Kids at a computer
During five years as a high school English teacher and 19 years as principal across schools pre-K to Grade 12 I often encountered, occasionally promoted, and eventually bemoaned many of the trends (some said “fads”) that found their way into public education, usually at a faster rate than we could meaningfully adapt. I’ll prompt your memories, or frighten your present depending on your age, with just a quick few: mastery learning, cooperative groups, reading across the curriculum, peer tutoring, basic competencies, values clarification…. However, to clarify one value, it does seem encouraging when a trend wends its way to public education from the field of medicine. Too often in education we are allowed, even encouraged sometimes, to teach from the heart, relying on personal experience and instinct more than on the ever increasing learning science currently available to us. The gap between research and practice remains all too wide in education, but that’s another blog for another day. Medicine, on the other hand, does not parade instinct and preference over science and research. Thank goodness, and I’ll resist all the obvious and comic references to why we’re all grateful for that. One such practice now well established though still expanding is telepractice, or telehealth, defined by the Institute of Medicine as, “…the use of electronic information and communications technologies to provide and support healthcare when distance separates the participants.” An attribute of medicine we should adapt is that they always study implementations for their intended and unintended outcomes. In the case of telepractice “several studies have found that this type of care results in high-quality care, with high satisfaction rates reported by providers, patients, and caregivers.” (Oesterle, Colette; UVM LCOM MS4, January 2017) Applying telepractice to skills and academic instruction is gaining momentum throughout the U.S. and the globe. Across the many models, “30,000 video conferencing systems in U.S. schools, service centers, district offices, and departments of education” illustrate the systemic recognition of the need for a range of digital instruction opportunities (Oesterle, Colette; UVM LCOM MS4, January 2017). Telepractice for direct instruction, coaching, supplemental support, and applied learning allows both learner and instructor to interact in real-time (synchronous) and in re-teach, relearn, review (asynchronous) opportunities to reinforce lessons and skills. Michelle Szabo, Program Manager for Instruction at the Stern Center for Language and Learning, describes how the Stern Center has moved into what she calls E-Learning as an added dimension to their widely successful learner-to-instructor, face-to-face services. Szabo acknowledges the explosion of digital tools and expectations students of all ages and types bring to learning situations. She observes that, in a world of digital natives, it is essential to “support the growing proficiency of students’ personalized learning…to meet students in the digital world, offering personalized support, intervention and coaching.” So, the advance of telepractice is a trend altering practice in education, which merits not only our attention but also our implementation. What medicine used to ensure “high-quality care, with high satisfaction rates reported by providers, patients, and caregivers,” educators can use to ensure high-quality instruction, with improved learning outcomes, and high satisfaction of teachers, students, and parents. Yes, I can see and hear you now!   Photo Credit: Lucélia Ribeiro

Edward R. Wilkens, Ed.D.

Special Projects Advisor

Ed Wilkens served as a Vermont public school principal for 19 years across all grade levels pre-K through grade 12. He lives in Charlotte, VT with his wife and enjoys reading with his grand kids. 

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