What is Distance Learning?

What is Distance Learning?

So what is distance learning? According to the definition given in the dictionary, it is “a method of studying in which lectures are broadcast or classes are conducted by correspondence or over the Internet, without the student's needing to attend a school or college.

“A method of studying”!  That sounds easy enough.  However, what happens when the situation forces you to have to conduct classes online on a system that you have never used before, with students that have never had that experience nor have the necessary technology to do so?  Add to that, students that are in their elementary years.

Distance learning allows educators to reach their students from anywhere through online instruction and interaction. However, there are new sets of components and situations that come into play.  Student engagement in this method of teaching is an issue that is not as effectively addressed, as it would be in the physical classroom.  Gaging student understanding by asking students questions and receiving immediate feedback is new challenge that arises. Being in the physical classroom allows the teacher to “read” student responses and understanding.

In researching distance learning, I found a YouTube video of an interview with Dr. Shannon Pufahl of Stanford University in which she discusses strategies for success that when implemented makes the transition into distance learning much smoother. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzU5h0cFSEg

Dr. Pufahl discusses the anxiety of performing duties that are completely new and out of our comfort zone.  She states, “there is so much that happens in the classroom when you are teaching [classes] that rely on things like your own personal charisma or your ability to work on the fly in an environment that is familiar to you.”

Dr. Pufahl emphasizes researching tools that are available.  She speaks about creating tutorials on how to use each tool in order to make online classes more effective.  Translate what you do in the classroom into a virtual setting and “make explicit the things that are [tasked] to you” by using videos, class notes and starting discussions so students do not just “walk cold into a kind of virtual room.”

”As teachers, we should take care to diversify our pedagogical tactics. Using both synchronous and asynchronous elements, as well as preparing students to use technology effectively, are essential to a well-run virtual classroom. We often think that moving a class online means we must minimize or overhaul our approach. But the virtual classroom is only one point of contact between students and instructor, and many of our most reliable strategies will work just as well online as in-person.” (Tips for Teaching Online: the “30 Rock” model, Dr. Shannon Pufahl (Stanford University)

Dr. Pufahl discusses tips on running online classes more effectively.

1.     “Make students aware of what will be accomplished in the online class meeting and what the expectations are for their participation,” recommends Dr. Pufahl. At the beginning of class, you may want to screen-share your agenda to remind students what will be accomplished. Prior to the live meeting, you can also email students prompts, exercises, or small group assignments. “In my experience,” Dr. Pufahl shares, “keeping an online discussion focused can be a difficult task — using prompts and other kinds of content prep can help a lot.”

2.     Dr. Pufahl suggests, “Before you begin an online discussion, consider preparing students in two ways. First, give students the opportunity to learn the basics of your online conferencing tools. Set up an open-ended trial time in which students will learn how to log on, how to use functions such as mute, and how to ‘raise their hands’ or signal other kinds of participation.”

3.     Time management and pacing in our situation changed due to the time constraints and technology available to students. Students need “time to be silly and “play around” with technology tools, so that they become more comfortable using them. In the process, students may discover new features, and can help share ideas or troubleshoot problems they encounter later”.

So what does distance learning mean to our Amigos Por Vida Team?  It is a change of setting in which the expectations remain the same.  The approach, given the circumstances, changes but each teacher revises the delivery of instruction in order to accommodate for online learning.  Amigos Por Vida uses Microsoft Teams as the primary tool to deliver virtual classes and to create and grade assignments. Teachers also use Teams to communicate with students and provide resources, such as videos and other online websites that provide practice skills.  Each teacher has adjusted to meet student needs; some create videos as an introduction to the skill taught during Virtual Classes.  We are out of our confront zone, but we have to remember, so are our students.


Mr. Hernandez