According to the University of Michigan, asynchronous learning - also called location independent learning - “is the idea that students learn the same material at different times and locations.” Synchronous learning means students are learning a subject at the same time and in the same location, such attending a lecture.
Which model should a school system like the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union embrace? As it turns out, some of each.
Tine Biolsi, the district's math coach, said one of her aha moments came while watching a webinar about remote learning, which inspired her to shift her understanding about these new methods.
Biolsi - who credits her young children with helping to guide her in understanding what it means to teach young people remotely as well as juggling work and parenting - had originally thought the process would be for the district to select technology for offsite learning and adapt learning to it.
But she realized a better method: first, identifying what students needed to learn and what skills they needed to build, and then finding technology for teachers to meet those initial goals.
In the case of WSESU, teachers have created learning activities that include a mix of joint screen time (such as all students attending the same Zoom meeting for a lecture) and independent activities.
Holiday said that teachers have piggybacked on the food delivery system to deliver work packets to families every few weeks.
“We don't want our kids totally learning online,” Holiday said.
Dummerston School fourth-grade teacher Molly Stoner has enjoyed using a teaching method called “flipped classroom.”
Under this model, students start with independent learning - for example, an assignment to read a book or watching a movie - before a class. The teacher then uses classroom time to dive deeper into the subject through discussion or other activities.
Meeting state standards during a pandemic
Initially, with the shift to remote learning, Biolsi and her fellow coaches, along with the curriculum coordinators and Superintendent Lyle Holiday, focused on interpreting guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE).
The normal curriculum “looks vastly different in this new realm,” Biolsi said, because schools are systems designed for education. Learning happens as home, too, she said, but in a very different way.
Feedback from families also informed how the WSESU does remote learning. Parents have shared with the district what is going on in their own homes, such as trying to work remotely themselves.
Teachers have also provided their insight on what it has meant to shift from classroom teaching - a skill set most have mastered - to a virtual classroom.
In the physical classroom, teachers have practiced adjusting their instruction to meet a variety of student learning styles, Biolsi added.
In the virtual classrooms, teachers and coaches have needed to adjust how they support the same struggling students, she said.
“There are some differences just in the way we reach students who are struggling when they are at home,” she said. The goal is to learn new ways to meet those needs in this new setting, to “create a little bit more equity for all involved.”
Using the AOE guidance in conjunction with feedback from families and teachers, the team created an outline for teachers.
“That's been a big shift,” she said.
WSESU Curriculum Coordinator Deb Kardane said she finds the new ways teachers are finding to engage students are inspiring and innovative.
She said that the way staff have come together as a single team “has kind of blown me away, to be honest.”