Little did Neshaminy District Instructional Technology Coach Jim Gosser know how much things would change when he started his new job three years ago, well before pandemics were on anybody’s radar. He had always been interested in finding new ways to use technology in his classroom as a science teacher for 18 years. In his new role, he was able to explore new ways to engage students, offer differentiated instruction and share his enthusiasm for technology with his colleagues across the District.
While the District’s IT Department made significant progress integrating 1:1 technology and new educational applications during that time, the onset of the pandemic in March accelerated the process rapidly. After a few short weeks of preparation, teachers quickly moved their lessons online, and a little-known app called Zoom suddenly took center stage. Using Canvas and a number of apps, students and teachers finished out the school year without seeing their schools, or their classmates and colleagues, again.
With the start of the new school year, the District administration decided that in order to truly succeed in this new environment — instead of just survive — the use of technology would have to be at the center of everything, and every Neshaminy teacher and administrator would have to be ready to use it effectively every day. To that end, four more coaches were added to help Jim form a Instructional Remote Learning Team. Brian McPeake from Neshaminy HS, Chuck Lumio from Maple Point MS, Katrina Hunt from Walter Miller ES and Adam Lorence from Poquessing MS joined him as “Instructional Remote Learning Coaches” in August. Each brought their teaching experience and love of educational technology to the task, and immediately got to work preparing for the challenges of an unusual school year.
Their first goal was to solidify Canvas as the main Learning Management System for the District and Zoom as the primary conferencing tool. The group prepared training videos for the teachers, support staff and students. A Canvas hotline for parents was set up, which was answered primarily by Mr. Lorence. Mr. Gosser held interactive Canvas webinars. The team set up a Professional Development website, which they loaded with training videos for everything from laptop set-up and Zoom best practices to educational applications and assessment tools. Teachers can access these videos during training days or review them as needed.
The next goal was to create a “virtual presence,” shifting away from simply posting worksheets and lectures to creating online classrooms that use engaging, collaborative tools to keep students interested in learning whether they are at home or in class. This means that even when students are attending class synchronously online, they are able to have the same project-based, collaborative experience that they receive in school.
To accomplish this, the Instructional Remote Learning Coaches trained their colleagues in a variety of applications including: Nearpod (a collaboration presentation tool); WeVideo (video creation tool for students and teachers); iReady (a math and reading program that offers individualized lessons and games that vary with a students progress and needs) and a variety of Google and Canvas tools. They spend their days in classrooms working with teachers and students to make sure these tools are working and these efforts are reaching every student.
Under their guidance, teachers who may have never edited a video or set up a live web conference before are now managing multiple media connections at once, creating their own entertaining educational videos and sharing then with colleagues across the District. Teachers and parents can use online tools to track student progress in real time on multiple projects from multiple locations.
Such rapid progress doesn’t come without hiccups and adjustments. According to Mr. Gosser, the Remote Learning Team is constantly looking for ways to make the technology easier, more effective and even fun to use. The goal isn’t just to get through the current pandemic, but to create tools that will be used now and well into the future to keep students excited about learning whether they are in a classroom, in a cafeteria, on the bus or in their living room at home.