Lessons for Offsite Learning from Global Online Academy

Liz Gray, Middle School Head
November 30, 2020

Over the summer, many members of the Belmont Day faculty, including the entire middle school teaching team, attended the Global Online Academy (GOA). The goal of this shared professional development experience was to sharpen our approach and skills with online learning. As planned, we are now in a period of offsite learning that will last until winter break concludes in early January 2021. Liz Gray, middle school head, offers this reflection on the lessons from GOA that are helping to guide faculty during this period. 

When offsite learning began full-throttle last March, a few things became immediately clear to me with my teacher hat on. One was that there was no way I would tackle all of the curricular elements that I had planned to follow in-person.

The Global Online Academy course, Designing for Online Learning, that the middle school faculty engaged in this summer, did a couple of comforting things for me. First, it confirmed what we had already experienced and quickly intuited during offsite learning last spring. Second, it offered new frameworks, tools, and resources to draw upon as we designed for the next time we would be offsite this academic year.

The big takeaway for me, in the words of GOA, is to “divide and conquer” when it comes to planning and implementing offsite curriculum. GOA emphasized what we had learned—that rather than designing online experiences that attempt to mimic the onsite classroom experiences of students, teachers should prioritize the essential skills and concepts to teach. We need to emphasize depth over the breadth of curriculum content and expertly separate what is necessary for each student to master versus what is good to have under their belts. Of course, while we will emphasize the essential elements of each of our curricula this year, we also plan to leverage the “good to have” curriculum as deep-dive options for students in an offsite or hybrid environment. As GOA states it, we will “give students more time to do fewer, richer assignments, rather than try to assign and collect work at every opportunity, and more isn’t always better; it’s sometimes just more.” 

We heard these same words of wisdom from our students last year. One middle school student reflected, “I think that when teachers made the change to a less structured, more independent way of online learning, that worked well. I also think that it was important that the curriculum was flexible because if it the workload hadn’t been reduced, it would have been overwhelming.” Leave it to our own BDS students to lead the way!

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