A Challenge For Remote Teaching During a Pandemic: Making Classes Feel...

EdSurge Podcast

A Challenge For Remote Teaching During a Pandemic: Making Classes Feel Relevant

By Jeffrey R. Young     Apr 7, 2020

A Challenge For Remote Teaching During a Pandemic: Making Classes Feel Relevant

This article is part of the guide: Sustaining Higher Education in the Coronavirus Crisis.

With schools and colleges across the country shut down for COVID-19, one Massachusetts family finds their house bursting with learners trying to keep their studies going.

“I have seven young adult children. We are now all home together except for one,” says Maureen McLaughlin.

McLaughlin shared that message in response to our call to listeners to share their stories of managing education during COVID-19 for our weekly EdSurge Podcast. We’re asking people to write in or send a voice memo with brief anecdotes of moments of challenge or surprise in their remote learning—send yours to jeffedsurgecom.

It turns out that McLaughlin is also a student herself, pursuing a doctorate in higher education leadership through an online program.

We connected with her on Zoom last week, and several of her children gathered around the screen as well and took turns sharing their stories. The youngest is a senior in high school, and the rest are now home from various colleges that have shut down due to the virus. One of them is in the process of trying to transfer to a new college.

McLaughlin describes the situation as a kind of accidental lab experiment in how well different forms of online learning work and how different kids respond. Her instinct to study the situation makes sense, since she is an educator herself.

This week’s podcast sponsor is Emporia State University’s online Elementary Education program: designed for career changers interested in becoming elementary teachers.

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“What was really interesting was when we sort of all came home and realized what the reality was going to be and what the challenges were going to be,” said McLaughlin. At first, she recalled, everyone was still processing the fact of social distancing and how much life had changed, which made it hard to jump back into college classes—online—so soon.

“We focused so much on all the changes in the beginning that we skimmed over acknowledging the endings—and the losses,” McLaughlin added. “It took us a week to understand that—that they abruptly lost [access to] our friends, or they abruptly had to come home and half of their stuff is still at school. Graduations are either not going to not happen or look very different. Sports seasons are cut short. So that change was hard, and it was hard for them to just engage in any kind of normalcy or thought of remote learning or remote instruction without going through that process.

For Abby McLaughlin, a first-year student at Lafayette College, she is finding it hard to stay focused in her newly online classes.

“There’s kind of a disconnect right now because students are at home and they’re overwhelmed, experiencing so much confusion around like what is going on,” she says. “Coronavirus has shaken up the status quo completely. And so it’s like you’re trying to make sense of what’s going on in the world and in your world, but then you’re expected to still read about [say,] sociology theory.”

In a way how the coronavirus is giving new resonance to that age-old question: do we really need to learn this? It’s now unclear what career options will look like or how soon wider social and economic life will resume, for instance, which makes it hard to know what to take away from class content.

“So I’m reading this material and I’m like...why am I even doing this? There is a crisis going on, and here we are sitting at home watching a Zoom video with a ton of other kids. But when we’re all kind of in this state of confusion, it’s like, ‘What is the purpose?’”

This is a very brief recap of the conversation. To hear the rest, listen to the episode in the player on this page. You can also find the EdSurge Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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