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Adopt Best Practices for Instruction and Technology

Technology should only be used to enhance, not replace, in-person learning in our schools. In many cases, the use of technology during the pandemic deteriorated the learning experience and placed unnecessary burdens on teachers and students. Teachers reported concerns about student and family privacy, frequent distractions, the integrity of student work and the lack of access to reliable internet.

 Guarantee In-Person Instruction as the Core Learning Experience

Students reported that online classes necessitated by the pandemic provided important contact with peers and teachers during building closures, but students did not prefer remote learning over in-person school.

“Remote learning was a band-aid that was plugging a chasm of issues. I had kids who had never before experienced anxiety shutting down. I will never forget the night I got an email from a student that simply said, ‘I just can't.’ She never realized how much she needed face-to-face interaction; she was describing how much a smile meant to her and how she needed teachers to ask her about her game or what she was reading.”

~ Lori Atkinson, Copenhagen Teachers Association secretary and high school English teacher

Some students who were already disengaged in school became even more disengaged – checking in briefly to satisfy attendance requirements before turning cameras off, disappearing into the background of the online class.[1]

Teachers reported that concurrent teaching (working simultaneously with in-person and online students) was ineffective and counterproductive. The return to in-person instruction this fall reinforced the power of face-to-face, one-to-one teaching and learning that develops strong teacher-student relationships.

Future Forward Task Force Recommendation

School districts should support in-person, face-to-face instruction as the core learning experience for students. In the event that remote instruction becomes necessary, due to ongoing pandemic-related school closures or student and staff quarantines, concurrent (simultaneous) instruction, in which teachers are teaching students both at home via video conferencing and in the classroom, should not be utilized.

Additionally, when classrooms are open for full in-person instruction, school districts should not be required to provide remote instruction to students unless individual student needs require access to instruction as determined by the district’s Committee on Special Education.

The Task Force recommends that NYSUT remain opposed to fully virtual, remote schools that do not adequately meet the needs of students, nor provide the diverse educational and developmental opportunities that New York students and families demand.

 Bridge the Digital Divide

Access to the internet and computer technology was a must pre-pandemic and is even more critical now. For many families, the lack of in-home computers and reliable high-speed internet service obstructs access to learning and basic services. Students may have access to the internet, but only through a single shared device, often a cell phone. Some families have no access to the internet at home due to unreliable or unavailable cell service.

During the pandemic, schools worked to place devices in the hands of every student, but they were not able to bridge the digital divide caused by inadequate internet service. A summer 2020 report from Common Sense Media found that 726,000 students statewide lacked an adequate internet connection and 567,000 were without an adequate device.[2]In some cases, schools provided internet hot spots that were useless in homes with no cellular service. School, library and even fast-food restaurant parking lots became sources for Wi-Fi networks for many families.[3] [4] [5]

As part of the 2021-2022 state budget, the Public Service Commission was directed to create an internet access map to show areas where internet access is lacking. The report and map are due in 2022 and should be used to create a plan to eliminate internet access deserts.

Future Forward Task Force Recommendation

Schools must address the digital divide in their communities by identifying families in need and partnering with local providers, public libraries and other community organizations to support multiple opportunities for internet access.

As part of the 2021-22 state budget, internet providers are required to offer low-income families internet access for no more than $15. While this was a good step forward to providing internet access, a fee of $15 may still serve as a barrier for many families. The budget did not address internet access for families who do not have permanent housing and live-in transitional housing. As such, the Task Force recommends that NYSUT urge the Legislature to make internet access accessible by eliminating the requirement that low-income families with students be required to pay a fee to access this service. Task Force members are also concerned about students residing in transitional housing, such as shelters where internet access is not provided. To ensure that these students have access, we urge passage of legislation to require these facilities to provide residents with internet access (S.3593 Biaggi/A.8552 Reyes).

 Utilize Technology to Support Family Engagement and Complement Learning

Technology can be used effectively to support a student’s education and parent involvement. For example, the use of videoconferencing to conduct parent conferences during the pandemic often resulted in increased parent attendance, to nearly 100 percent in some schools.

Instructional practices, such as the flipped classroom, were in place pre-pandemic and found more widespread use during the pandemic. In a flipped classroom, rather than lecturing during the class and then assigning new problems or concepts that advance the day’s lecture as homework, a teacher may choose to provide a video lesson for students to watch and take notes from at home (also allowing them to go over the materials as many times as needed). Then in class, the new problems or concepts can be introduced as group work, giving the teacher the opportunity to work closely with students who need one-on-one help.

“My son’s math teacher is doing a flipped classroom and she is really helping kids learn self-management through that. They’re learning self-responsibility for what they need to do at home and what they need to do at school. Even though it’s just a procedural change, it’s helping them learn those skills.”

~ Amber Chandler, Frontier Central Teachers Association President and middle school English teacher

Expanded collaborative teaching and learning, use of learning management systems and effective parent communication are all examples of pre-COVID practices that were more widely adopted and equally successful during the pandemic.

Future Forward Task Force Recommendation

The Task Force supports NYSUT’s opposition to the use of technology to take the place of in-person education. In the event remote instruction is deemed necessary due to individual student needs or pandemic-related shutdowns, districts should solicit regular feedback from teachers, students, and families to ensure student needs are being met.

Digital literacy should be incorporated into every subject and classroom to fully realize the effective use of technology to enhance learning. The Task Force supports the ongoing development and implementation of NYSED’s Digital Literacy Standards within New York’s Digital Fluency Learning Standards.[6]

 Provide Professional Learning for All Staff and Adequate Time for Planning and Collaboration

Professional learning helps keep all school staff on the cutting edge of instructional practice and educational technology. In many districts, teachers were not provided adequate training as the pandemic emerged and its long-term impact was realized. Some teachers were handed devices at the beginning of the pandemic and told to “figure it out” without any ongoing support throughout the year.

Adequate time for individual planning, as well as collaboration with colleagues, is essential to support educators in the classroom. The pandemic amplified an already critical lack of planning time for teachers. New pandemic-related duties, staff shortages and district-imposed initiatives have resulted in significant stress for educators that threatens their success and that of their students. It is critical to re-establish important planning and collaboration time into educators’ schedules to allow them to accomplish these essential duties.

Future Forward Task Force Recommendation

Targeted support for teachers, student-centered professional learning and dedicated time for teachers and support professionals to master and coordinate new technologies is essential. Opportunities for parents to learn and develop skills, such as family technology nights or partnerships with local libraries, also help support access to new technologies.

There are 125 state Teacher Centers across New York that played a critical role in assisting educators and community members in transitioning to learning online. These Teacher Centers are well-positioned to support professional learning, as well as community engagement on technology. The Task Force recommends increasing financial support to these centers to expand the invaluable work they do, restoring funding to $40 million per year, an investment not seen since the 2007-08 state budget.