How Can We Create An Online Learning Support System At Our College

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Welcome to the world of campus support. I recently volunteered at an elementary school in Silicon Valley where I met many talented teachers who did great things every day, but I realized one thing I’ve discovered through my work with graduates is how much time they spend on admin.

When I talked with one teacher whose young son is bright and engaging, she said that she spends so much time on admin that even when the kids are not in class, she has to get her list of things done—taking care of forms, learning every textbook, missing registration deadlines and printing by the end of the week so she can present to the administration and navigate a way out of the excessive time—to make sure she is on track, that the needs of the students are met and everything is aligned to best practices. She could get by fine if it wasn’t for these admin responsibilities.

I’ve also found that most people work hard to be good coaches to their students or faculty, but when we get into a race to make something come together on time or onto a standardized test, our care for the children begins to fade. Being a good coach requires a lot of time and attention to details and to see things beyond what’s required—but when we are so consumed by the to-do list, our mind can easily slip down the rabbit hole and become fixated on other things—and that can negatively impact our ability to lead, hold students accountable and give them consistent guidance.

Now, I’m not advocating that we shut down the process of preparing for and testing for performance because of the flood of paperwork required and the hours of work required to create the right worksheets and align them. A valuable component to effective process is workflow recognition, which is an organizational system that helps prioritize and ensure we’re doing everything we can to create a healthy learning environment. And so now, when I think about how we can be excellent coaches when we are creating digital learning support systems, I tell my staff, “Find out what each student needs and how their school process has been structured to meet their needs. We need to design a system that best meets their needs, because it gives us everything we need to make their lives easier and more efficient.”

For example, if one of the demands I make on my team is to quickly ensure that students have all the books they need for the upcoming testing, I need to establish a mindset in my team that they can only spend time with students so much on paper. So, we’re designing an app that will help them streamline this process so that their time is spent with students as much as possible. The product will automate the sorting process in a way that increases their access to students and thus keeps them focused on their students. The goal is to help students become more connected, creative and supportive instead of more disconnected.

To launch this system, we are doing a research study with a sample of 100 sixth graders to see which ones need extra help reading for the upcoming report cards and how we can make it easier for them to engage with the school. What I’ve learned is that we have to pay special attention to what our students need, and that means having a filter for all assessments (whether they be standardized or informal) and how we allocate our limited time, and then applying that filter for all supports and tools that we have.

This filtering system of maximizing the time spent with students is a foundational element to a successful digital learning support system. It also goes a long way to making a difference for everyone. It makes teaching feel like it’s super fun and we can enjoy it more than when we are doing a drill and figure out how we will do it. It also means that any time we get away from that drill, we get the kinds of moments that students are looking for when we teach—reflection, talk, game time, play and discussion.

I can’t tell you how much my former colleagues and I owe to our former colleagues for making a difference at our own campuses, so the more I can share, the better. Talk with your college community, ask them for their ideas and let’s get started.

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