Social distancing brings unique experience for education majors

Social distancing brings unique experience for education majors

I n an effort to protect students, faculty and staff, Georgia College, along the with entire University System of Georgia, moved to an online format for all classes in the middle of the spring semester.

Many courses never taught in an online format were restructured and reimagined to fit the online model. But the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education were felt beyond the college classroom.

Prekindergarten through 12th grade schools across the state also began teaching online, presenting a new challenge for student teachers.

“I was student teaching 4th grade at Lakeview Academy in Milledgeville with Mrs. Crane,” said senior early childhood education major Grace Lynch. “The immediate reaction from my partner teacher and I was to begin brainstorming how we could allow our class to flow just like it did in class online.”

Lynch reads to students.
Lynch reads to students.

Although their courses taught them how to use technology in the classroom, this unique situation wasn’t taught in textbooks and required new ways of thinking. Student teachers like Lynch say their preparation from the College of Education (COE) helped them to quickly shift their perspective and allowed them to get creative with how they taught.

“One of the most interesting things I have been able to do was a book report choice board,” said Lynch. “Students were able to choose from multiple books where links were provided, then they did a book report of their choice in a creative way, such as a comic strip, a book review or a commercial,” she said. “This allowed for the students to have a lot of choice while also hitting a lot of the comprehension and writing standards.”

That’s just the beginning. Lynch’s students created an amusement park based off their knowledge of area and perimeter units. She also integrated two “brain breaks” into every digital learning day—something incorporated a lot in the physical classroom— “so bringing it to the digital learning platform kept things somewhat normal for my students.” She’s not alone. Dozens of future educators went digital to continue to engage their students.

“All of our students have been expected to continue their student teaching throughout the transition to online learning,” said Dr. Holley Roberts, interim associate dean of the College of Education. “Our teacher candidates have been in their student teaching placements the entire school year, so they are an integral part of the classroom. Therefore, they were expected to provide support to their partner teachers and their students just as they would in the classroom.”

They’ve done that in a variety of ways using many different tools available. Students created  videos of themselves reading books or other instructional videos by using Loom, iMovie or other video methods. They used apps like See Saw and Class Dojo to have conversations with students and families. They monitor student progress through apps like Splash Math, Epic and Freckle, as well as host Zoom meetings with classes and setting up experiences in Google Classroom.

“The College of Education has always provided instruction to teacher candidates in utilizing technology to enhance instruction, however, this experience has forced the candidates to be creative and innovative in how to teach at a distance.”

“While this is not a circumstance that is something we would seek, we do know that this opportunity has provided a unique time to try new online tools and to seek alternative ways of connecting with students in a virtual environment,” she said.

Learning to use new tools was just the beginning for Lynch. This experience gave her valuable experience for her future career.

“I was able see the importance of routine and schedule,” said Lynch. “I also learned the importance of reflection on student work and feelings that can be seen through their work and reactions.”

“The future is uncertain, but the students who are graduating this semester and who have transitioned to distance instruction with their school systems and partner teachers have learned valuable lessons regarding pedagogy. They have also been challenged in new ways to address the emotional and physical well-being of students and families,” said Roberts.

Students complete their capstone presentation online.
Students complete their capstone presentation online.

Students and faculty at Georgia College have also had to adapt as their courses and experiences went online.

“The College of Education has adapted well to the online environment,” said Roberts. “Most of our faculty teach face-to-face and either online or partially online courses during the academic year, so switching to online was not the learning curve for our faculty.”

Every spring semester, graduating seniors must check several boxes including their capstone presentation to faculty reflecting on their entire experience in the program as well as completing edTPA for certification.

“The students are completing an online portfolio in LiveText as they have always done, which contains artifacts from their time in the program, and where they address professional standards in their specialty area,” said Roberts. “The students are completing their presentations to a panel of faculty through WebEx or Zoom.”

“We have also uploaded over 200 edTPA, a required certification assessment, through virtual upload sessions,” she said. “Typically this is done face to face in the computer lab. COE faculty, Center for Teaching and Learning staff and COE graduate assistants provided technical assistance through the WebEx upload support sessions.”

This extra attention and support during uncertain and challenging times makes all the difference for students like Lynch. “The faculty and staff at the Georgia College helped me immensely with online learning,” said Lynch. “As far as GC supporting me all together beyond digital learning, edTPA fell during this time. The amount of support staff that was on our online upload session blew me away and kept me calm from the stress that this assessment brings.”

“I have been through a lot while I have been in the cohort from running cross country as a college athlete to losing a parent, and the GC family came around me and supported me like no one has” she said. “I am forever grateful to have been a part of the College of Education, and I cannot wait to further my degree to get my master’s degree at Georgia College.”