On the day the University of Tampa closed its classrooms, Colleen Beaudoin didn’t let the decision stand in the way of her lessons.
A UT math instructor for the past decade, the Pasco County School Board chairwoman still showed up for work to administer makeup tests to a couple of students who remained on campus. (They sat far apart from one another in a largely vacant building.)
She also spent time proctoring via teleconference the emailed exam of another student who had returned home. Then she did some work to help colleagues prepare digital lessons for the semester they had yet to complete.
For many educators, the distance learning forced upon them by coronavirus closures meant learning a whole new way of doing business. But not for Beaudoin, who taught math in Hillsborough County schools before joining the university.
“I went to a presentation at UT in 2012. We were just exploring the idea of doing hybrid learning,” she explained. “I was one of the first ones to do the pilot program.”
That meant creating a video library of lessons, figuring out how to create review sheets that go with them, altering live lessons to connect to the online component and making sure students were coming along for the ride. It wasn’t something that happened overnight.
“It took several years to build up a full library of videos,” Beaudoin said. “I feel like it’s more work to teach online when you’re doing it well, to prepare for it.”
That’s why she knows how difficult it might be for many teachers in the district she helps oversee to jump into the instructional model they’ve been thrust into. And she’s been offering some advice on how to make it succeed.
So much of it boils down to communication.
“You’re pretty much on all the time,” Beaudoin said.
And that’s not just the teachers. The students also must be involved, do the work, and not be afraid to say something when they need help.
That could happen at all hours. Students will be able to work on their own schedules, she noted, and that might mean they have questions at midnight.
That doesn’t mean a teacher has to answer immediately. But having a set time when students can expect responses is critical, Beaudoin said.
And in that electronic back and forth, she said, the instruction can become more personalized than working in a classroom. As an example, she spoke about a student who sent in a video of herself solving an asymptotic equation.
“She had done everything right, but had made one little error,” Beaudoin said. “I just said, ‘here’s what you need to do.’”
Students and teachers alike might need basic lessons on how to use the programs, such as Zoom teleconferencing, she said, and confusion will be commonplace.
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The key, she said, is to remain calm and flexible. Teachers will have to understand that some students didn’t take their books home and don’t know how to use the online versions, if they even have access to them.
Some students will have to be taught how to make .pdf files of documents and how to share them. Some teachers will, too, she figured.
Parents have a critical role to play, as well, Beaudoin said, but they might not have the knowledge, comfort or time to fill that role.
“We have to be careful, strategic and thoughtful about what we’re asking people to do,” said Beaudoin.
But she expressed confidence that once the stress subsides, everyone should be able to get through.
“It’s definitely not without challenges,” Beaudoin said. “But we’re going to do the best we can.”