What students? Where?


July 3, 2020 by Dr. Robbie Barber

This post is week 3 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. The prompt is: “What insights do you have about your students after #RemoteLearning?”

First, let’s be clear that we are talking about our recent (March 2020 – June 2020) EMERGENCY remote learning. This is not the same as online learning. And, I can honestly say that when our emergency remote learning kicked in, my students disappeared.

The first two weeks of our school’s closure (March 16-27, 2020) was the busiest of my career. I found myself working with teachers from 7 a.m. until I stopped answering emails and texts around 10 p.m, including weekends. While we had an online LMS, it was not robust and a number of things quickly broke down when the entire system tried to access it. Plus, due to the nature of the emergency, we had so many technical issues it was disheartening. Certainly, I helped students via teachers. Teachers and administrators contacted me about a problem with a student and I either got them a solution to share or gave them a reference number to call.

But, my daily load of student interactions was gone. I went from having direct contact with 50 students on passes and 3 classes in the library on a very slow day to having no direct contact with students. At the same time, the internet lit up with resources that needed to be sorted and curated. I had so much to share that it was overwhelming. But how to share?

I created a website called “E-Books During COVID-19” and shared on the school’s website, on teacher emails, on Twitter, and on Instagram. I shared with other teacher-librarians. I posted to the community’s Facebook page. But still no student interaction. This gets into a whole discussion of passive systems (websites) versus interactive (learning management systems). Static systems do not change (much) and dynamic systems are constantly changing. They each have their use. A constantly changing resource is annoying but a completely static website quickly becomes useless.

Then I was asked to help our IB French teacher give her oral exams online. The teacher was not comfortable with the online recordings and put off to the last two days getting her students’ work done. My job was to create the online space, record, share the images necessary for the test, and verify the recording got to the IB Coordinator. Here finally! was contact with students. And, I found out how difficult it really was for them. One student, who I know to be more technically advanced than a lot of his peers, had trouble getting everything set up so we could start the recording. Another student came online to the meeting from her car parked in the public library parking lot. Her twin was 4 hours late to her appointed time. I learned volumes right then and there about the issues of our students.

I created a Google classroom for my Reading Bowl students. Five of them joined the class. Most did not. I set an online meeting and was thrilled to talk to 3 students. But they were honestly tired. It was 10 a.m. on a Friday morning and two said they were going back to sleep after our 20 min. chat. I admit that I felt guilty waking them.

I did work with IB students on their extended essays because of a teacher leaving the school district. I found it interesting that in one case the student wanted to meet online and do a video recording so he could go back and reference it. Another wanted to do an online meeting but without the recording – he just wanted the chat messages with links I had provided. The third just sent an email (just one!).

Thinking back to my regular – now M.I.A. – students, I realized that I would have no more contact with my dual enrollment seniors. These students took all or most of their senior level classes at various colleges in the state. Several came to me at the start of the year to get permission to stay and work in the library when they did not have classes. Knowing that some of my students did not have internet at home, this was not a difficult choice. There were agreed upon rules and students could use the facility (and myself) for help in doing school work. I missed these students the most – knowing I would not probably see them again. So I sat down and wrote down their names. Then I started writing letters.

In the end, I wrote about 8 letters. But these letters were written to students who may or may not have had other interactions at the school. They were full-time college students during their senior year of high school. As it happened, one of my college students had a twin who attended a regular set of high school classes. Her sister would come in most days to visit her during lunch. I didn’t feel right writing to one student and not including her twin sister. So they each got a letter. I mailed them all and hoped their addresses in the system had not changed.

What are my insights about my students due to emergency remote learning? First is that “learning doesn’t happen by accident” (Darby & Lang, 2019, p. 4). Learning that took place during this time occurred because students and teachers sought out help. The implication is that only the self-motivated will get the work done. But that is not fair. My motivation to learn at 16 was more about grades and moving on. My motivation in learning now is truly because of interest. Second, engagement is necessary. Online meetings, emails, feedback(!), and assessments are required engagements to help keep everyone on track. Third, online access should be part of the daily routine. This may be the most important thing I’ve learned. I cannot create an online school library media center for accessing when we are remote. I need to provide engagement with the online media center – even when we meet in person. Tossing up a static website is not enough. I need to have my own online classroom and be planning interactive activities to help my students learn to be good researchers, good digital citizens, expert computer support, and, of course, find a great book.

Postscript: During drive-through graduation gown pickups, I volunteered at the school (masked, distancing, etc.). The twins came in their father’s car and both leaned out to say ‘thank you’ for their letters. I was thrilled to know that at least those two arrived. Good luck in your future, ladies! Stay safe!

Dr. Barber (with her new graduation cap in the background) & Ms. Poole

Reference: Darby, F. & Lang, J.M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

One thought on “What students? Where?

  1. Denise Krebs says:

    Dr. Barber, what a great reflection. It was fascinating to read this detailed account of your experiences during the school disruption, and yes it truly was emergency remote learning, something none of us signed up for. I can really relate to your first two weeks being out-of-control and for me were also “the busiest of my career.” It was crazy! Fortunately, we figured out a few things along the way and made it more manageable, but it was all so difficult.

    This is a great primary source history of this unprecedented time. Thanks for writing out your experiences in such detail. The letters were a great idea, and I’m sure all eight were received with gladness. Bless you!


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