Lessons Learned from Curriculum Writing and Virtual Collaboration

Over the last few months, I have completed a few grad classes online for my Educational Leadership program, and I've also had the chance to work on the curriculum writing team for the English 9 course at my school. In addition, I taught a summer course and had to collaborate weekly with students and other colleagues.
In the spring, we were all thrown into crisis mode. For many of us who are continuing with virtual learning in the fall, we have more of an advantage in that we can be more prepared to provide equitable instruction.

I'd like to share some thoughts/reflections from the work I've done over the past few months in hopes that it might provide you with some reassurance, tips, and ideas.
1) Be mindful of the live virtual expectations we set.
  • I'm grateful to have the privilege of having a conducive work environment at home. Other than my two crazy dogs, I rarely have any interference. I have no children, I have a comfortable, quiet place to work, and I can create a background for my videos that is not distracting. This is not the case for many people. This would not have been the case for me in my childhood home and through my high school experience. I would have wanted to keep my mic and camera off as often as possible. Even now, many students and even our colleagues are in situations and households that we are temporarily being invited into. We must respect these boundaries.
  • Asking people to keep their mics turned off is one thing. Teaching Internet communication etiquette is valid (such as NOT TYPING IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME). Even asking people to be respectful to one another is okay. What we want to not do though is tell people that they have to be 100% present the entire time, that they can't drink or eat during the video, that they need to be completely interrupted. These situations and experiences are not ours to control. I'd ask you to consider setting norms and expectations with your students, together.
2) Requiring synchronous, collaborative work is challenging for many people.
  • For my grad class, we had to meet in small groups of about six people to complete a weekly project together. This meant that we had to schedule both synchronous and asynchronous opportunities. Because of our various schedules, we ended up having to Zoom chat at 7 AM on a Friday. 7 AM on a Friday. Now, for those of you with children and summer responsibilities, maybe 7 AM doesn't sound too out of the world for you. But...for me. My alarm was set at 6:55! Now, we were all adults. We all had degrees. We were all teachers. And...we all wanted nothing to do with those group projects.
  • We have to remember what we do not enjoy as educators because if we don't enjoy it, why the heck would our kids enjoy it? I know there is tons of research to support collaborative learning opportunities, and I want to make it clear that I am not saying let's not do it, but I am saying we should be mindful of what that requires from our students, and equity must always be at the forefront of those discussions.
3) Condense the amount of clicks/pages students have to access.
  • I'm seeing a lot of great ideas on social media regarding ideas for the fall. We have these awesome Bitmoji classrooms, super interactive Google Slides and Google Sites, and other great tools and strategies. As part of the curriculum writing work I did, we listened to the feedback from parents and students. One of the feedback patterns was that sometimes, the different platforms were overwhelming for students. They also made note that sometimes, there were too many links to click and pages to access. Especially with regards to assistive technology and for our students with IEP/504 accommodations, we do want to be mindful of accessibility. 
  • As you design your work, try to keep students on the same page as much as possible. In Schoology, you can use the Page feature to embed videos, notes, examples, and more. On that same page, you can link the assignment. When possible, keep students in whatever platform you are using to reduce distractions and confusion. I also often consult the UDL Guidelines for my work.
What else have you learned from your experiences that you think we should keep in mind for the fall? Let me know in the comments!

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