Morgan Stanley
  • Now, What's Next? Podcast
  • Jan 20, 2021

New Lessons for Remote Education

Hosted by Sonari Glinton

Transcript

Sonari Glinton:

I'm Sonari Glinton and this is Now, What's Next? An original podcast from Morgan Stanley.

Escher Olson:

The worst thing about online learning is everything.

Sonari Glinton:

This Escher Olson. He is eight years old and that makes him a third grader. Education-wise, for boys, this time is pivotal. Escher lives in Los Angeles and we should note he's the nephew of one of the show's producers. Like a lot of young folks his age, Escher's school life took a nosedive when our lives got interrupted by the pandemic.

Escher Olson:

I've learned to live with it. I wish we didn't have any school.

Sonari Glinton:

When Escher's school, his physical, actual school, shut down in March, he had mixed feelings, as you can imagine, about school closings. Come on. You all remember third grade?

Escher Olson:

Happy I didn't have to go to school anymore but then I got sad and got too emotional. I needed a vacation.

Sonari Glinton:

Problem was it wasn't vacation time. School didn't stop for long, it just went virtual.

Escher Olson:

I hated the weekly Zoom meetings with my class and my mom made me stay for the math class. It was awful.

Sonari Glinton:

There's near universal disdain for online learning at this moment. One survey says 75% of students are unhappy with it. As my own great niece says, "it's like, take school, then take all the fun stuff out." For Escher's parents, their challenge was overwhelming. So they did something a bit drastic. They pulled Escher out of school, packed the car, left Los Angeles and headed North to Canada and to a school set to reopen for the year. They gave up on remote learning and hoped for something better in another country.

Sonari Glinton:

This season on Now, What's Next? An original podcast from Morgan Stanley, we're trying to figure out what life after a global pandemic looks like or can look like. Some of these changes will be subtle, others dramatic, but no matter what, even after the dust settles life is not going back to the way it was before. How is the world evolving in the face of a global crisis and what do we do with this rare chance to rethink our old assumptions?

Sonari Glinton:

This may be a once in a lifetime challenge, but it is also an opportunity to create real and lasting change. Today, what the pandemic teaches us about learning.

Sonari Glinton:

For a lot of families, the urge to flee their local school system for something better, likely predates the pandemic. Education, especially in the United States, has long been in crisis. Individually and collectively our primary and secondary school systems are overcrowded and underfunded. COVID-19 though, forced an urgent and harried pivot to some kind of online learning. Now that rush highlighted problems we knew were already there, like how 20% of students don't have access to decent internet at home and how many don't even have a computer.

Sonari Glinton:

One study predicts that if this continues, low-income students will have lost an entire school year's worth of learning. It's been hard to keep kids engaged in their education right now, let alone keep them socialized, keep them developing and mentally healthy.

Sophie Olson:

He would say things like, "Mom, I feel angry and sad at the same time and I don't know why." And I'd say, "Oh, well maybe you're tired." And he'd be like, "I'm not tired, I'm angry and sad at the same time."

Sonari Glinton:

When school moved online, Sophie Olson, that's Escher's mom, she saw the impact on her son right away.

Sophie Olson:

Then he'd go on a trampoline and just lay there and read books. So seeing his personality change, that was like, "Oh crap. How can we work through this?"

Sonari Glinton:

For this mom and dad, the dominant emotion was exasperation.

Sophie Olson:

They said, "There's no school. Here's a packet of 15 worksheets. We will see you at some point."

Sonari Glinton:

What was the thing that got you concerned or worried?

Sophie Olson:

Well, one of the things that was like a huge slap in the face was that, "Okay everybody, in two weeks we will meet online somehow and you'll get an email and we will do schooling online." So I was thinking, "Cool, let's all figure this out together. Let's all stick together as a community, let's figure this out." And then we started and no one knew what to do.

Sophie Olson:

Parents weren't able to log on. They were breaking down. They were crying. Kids were freaking out. Outside of my child, I heard it from all my friends. They were frustrated, they were cooped in, their routines were completely busted.

Sonari Glinton:

It was clear the school wasn't prepared for this moment. The shift to online was a stop gap and the cracks were showing.

Sophie Olson:

What was missing was the encouragement. As a parent, you can't do it all, but your child is required to show up online every day. So they're supposed to show up. They're supposed to turn in their work. The online learning system last spring did not work.

Sonari Glinton:

Escher's family gave up on online learning. They left the city and moved to Canada because well, they could. Sophie is from Canada. The option to move was available, so they took it. Now, that's not true for most students. Most still struggled to make sense of this. One of those students is Olivia Clark.

Olivia Clarke:

Well, at first I was like, "Yay, an extra two weeks of spring break." And then two weeks turned into six months and I was like, "Wow, okay." But originally, I tried to make the best out of it. I think a lot of people, including me, were like, "Okay, this is my chance to fix myself and I'm going to get everything done and I'm going to come out of quarantine and they're going to be like, 'Wow, she's Oprah now.'"

Sonari Glinton:

Olivia Clark is a 16 year old student in the very underrated city of Columbus, Ohio. And if there ever was a doubt that this young woman is a high achiever, well, in the middle of all of this, Olivia published a book.

Olivia Clarke:

I'm a 16 year old senior, and I am the author/editor of Black Girl, White School, Thriving, Surviving, and, No, You Can't Touch My Hair.

Sonari Glinton:

What leads a 16 year old? When I was 16, you could barely get me to write an essay, let alone a book. What prompted it?

Olivia Clarke:

It was out of hope, I want to say. I've had past frustrating or angering experiences or whatever, but I wanted to help other girls and other little brown and little black girls like me when I first started going to a PWI. So it was less out of anger and more out of frustration that there wasn't anything like this out there already.

Sonari Glinton:

A PWI, that's a Predominantly White Institution, and speaking of which, Olivia's school gave students a choice this year, come back to the classroom or learn from home. Olivia chose remote learning and seeing who else opted out was telling.

Olivia Clarke:

So in my grade, there's only about 44 to 46 girls and all of the girls that chose to do virtual school this semester were black and that's something that... I didn't expect everyone to be black, but I did expect a lot of the people who chose virtual school to be black, just because we know how hard COVID has hit communities of color and the black community.

Sonari Glinton:

Olivia, being the student that she is, can definitely quote you chapter and verse on the health impact of COVID on the black community and she knows her mom is in a high risk category. So stay home, stay safe. She and the other black students at her school have the extra burden of feel like, Well, they have to represent, and I can tell you from experience, that's a hell of a lot of responsibility to put on 16 year old shoulders.

Sonari Glinton:

How do you feel about that, when the black girls are in virtual and the rest of the kids are not?

Olivia Clarke:

That was something I was worried about because there aren't that many. I mean, there's 30% girls of color throughout the whole school. I was like, right now, we just finished a widespread Black Lives Matter movement and a lot of schools are having to rethink how they approach diversity and inclusion. And all of the black girls are gone and I was like, "Oh great. That's good."

Sonari Glinton:

Olivia is asking herself a lot of questions about how her online education intersects with her identity. But it's not only that, the constant need be online for school, it can feel like a waste of time.

Olivia Clarke:

It has made me criticize the way that we do certain learning. Doing virtual school means that I'm just sitting there for 80 minutes and some of those 80 minutes, I really don't need to be there, but it's just me sitting here staring at a screen when I could be doing something else or I could be achieving something of a lot more important, or just do that homework later or do homework during that period.

Sonari Glinton:

Look, Olivia Clark is definitely a kid who is going places. Again, this is the kid who used the pandemic break to write and edit a book and her dissection of what can go wrong with remote learning is exactly on point. But it's likely that some form of online learning is here to stay. The technology itself is often the barrier but if this grand experiment is going to work, teaching methods, they need to adapt to a new virtual environment or else education will fail our kids.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton:

The problem is that when you're learning passively in the classroom to begin with, that is you're just listening, you're not really participating, and then you take that online, that passivity is magnified a thousand fold.

Sonari Glinton:

Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a professor at Arizona State University and here's a bonus, she's the principal investigator of NASA's mission to the Slakey asteroid. When she's not educating college students or planning expeditions to space, she's thinking about better ways to inspire learning.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton:

What was not the best in the classroom becomes really ineffective online.

Sonari Glinton:

She points out that traditionally, education has been a one-way flow of knowledge from the active teacher to the passive student.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton:

What's boring becomes even more boring, but today the difference is information is everywhere. Almost no one is the secret owner of information that no one else can have.

Sonari Glinton:

You know and I know that it is not enough for classes to be just a data dump. Instead, the best teachers work to activate learning based on what the students themselves want to learn.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton:

So what we need to be teaching students to do is how to find, assess, and use the information on their own. We need to be teaching process, and that's a transition that hasn't really happened yet. We're just adjusting to living in the information age, we're just figuring it out. We're baby beginners at this.

Sonari Glinton:

Lindy's own classroom instruction is based on something called inquiry-based learning. Now it's an approach some educators have championed since at least the sixties. And she says, right now, it is a great way to overcome the barriers to remote learning. So fewer worksheets, shorter lectures, inquiry-based learning, encourages the students to not only ask the questions, but the find their own answers.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton:

In pure open inquiry where the students question really leads the process. What we do is we set a big goal for the semester. Goal might be, what does it mean to be an engaged citizen in today's world? And we give the students a little bit of content, just a 15 minute lecture or tiny reading, and then we ask for their first question. And here's where the magic really starts.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton:

We ask them, "What is your natural next question? What's the question that you think that if you answered it would take you a step toward that big goal question for the semester?" We're asking them to take a step away from what they know into the unknown. And this is a kind of question asking that students almost never get to practice.

Sonari Glinton:

What this does is motivates students to follow their own curiosity. And so at home, it liberates them from passive listening and instead inspires them to search out knowledge.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton:

And showing the students how that can work, how you can pursue your questions, do your research, come together, share your answers, help each other improve, all using online tools and working at home remotely, this is really preparation for work and life.

Sonari Glinton:

The best teachers are trying all kinds of ways to engage students, to keep and hold their fleeting attention over the web. One account on Twitter describes a man spotting someone lying on the sidewalk and thinking that he was hurt. It turns out it was a local science teacher with a GoPro strapped to his head capturing video of an anthill for his students. That is nerdy teacher dedication. Now I bet his students love him for this kind of stuff. In fact, the kids are starting to say things you don't expect to hear from them.

Ilana Drake:

I think one thing I took for granted, or I didn't realize how different it could be is not seeing my teachers and not having that face to face interaction.

Sonari Glinton:

That's Ilana Drake and she misses her teachers. She's a senior at the high school for math, science, and engineering at the City College in New York City. But now that she's stuck between the four walls of her family's New York City apartment, she is feeling the squeeze.

Ilana Drake:

We're in a two bedroom apartment and my brother sleeps in the dining room and I think working in a small space with everyone is just very difficult because our dad's in the bedroom and our mom's in the living room. But when you take exams or when you have assignments that are timed, there's a lot of stimulation in the apartment because everyone has their own work and everyone's on Zoom or doing work. So I think that's pretty tough.

Sonari Glinton:

And across the country in Dublin, California, high school senior, Pratham Dalal, is missing those everyday interactions that are such a huge part of the high school experience.

Pratham Dalal:

I think the human connection is really what I want. There's no way to goof off. There's no way to take your mind off of academics for a brief second.

Sonari Glinton:

Stuck at home, young people miss out on a key part of education, the social element. Like interacting with peers and teachers, joining clubs and sports teams, or participating in school traditions.

Pratham Dalal:

Senior year starts off as like a huge community bonding experience. The seniors get to go up on a mountain that's about a couple of miles away from our campus that you can directly see. Students will take bags of flour and they will run up to the mountain and paint their graduation year on the mountain. And that flour stays on that mountain the whole year and all the underclassmen, all the juniors, just look at it and think, "I want to be like that someday."

Pratham Dalal:

That's what we've been looking forward to since 2017, when we came to the school.

Sonari Glinton:

And right now the mountain is just empty. All of this, it's all a part of learning and without it, something fundamental is list. We already know that kids are reporting more anxiety and depression than ever. Is that really a surprise school is about more than just tests and passing grades. It is a rite of passage as much about discovery and interaction as it is about memorizing your times tables. Teachers know this and some of them are really leaning into it.

Sonari Glinton:

Eppie Miller always dreamed of teaching outdoors.

Eppie Miller:

There's a really beautiful wooded space that I just thought would make a beautiful outdoor learning classroom.

Sonari Glinton:

That's Eppie. She teaches pre-K at the Mendell Jewish Day School in Beachwood, Ohio. Eppie has always lobbied for an outdoor learning program, she just wasn't getting anywhere. But in June of 2020, she was winding down the remote school year and her principal gave her a call.

Eppie Miller:

I was told, "Okay, you have two months. When the students come August 26th, we'll be ready for an outdoor learning environment." And it was all because of rethinking the way we do education in the age of COVID.

Sonari Glinton:

Eppie's outdoor classroom is broken up into sections. Over in this corner, there is an open space dedicated to drama lessons, and in that corner, a spot for building things. There's also a meeting circle where everyone can gather and you'll find tables strewn about where students can spread out and do their written work, all while obeying social distancing protocols. And all of it is surrounded by grass, trees and nature.

Eppie Miller:

We also have an area that I call my science area, where I put out hand-held magnifying glasses and binoculars and different books on different subjects. I switch up what's in the science area every about two weeks. So there's always something new for the students to hold and touch and learn from, both visually and tactally.

Sonari Glinton:

Speaking of science, there is a lot of data showing the benefits of outdoor learning. Attendance up, ADHD symptoms go down. Students are more engaged, they actually want to be there.

Eppie Miller:

So much of the learning that's happening is that the teacher is getting out of the way and watching and supporting what these students are interested in and following their lead. So I've never done a unit on worms ever, but we did a whole unit on worms because my class is just fascinated by worms. These are opportunities that would never have happened inside my classroom.

Sonari Glinton:

One of the most important things I've learned studying Judaism is that in the Jewish tradition, the relationship between teacher and student or rabbi and student is sacred. What is taught is as much about the intellectual, emotional and spiritual development, as it is about learning history. That's a lot of weight to put on a Zoom call.

Eppie Miller:

As much as we made lemonade out of lemons with Zoom and we did as much as we could to keep that relationship going with each of our families and students, it's very artificial. I mean, it's over a computer screen. I mean, even in the outdoor classroom, we still have to be six feet apart and we can't hug. We do air hugs or we do elbow bumps if we're really excited about something. So it's not the same as pre-COVID, but we can be together and we can discover together and we can sit and look at each other, which is so different than being on Zoom.

Sonari Glinton:

Here's something, it's not the first time we find ourselves taking the classroom outside in response to a public health crisis. In the early 20th century, in the 1900s, schools held classes on rooftops and in parks to avoid transmitting tuberculosis. We're having to rethink the way we teach in much the same way as teachers did over a hundred years ago.

Sonari Glinton:

This pandemic is giving remote learning technology its moment in the sun and there's clearly an appetite for online learning tools. Programs like the Khan Academy or Coursera were around before this crisis. It can help in areas where students don't have access to quality education or where teachers lack resources. It's an example of how online and offline education can work together.

Sonari Glinton:

We have an opportunity to reimagine how we teach, otherwise families will continue to get frustrated and give up like Escher and his family did. Escher, his mom, dad, and baby brother are sheltering in a small community, not far from Vancouver, British Columbia and as of this recording, his school is still open.

Escher Olson:

Sophie Olson:

It's a computer from the principal's computer. Can I have a smooch? How was your day?

Escher Olson:

Good.

Sophie Olson:

Where's your jacket?

Escher Olson:

In my backpack?

Sophie Olson:

Can you get your hand sanitizer spray, please?

Sonari Glinton:

You can mistake this for a school pickup in the pre-COVID days without the hand sanitizer. But otherwise, this is very normal, somewhat mundane daily routine, helps the family rediscover the joy of education. Most of us took school for granted. It was just there to be experienced or endured, but this pandemic is reframing all of our assumptions.

Eppie Miller:

The most important thing for me as education is not only books or computer. Education is people and experience and adventure. And if you don't have that, I think for a lot of people, you become a shell of a person and you have your whole life to become a shell of a person, it should not happen when you're eight years old.

Sonari Glinton:

I genuinely hope that up in British Columbia, Escher has found that one great teacher to inspire him. Mine was Mr. [Kislefkis 00:21:54]. He was an English teacher with a chalkboard and a book, and he used both to open our minds. That my friends is the work of a superhero.

Sonari Glinton:

Now imagine your favorite teacher with the tools of a superhero. We have an opportunity to turn every class into an exploration and every student into an adventure. Oh, the places our classrooms, our Zoom chats and our students could go.

Sonari Glinton:

Special thanks to my friends at Wire Media who helped interview some of the high school students you heard in this episode. Wire Media is a nonprofit that takes young students and turns them into media professionals. I'm Sonari Glinton And this is Now, What's Next? An original podcast from Morgan Stanley.

 

Students and teachers were forced to adapt to online learning this past year. The pivot gave them a chance to rethink how we teach - and how we learn.

Education was one of the pandemic’s first casualties. When schools closed overnight, students and teachers switched to virtual classrooms—a massive social experiment that hasn’t been easy on anyone. But it also revealed opportunities to rethink the ways in which we teach and what is most valuable in education.

Host Sonari Glinton speaks with students and teachers to find out how their lives have changed when it comes to school. Eight-year-old Escher Olson moved to a new country with his family, so that he could go to school in person rather than virtually. His mother, Sophie Olson, talks about why they made that decision. Olivia Clarke, a 16-year-old student - and new author -  opted into remote learning at her private girls school. She noticed that, like her, everyone else in her grade who did the same was Black. Ilana Drake and Pratham Dalal talk about what they fear losing when they can’t attend high school in person. Professor and teacher Lindy Elkins-Tanton says online learning will fail if we don’t change how we teach. And elementary school teacher Eppie Miller built an outdoor classroom to help her students through the pandemic. Special thanks to YR Media for helping us connect with the high school students featured in this episode.