Oct 06 2020

Q&A: Sarah-Jane Thomas on the Power of Remote Learning Collaboration

The regional tech coordinator sees educators stepping out of their comfort zones and supporting each other through the challenges of working almost entirely online.

Teaching isn’t easy.

That’s something most educators would likely confirm, especially now that many are navigating remote learning or hybrid instruction. Ready or not, most have had to quickly adjust to managing classes in virtual environments to comply with safety needs brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. They’re also confronting the challenges of adapting instruction to go online as well as issues of digital inequity and access.

Sarah-Jane Thomas

Despite those all-too-real hurdles, teachers are also stepping up for their students and for each other. In Prince George’s County (Md.) Public Schools, Regional Tech Coordinator Sarah-Jane Thomas sees teachers stepping out of their comfort zones. They’re creating videos and leveraging digital tools to create synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities for students and families, she says.

Thomas, who was recently named to the EdTech 2020 K–12 IT Influencers list, is also an educator who shares insights and resources on platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. She described for EdTech how educators are embracing innovation for remote and online learning.

EDTECH:  What are educational technology trends or opportunities for innovation that you are exploring because of expanded remote learning?

THOMAS: I wear multiple hats, so I am fortunate to be able to see this opportunity through a few different lenses. In my role as a district regional technology coordinator, I see many more colleagues embracing creativity and creation in the classroom. For example, video is more ubiquitous, and allowing students to create to demonstrate learning, as opposed to simply recalling, is a shift in the right direction.

Similarly, I am seeing more and more educators being willing to share their expertise and best practices with the greater community. Now, I’m seeing a larger number of Facebook groups, podcasts, professional learning opportunities and books being produced. This is amazing to witness, as we all have something we are good at and can share with others.

DISCOVER: Find tips for livestreaming and recording compelling video lessons.

EDTECH: How has the pivot to remote learning permanently changed the way you do your job?

THOMAS: I’m seeing more educators willing to step outside of their comfort zones in order to connect with students and families. Again, video is the first thing that comes to mind; in the district where I work, we are using tools such as Flipgrid, Zoom, Screencastify and Google Meet for synchronous and asynchronous learning.

READ MORE: Learn about Google Meet's unique remote learning features. 

EDTECH: How are you, or the teachers you work with, using existing technology in new ways?

THOMAS: My role is not classroom-based, but in my role with the district, we are offering professional learning sessions on things such as Zoom, Wakelet, Flipgrid, Bitmoji and more.

EDTECH: How are you encouraging your peers to use technology for teaching and learning, now and in the future?

THOMAS: Both in and outside of my work with my district, I am connected with dynamic educators all over the world. My biggest encouragement to my peers is to share their expertise — even if 50 million other people have shared on the same topic, no two people have the exact same slant. I encourage them to use technology through collaborative projects such as webinars, podcasts, collaborative books facilitated through G Suite, documentaries and course offerings.

Editor’s Note: This Q&A is part of a series featuring educators and technology experts who are K–12 IT influencers, weighing in on the innovations happening in their school community and in education at large during remote learning. Check out the first and second articles of this series.

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