Widener Education Professor Shares Tips for Transition to Online Learning

By Jessica Reyes, Assistant Director of Communications
Person typing on computer from home

The education sector – from K-12 schools to higher education institutions – has experienced a shift in learning like nothing seen before. Classrooms, very quickly, have had to shift online in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For educators, students, and parents, the transition can be challenging but doable with support and resources.

Dr. Zora Wolfe, an associate professor and program coordinator for instructional technology in Widener’s Center for Education, has been a leader in providing those resources and sharing her K-12 education research with the community.

She is advising several schools, as well as teaching her own Widener students, who are current and future educators and administrators, on how to transition to online learning.

Wolfe shares her thoughts in a Q&A.

How can students successfully transition to remote learning?

Take care of yourself first. Reflect on the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on your life. We are all trying to normalize life and learning right now, but everyone is in a different stage of adapting. That is OK!

Zora M. Wolfe
Zora Wolfe

Then, I advise giving yourself a routine, but also giving yourself grace and flexibility. You can set up an organizational system for classes and work, and then revisit it often to see if the system is still working for you. Are there specific times of the day where you can focus better on your work? Is there a space in your home to organize and keep track of your books and materials? 

Finally, we all need to find ways to connect during this time. Specifically for school, this could mean sending an email to your instructor or joining virtual office hours. That connection could be the motivation to keep you on track with schoolwork.

What advice can you offer parents who may now find themselves homeschooling their children?

The most important thing is to prioritize the things that matter most to your family. All families are in different spaces right now; some may have two parents working from home, others may have a parent working even more hours outside the home. While it is important to establish routines for schooling, that will look different based on your family circumstances.

You can also take some of the pressure off yourself by acknowledging that your children can also learn important skills through daily life and routines. There may be opportunities as a family to read together, learn fractions while cooking, or take an online drawing class. Your children are also learning self-regulation skills as they play independently while you work. These skills and individualized learning can serve them well when they return to a traditional classroom.

Finally, be patient and communicate with your children. They may not be able to acknowledge their stress and frustration with this situation as well as adults do. The goal during this challenging time is to have solid connections with your children. As long as your children are healthy and happy, the educational piece will follow.

Feel free to communicate your child’s needs to their teacher as well. Even more than ever before, you are working together as a team!

What guidance are you offering K-12 schools quickly transitioning to online learning?

More and more schools are realizing this is not an extended spring break. Instead, this requires a cohesive plan that is realistic for teachers, students, and families.

Child studying at home
Zora Wolfe's three children are also studying at home during the pandemic.

All schools can continue to provide quality instruction to students during this time, but it may look different depending on the school and its students. When schools contact me, I do a needs assessment and adapt my advice to where the the individual school is currently at with technology and what it needs to achieve during this transition. Every school is different. For example, a cyber charter school already specializes in online instruction, whereas an experiential learning school may have never used technology in the classroom.

Schools should determine a consistent platform and schedule that is age appropriate. For example, lower elementary grades may need to utilize a platform that helps deliver lessons focused on video and audio, rather than text and typing.

What do you recommend to educators during this time?

I have been emphasizing that educators need to build on their already-existing strengths. They do not have to start from scratch with new lessons or instructional skills. They just need to find ways to adapt and incorporate technology.

For example, a teacher who excels at building classroom community can record morning meetings or arrange a morning Zoom check-in. Those meetings may be shorter than what they would have been in the classroom, but can serve the same purpose, and keep students connected to their classmates and teachers.  

Just as always, educators should first look at their goals and objectives for their students, and then work backwards (Backwards Design) to develop the appropriate lessons, activities, and assessments. Then they can find ways to adapt what they normally would have done to an online environment. Now is a time to start with tools you may already be familiar with, and then slowly add one at a time, if needed, so that you and your students are not overwhelmed.

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