A picture showing a group of people participating in a online group meeting
Author: Sean Smith; Samantha Goldman;
info@ciddl.org

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for PK-12 educators to develop skills for using technology to support students with and without disabilities due to the ever-changing learning environments. This is particularly true for the growing virtual and hybrid options that became a must during the initial part of the pandemic and yet remain as instructional options for many PK-12 students. In collaboration with the CEEDAR Center, CIDDL launched a new Affinity Group to build the capacity of higher education faculty to support the development of PK-12 educators in planning, designing, and delivering effective instruction in online and hybrid learning environments. Affinity Groups are a medium CEEDAR has used to bring together a variety of stakeholders synchronously to explore a given issue, learn from others on effective strategies, and further interact to learn and share. 

This Affinity Group will meet the second Wednesday of the month beginning in November and continuing through and including April of 2022. The group will meet online via a video-conferencing platform from 2-3 pm EST (1 pm CST, 12pm MST, and 11 am PST). Registering for other sessions is open. The kick-off session (November 10, 2021) was facilitated by Dr. Sean J. Smith, Co-Principal Investigator at CIDDL, and Dr. Maya Israel, Associate Professor at the University of Florida. Watch the session recording for more information!

Interactive Meetings to Share Experiences

To start, the facilitators shared the purpose of this Affinity Group: to engage with stakeholders interested in the preparation of PK-12 personnel (e.g., pre-service teachers) for hybrid and/or online classrooms. The Affinity Group invites experts and participants to share stories, tips, and resources about online and hybrid instruction through interactive activities. It provides a channel for synchronous professional learning by sparking conversations between stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds. During the kick-off meeting, all participants were invited to share their experiences with preparing pre-service teachers for successful hybrid/online instruction using this Padlet, which is a digital bulletin board.  

Isn’t the Pandemic Over? Why Online Learning

For many educators, building leaders, and the students and families they serve, the introduction of online or hybrid learning was not a positive one. The immediate switch from face-to-face to either remote or online challenged everyone involved, particularly students with disabilities, their families, and the educators engaged to support them. And yet, as we are about to enter 2022, PK-12 schools across the country continue to offer fully online and hybrid options for a number of reasons. Yes, some are due to COVID protocols, but others remain in this digital format due to what it might offer to the student and their family. Fully online learning for the PK-12 classroom did not begin in the spring of 2020. Instead, for the past two decades, millions of PK-12 students participated in various forms of online learning including many enrolled entirely in the online format.  

The CEEDAR/CIDDL Affinity Group on preparing educators for the PK-12 online/hybrid classroom discussed many of the characteristics central to online learning. Participants highlighted that online learning can provide personalized, competency-based learning experiences for students. It provides students access to a wide range of digital content while providing flexible ways to engage in learning activities. Likewise, most, if not all, fully online PK-12 programs are data-driven experiences where the learning and content management systems embed regular and ongoing progress monitoring tools to determine how a student is moving through grade level and/or content level curriculum. Questions then emerge around how to design content and activities that meet the diverse learning needs of students, especially those with disabilities. Smith pointed to an early report, written prior to the pandemic, titled Equity Matter 2016: Digital & Online Learning for Students with Disabilities, which shares policies, research, and resources on practices for supporting the needs of students with disabilities in full-time virtual, blended, and supplemental online settings.

Further the Conversation

As we continue to dive into the conversation on how to support higher education faculty members with preparing pre-service teachers for the hybrid/online environment, what questions do you have? In your experience, what is currently being done to support these endeavors and what areas do higher education programs need to further develop? Feel free to bring your ideas, thoughts, and experiences to our next session on December 8th at 2 pm EST In the meantime, would you like to engage in more conversations? Join us in the CIDDL Community to share your ideas and communicate with fellow teacher educators.

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