By Jocelynn Buckentin, Technology Innovation Specialist
During the past year, our schools have been tasked with preparing and implementing a flexible learning model that would allow learning to continue despite COVID-19 levels in our area. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the silver linings that I’ve witnessed in my work, as well to share some of the findings of the Minnesota Safe Learning Survey conducted by the University of Minnesota.
The pandemic and rapid transition to distance learning created an urgency for teachers to not only learn new instructional technologies, but to know them well enough to teach them to students. In a matter of days, every teacher prepared their virtual classroom space in order to assign and collect homework electronically, record and post videos of instruction, assess students, participate in live sessions, and much more. That meant that all individuals who work with students, from parents to support staff, needed to learn to use these tools as well.
While all of this change has been daunting, it has also led to new takeaways. Our students are more resilient and have adapted to each learning model change. They have been exposed to an incredible amount of new learning over the past year and have been taught to use technology effectively in order to connect with their teacher, classmates, and materials. Students have used real-world 21st century skills through their use of technology throughout the pandemic to access materials for learning. Engaging in shifting modes of learning has required our students to demonstrate flexibility, creativity, and good communication and collaboration skills, all of which are in high demand in today’s workforce.
The University of Minnesota in partnership with the Wisconsin-Minnesota Comprehensive Center conducted a survey which aimed to collect the experiences of educators, families and students during the first half of the 2020-21 academic year. There were four key findings that were compiled from over 23,000 surveys collected.
- Students Learned.
All groups agreed that students learned during this period. While the extent to which students were learning was perceived by all to be lower than pre-pandemic times, the consensus was that more learning happened in this time as compared to the spring of 2020.
- Support for mental health is needed.
All groups reported that supporting mental health was a top challenge. Students reported that keeping up with their schoolwork was also a challenge, and ultimately impacted their overall mental health.
- Engaging students in learning was both successful and challenging.
All groups reported positive experiences related to engagement in learning, and connection and communication with others, although engaging students in their learning was the highest reported need.
- Successes were reported in technology and COVID-19 safety measures.
Areas of success included use of and access to technology by all three groups. There was also agreement among the groups that health and safety of students and staff was an area of success.
While I look forward to a school year without the constraints due to COVID-19 that we face, I am optimistic that the silver linings of this year will have a place in our future classrooms as we continue to help guide and prepare students for their future pathways.
Source: Minnesota Safe Learning Survey | CEHD | UMN WMCC, April 2021.