This blog post is republished from the Digital Learning Collaborative blog – February 11, 2021.
“Make schools more human by using technology” seems like either A) an oxymoron, or B) an example of the old saying that when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, of course, the Digital Learning Collaborative would think that the way to make schools “more human” is by using more tech.
But as I was reading an article with that title, originally published in December in the New York Times, two thoughts kept going through my head. One was that the column was raising more problems than solutions. The second was that we see solutions to the problems raised, being applied by hybrid schools—especially those that have added digital learning to improve the student experience in non-digital ways.
“Make Schools More Human: The pandemic showed us that education was broken. It also showed us how to fix it” opens with a fairly standard—and accurate—critique of much pandemic-induced remote learning.
Fair enough, especially given that the writer acknowledges that some students have found remote learning to be better than traditional school.
The column then goes on to explore what might be different when schools return:
“Opportunities for all kinds of students”—this is exactly what forward-thinking states, districts, and schools are creating. Whether it’s the relatively small percentage of students who are well served by fully online schools, or the increasing number of hybrid schools that combine online learning with onsite instruction, these options exist precisely to provide such opportunities. To the extent that districts are adding such options—and we are hearing from quite a few that are adding new options for students—this is a silver lining in the gray cloud of the pandemic.
The column delves into a second area in which hybrid schools are already implementing what the author suggests:
Again, his column is on target in identifying a problem, and he acknowledges that some teachers have built the relationships that have helped students thrive. But the next step in this analysis is determining how do schools create the conditions in which relationships can thrive—as opposed to relying entirely on individual teachers working within the constraints of school schedules, state assessments, etc? We have seen precisely this approach in schools as different as Crossroads Flex in North Carolina, and The Village High School in Colorado. These schools (both of which are district schools, not charters), prioritize making sure that each student has someone in a very close mentor/advising/champion role, in part by shifting some instruction to online, freeing time for teachers and other adults.
One final example:
The idea that early school start times create problems for students is not new, but despite strong evidence that later start times would help, various impediments have kept most schools from pushing start times to be significantly later. But some mainstream schools, recognizing that some students are more impacted than others, allow students to take an online course on their own time, and start the school day during the second period or even later. Hybrid schools take this approach a step further. The Village in Colorado starts its required onsite time at 9:30 am, allowing students to work online earlier or later in the day.
The New York Times article author is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and as such appears to be firmly within the establishment of public education. His column raises several excellent points about educational problems and post-pandemic opportunities. I hope he may also be aware of the schools that have been addressing these issues, and solving these problems, even before the pandemic hit.