Bellevue computer science teacher shares tips for teaching online

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Eastside Education Network board member Chad Magendanz is a computer science teacher in the Bellevue School District. Prior to joining BSD, he served two terms in the State House of Representatives, representing the 5th Legislative District. He previously served as president of the Issaquah School Board. And, relevant to our Q&A below, he also represented Washington State PTSA on the state’s Online Learning Advisory Committee. We asked him to share his perspective on teaching classes online.

QUESTION: What are the challenges you see that students face staying engaged with an online class?

The most important thing that students need to know about an online class is that it’s a real class, and that their classwork will count just as it would in a brick-and-mortar classroom. At this point school districts and the teachers union in each district are trying to work out what grading and assigned work will look like, now that the State Department of Education (OSPI) has instructed districts to come up with plan by Monday, March 30 to educate all students while schools are closed. Absent meaningful grading, my experience as a teacher has been that few students will attend online classes and and even fewer will take them seriously.

QUESTION: What advice do you have for teachers just getting started with an online platform for a class?

My experience teaching online about two weeks now with Microsoft Teams has been very positive. The thing to remember with teaching online is that you often don’t have the same opportunity to read student expressions to confirm attention and comprehension. You’ve got to make a point to randomly call on students to verify that they’re understanding the content, and that’s especially true when the video feeds are disabled and microphones are muted (which can often be the case to preserve bandwidth). You should also leverage the technology as much as possible for asynchronous learning, which allows students to return to watch content they missed previously on demand later. Record your sessions and make all presentations and lesson collateral available online so that students can review them later at their own pace.

Chad Magendanz – BSD Computer Science teacher

Of course, keep in mind as a Computer Science teacher I’m reasonably comfortable with technology which may not be the case for everyone (students and teachers alike). I’m also fortunate to have the advantage of having served for two years as a TEALS instructor, which now provides most of their instruction online to remote school sites. My TEALS training always considered both in-person and remote teaching scenarios.

Editor’s Note : TEALS ->Technology Education and Literacy in Schools is a Microsoft Philanthropies program that connects classroom teachers with tech-industry volunteers to create sustainable CS programs. Volunteers support teachers as they learn to teach CS independently over time. This program began in the Issaquah School District. Learn more here.

QUESTION: What are some limitations to an online learning platform?

Group activities are a bit challenging to do online, but you do have the capability to spawn off “channels” in most online learning environments for students to collaborate in groups. Your IT department may also disable the ability for students to present to the class, although in many cases you can override that setting to re-enable it. At the very least, they should be able to give an oral presentation, but I like it when they can also practice presenting their findings by sharing their screens.

QUESTION: What can traditional brick-and-mortar schools learn from online learning? Can this type of platform help improve in-class instruction or make work easier/more efficient for teachers?

I’ve been using Microsoft Teams since the beginning of the school year for assignments and file sharing, which has greatly benefited my brick-and-mortar classes. Shedding paper has been a godsend, and I no longer have to worry about shuffling stacks of papers around or matching up papers with no names. There’s an electronic log of assignment submissions and grading is often automated or done via a online rubric where I can quickly assess grades in a transparent fashion and leave thoughtful feedback. What I hadn’t been doing is recording my lessons, and I’m tempted to continue that practice when we return to our regular classrooms.  I think that has huge value for the students who miss class or fall behind, even if many teachers might have concerns about their every word being captured on video.