Projects are different from ongoing work or business operations because they are temporary (Watt, 2014). In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic required K-12 schools to close. Schools all over the world began working on communicating with families and delivering remote education to students. My school district focused on using digital technology to maintain contact with families and to adopt remote learning. The remote learning project was unique because delivering the entire curriculum remotely (using digital technology) had previously never been done in my school. The project was temporary because we were hopeful we’d be returning to face-to-face learning as soon as possible. Nonetheless, despite returning to face-to-face learning, I have been experimenting with transitioning parts of the remote learning project to an ongoing operation within my classroom.
There were critical steps to the remote learning project as well as barriers along the way. The first step to beginning remote learning was to email families. The second step was to implement two new tools for remote learning (Zoom and Office 365). Interestingly, the project involved more than just emailing and adopting Zoom and Office 365. There were several barriers to achieving a successful remote learning experience.
The first barrier was that many families within our school district did not have digital devices. Second, not all families had access to the Internet. Teachers within my school district needed to locate the families who didn’t have digital devices and access to the Internet. Ipads were gathered, purchased, and distributed to families in need. But providing Ipads and Internet access was not the solution. A third and critical barrier to overcome was the lack of digital knowledge and skills. The lack of digital knowledge and skills was evident among many stakeholders—administrators, teachers, students, and parents.
“Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques applied to project activities in order to meet the project requirements” (Watt, 2014, p. 14). Although many stakeholders didn’t have digital knowledge and skills, the project moved forward. Teachers attempted to connect with families by email or by phone and used Zoom and Office 365 to deliver the school curriculum. Teachers, students, and families continued to use email and the new tools. In some cases, home visits, providing paper copies, were necessary.
Due to the urgency for isolation and lack of time to prepare, the plan was to “go.” Administrators, teachers, students, and parents did not receive formal training or detailed guidance for using the new technology. We all did the best we could. Those who had digital devices, Internet access, and knowledge of digital tools benefited. Unfortunately, several stakeholders “gave up” and became digitally inactive. Conway (2017) refers to this as the “immune response” (p. 14). For some, the barriers—lack of digital devices, lack of Internet access, and lack of digital knowledge and skills—were too significant to overcome.
Conway et al. (2017) suggest not just focusing on the user needs (in our case, lack of digital tools and knowledge and skills) but rather to “comprehensively map the system which they hope to change, employing a range of techniques to appreciate the complex dynamics at play” (p. 14). Successful innovation involves considering the type of problem, the problem situation, and the power dynamics in play. Having the time to examine each family’s situation and circumstance may have helped achieve and maintain successful remote learning experiences.
In my teaching practice, I spend much of my time thinking about problems. If I understand the issues, I am in a better position to offer solutions. I try to involve all stakeholders in the process of solving problems and try to be flexible. We are back in face-to-face classrooms, and the remote learning project has ended. But should it have ended?
Currently, one problem teachers face is student absenteeism. My school follows the quarter system, which means if students miss just one face-to-face class, teaching and learning is affected. Some teachers have stopped using Office 365 Teams due to returning face-to-face learning; however, I continue to use digital tools and remote learning to supplement face-to-face learning. The data collected in the Teams Insight app shows students are accessing content while at home and students and parents seem appreciative. Perhaps the temporary project using digital tools for remote learning in the spring should extend towards a schoolwide, ongoing blended learning operation in future K-12 classrooms?
Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J. (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. Royal Society of Arts, Action and Research Centre. https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf
Watt, A. (2014). Project Management (2nd ed.). BC Campus https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/
Attribution: Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash