, it was like, ‘We could be designing modules for something really meaningful or we could be designing modules that no one will ever use,’” she said.
The answer was obvious. How the students executed it all took many forms.
Some students approached educators that they knew — family members, neighbors, past teachers — and offered to help in the shift to remote learning.
“Our students jumped in and said, ‘I know how to do this because I’ve been taught to do it,’” she said.
Those projects included creating entire digital classrooms and screencasts to provide training for online teaching.
Another group of Schroeder’s students got involved by converting paper packets of assignments that had been created for Cincinnati Public Schools students into digital learning modules that were uploaded into the district’s learning management system.
Preservice teachers get real-world edtech experience
The students worked with the district’s technologists and teachers to convert the packets. By the end of three weeks, the students had helped create 15 modules that teachers could use. They also served as examples of digital learning content.
That effort has led to a project in which university students and faculty are working with Cincinnati Public Schools to create blended learning content for teachers to use in the fall.
“This is a long-term partnership that will give our students opportunities for real-world technology experience,” Schroeder said. “We see this partnership continuing and benefiting everyone. We're really grateful for the opportunity despite the pandemic.”
Pedagogy, not technology, became the focus
Other students helped create webinars that filled in gaps in online teacher training. Schroeder said much of the initial training for teachers focused on how to use tools. In talking to educators, she found there was a need for training in online pedagogy.
In response, Schroeder, faculty members and students created a series of 30-minute webinars called Beyond the Tools. The students helped create the content that would be presented by professional trainers and hosted by the UC Office of Professional and Continuing Education.
Schroeder said webinar topics included rethinking assessments and finding other ways for students to demonstrate their learning, and how to create engaging online discussions that encourage higher-order thinking and student ownership.
“So, it didn’t matter if you were Zoom or Google Meet or whatever,” she said.
Setting up online learning tools
After the pedagogy sessions, students would walk teachers through how to use the methods with online learning tools. “If we were talking about how to have meaningful asynchronous discussions in an online space, one of our students would show them how to set up a discussion board or use a Padlet if they don’t have an LMS (learning management system),” she said.
Schroeder said her students gained extraordinary experience.
“I think it’s always difficult to teach teaching in a university classroom without real students, real roadblocks, real problems and real collaboration with professionals in the field,” she said. “(The students) learned how to adjust. They learned to have a growth mindset. They learned to take feedback and use it beyond just feedback from their teacher. They're getting feedback from professionals in the field from teachers and from students. I just think that’s invaluable.”
Schroeder is an ISTE Certified Educator and credits that training and the ISTE Standards for providing the framework for how to respond to the sudden shift to remote learning.
“At the School of Education, we have always framed our technology programs around the ISTE Standards,” she said. “It was really a great opportunity for us to be able to show our students, ‘Look if you follow these standards that we’ve been teaching you for a long time, you're going to be ready to go.’
“And the one thing we heard from a lot of our graduates out in the field was, ‘Thank goodness you taught us using that framework because compared to my colleagues, I was ready to go.’ It was really encouraging to know that framing our program that way has really benefited our students once they get out into the field.”
Schroeder said one of the big benefits of ISTE Certification was the network of educators who came together during the training. Tapping that network fostered collaboration and opened doors for her students in the public schools.
“The ISTE Standard for Educators of connecting and creating communities really came to the forefront,” she said. “None of us can do this by ourselves. We all need to be talking. We all need to be sharing our best practices and modeling for our students.”
Jerry Fingal is a Eugene, Oregon, blogger focused on examining how technology creates opportunities for meaningful learning.