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Teaching 24/7

Shannon C'de Baca

I walked into the high school I attended in the mid-1960's and was comforted by some of the changes I saw in terms of flexible room arrangements and technology. Then a bell rang and I was back in the 1960's. The students still move from teacher to teacher six to seven times each day. We have made many changes, but we have not altered the most powerful variable in the equation: time.

I teach online—and have seen how time can be used differently. Can ... and must. I have nine students who work more than 40 hours a week on a family farm, eight that handle a significant share of the child care for their working parent(s), six who work two jobs, and many students who have added my class to an already packed daily schedule. I can not teach from 9am to 4pm and meet the needs of all of these kids.

In my classes we negotiate my day to day schedule. The content is always available and my direct instruction is used much more strategically. Students have a regular video meeting with me twice weekly often on Skype. I can usually gather them into three or four working groups and those who miss a meeting catch up using the archived video or email. Here I handle all the questions relating to instruction and some of the labs. We always have three or four asynchronous discussions going. Administrative information (announcements, grades, updates, deadlines and schedules) is posted and available 24/7.

I teach chemistry and I can tell you that deep abstract knowledge requires some think time. Students need to see a concept several times via a variety of lessons and contexts. My goal for my students has always been mastery, and sometimes it takes students more than a day or even a week to reach deep understanding. But some time ago, our assessments began prioritizing coverage. Coverage involves a rigid schedule. Mastery requires more flexible use of time.

Lots of blended classrooms are using time more like online instructors. I think that in the future, face-to-face teacher interaction may be considered more carefully: What is the best use of this time? What groupings, what schedule, how many kids, what kinds of virtual space? All those variables come into play ... but "school time" must span 24 hours, seven days a week.

Changing the schedule in my online classes meant more instructional time for my students. When my students see time as a commodity and a variable, they spend more time with content. My students log on for about five hours of synchronous time each week and put in another 12 to 15 hours on evenings, weekends, and holidays. When we give teachers and/or schools permission to control time, we make better use of it.

Shannon C'de Baca has been a science teacher for the last 34 years. She currently teaches a blended online chemistry course.

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