What millions of students around the world are experiencing right now on Zoom and other conferencing platforms is not online learning but rather remote learning. At home in Melbourne, the limits of Zoom class are clear when my Year 7 tells me how students were recording themselves sitting at their desk and then playing that video as their virtual background for subsequent classes. While I’m sheepishly impressed with their ingenuity, distractions like dogs, family members, students attending class from bed and even offensive “Zoombombing” content are frequent.
As schools have rushed to transition curriculum to virtual classrooms the terms “online learning” and “remote learning” have been used interchangeably. Education experts say that needs to change.
Transforming the Curriculum
Online learning typically involves a curriculum where lessons and the technology used to deliver them are created and optimised with a virtual audience in mind. If you sign up for an online university course there is no expectation that students will show up to a physical classroom. On the other hand, remote learning, in the way that many of us are currently experiencing it, is largely a reactionary experience. Many schools are scrambling to adapt the face-to-face curriculum they rely on and modify it for a virtual, remote audience. These efforts are conducted with the purpose of getting information to the desired audience as soon as possible.
Remote learning can be described as a quick, ad hoc, strategy. Well-planned online learning experiences are meaningfully different from curriculum that is delivered online in response to a crisis or disaster. Members of the academic community have hotly debated this terminology and “emergency remote learning (ERL)” has emerged as the correct alternative.
This discussion clarifies the expectations that primary and secondary teachers operate under and deliver their curriculum. ERT is a temporary shift of instructional delivery due to crisis circumstances. Due to time constraints the curriculum transformation occurs rapidly and often without sufficient preparation. With such a narrow preparation window, we can’t expect teachers to become online teaching experts overnight. They can’t possibly design the best online learning experiences for their students without a robust support system in place (course design support, targeted PD opportunities, Edtech training and support).
As the global pandemic continues, we’re reminded that schools are much more than places where academic transactions occur. ERL remains an important area for teachers to continue to target their PD and for school leaders to collaborate and innovate. With this readjustment of terms, the focus remains to deliver the best possible for outcomes for all students and school communities.