School opens next Tuesday here in the overly-large school district. As they were last spring, students and teachers will be working in virtual classrooms, at least for the first few weeks.1
Some are calling this “online learning 2.0”. Actually it’s more like online schooling 1.1. A bug-fix rather than a major upgrade.
I’ve been using the term “online schooling” in this space, rather than “learning”, because what’s happening here, and in many other areas of the country, is that educators are working very hard to replicate a standard school experience using an LMS and video conferencing software. “Learning” may or may not be happening.
Students, and people in general, have been learning online without a formal structure almost since the first time two people connected on the internet. Of course, when it comes to kids, that probably doesn’t involve the material mandated by adults. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is much in a standard school curriculum that’s not worth knowing in the first place.
Anyway, in Fairfax, the online schooling experience includes a bell schedule that “will more closely resemble the start and end times our schools were using in 2019-20 before the school closure” and teachers taking attendance just like always. The Return to School FAQ does say the curriculum will be “streamlined”, so that’s different, even if there are no details for what that means.
At least our administrators haven’t yet tried installing some of the new surveillance technology being hawked to monitor students (and sometimes teachers) in their homes. We’ll see what happens when it’s time for testing.
Now none of this is intended to be critical of what teachers and administrators in Fairfax are trying to do. Attempting to approximate normal school for more than 180,000 students was always going to be a major challenge (at the very least). My friends and former colleagues in the system are under a lot of pressure to make these plans work and I wish them the best.
I never expected the district to put forward any kind of plans that might explore the possibilities of working online. Although the summer break offered some time to do some reimagining, top level administrators in overly-large school districts are not known (or hired) for their innovation. Just addressing the concerns of parents and the rest of the community is a full-time job in good times.
However, I do hope some creative and forward looking teachers will take this opportunity to play with the online schooling format they’ve been given and work with their students to try something new. There are more important things kids need to understand out there in the real world. Maybe set some new priorities that aren’t part of the standard curriculum and ask them to explore the world they are inheriting.
There is room to explore since you probably won’t have to worry about preparing students for the SOLs (Virginia’s standardized testing program) next spring. As much as everyone wants to return to “normal”, it’s likely the chaos of the pandemic will continue to ripple throughout this school year. I doubt the tests will happen, or the results won’t count for much.
That offers some space to innovate.
And you have my permission to use it. :)
The map shows the status of all the school districts in Virginia, as of the time I grabbed this screenshot. The state Department of Education is maintaining a real-time, interactive map and it very likely will change as we get farther into the fall.
1. Fairfax has said they plan to “start bringing small, specific groups of students back to classrooms in what the school system is calling a “cohort” approach” as soon as possible. It remains to be seen how that will actually work.