Take away the campus but put back the computer

The specter of contracting COVID-19 in schools caused us to close campuses. The computer became the most important tool in the toolshed. Discussions and plans are full steam ahead to open for Fall 2020. What about school should we keep or leave out? What are the best uses of our time and creativity to promote intellectual development and educational engagement for students?

I wrote a piece about this in March 2020 but now in June 2020, things have grown more puzzling. We also now have some months of experience teaching online.

It’s time to step on the gas for creating experiences and experiments where students develop projects in collaborative manners. As we approach top speed, we will no doubt see an expansion of the highway.

Classes could find their way to the curriculum. Perhaps consider engaging questions and engaging problems, either from students’ or teachers’ minds. Both the traditional and alternative are possible when the entrance into the work happens via another opening. If a family wants traditional outcomes, not a problem. If a family wants something else, it’s also possible.

What I would advocate is that schools help teachers to have their own engaging experiences as students — beyond ‘professional development’. I’m talking about restructuring how we think about ourselves and how we approach ‘doing work’ as teachers. We need chances to work on long term projects. Teachers need opportunities to naturally collaborate with other people. We need that excitement of creation as well.

This restructure alone will shift the work we do and how we see ourselves as creative intellectuals. Without this chance, teachers will likely do as they have done in the past. They may perhaps add on a new strategy or activity, but not really shift how they ‘do work’ in school.

In an ongoing reflective process, I reinvent myself and my work. Starting as a teacher in 1997, that’s a lot of constant change. Additionally, I can recall landmark experiences as a student that also shape my thinking. But what was it that allowed some of my teachers to make space for me and my interests? Under their tutelage, I cut a path to achieve beyond the traditional outcomes. How my teachers grew to have that comfort level, I’m not sure, but boy am I ever grateful.

In the Land of Corona, I have found the online format of class working well. It allowed me to easily focus more deeply on the process of students’ work. It also gave me a chance to easily help students become an integral part of a formative feedback cycle. Inside of a Zoom meeting, I can spotlight a student’s camera for everyone to see. The student can then discuss what’s happening and why it’s happening. Software helps facilitate these interactions. It’s far more difficult to do that in person and without a computer. So here is a good case for using a computer also in person!

We will need to increase Internet bandwidth and computer usage at all levels throughout the day. This is the moment to make the personal computer truly personal for all of our students. Give every child a high-powered laptop. We will need the kids connected. Doing so allows us to engage in the formative feedback cycle, build collaboration, and encourage project-based learning.

School can become a place of creation for teachers and students alike. If you show me a kindergartener, I will show you a student who can learn trigonometry. The traditional sequence does not confer a foolproof method. Teachers can reactivate their sense of wonder. Students can take more ownership of their learning. Perhaps campus life has gone missing, but school itself can change into something better than before.