By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
It was 10 a.m. Wednesday and Grand Canyon University K12 Educational Development’s Corinne Araza, Marni Landry and Carol Lippert weren’t where they usually are – a jam-packed, bustling classroom speaking excitedly to students about STEM and college, or guiding teachers on classroom learning techniques or how to avoid educator burnout.
Instead, they each were bordered by separate tiny Brady Bunch-like boxes on a tiny computer screen talking to educators remotely from their homes.
They posed this icebreaker question via educational gaming platform Kahoot!, which appeared as a pop-up screen on the computer: “Would you rather be a tiny rhino or a giant hamster?”
Consensus: tiny rhino.
Then came the big question, at least to the group of educators who logged into the department’s Weekly Wednesday Webinar, “Engaging Students in the Online Environment.”
The question: “How would you rank yourself in virtual instruction readiness?”
You could almost hear the virtual silence.
Virtual instruction has been the much buzzed-about term educators across the nation are quickly becoming familiar with as they prepare to start teaching students in a remote-learning, online environment in response to coronavirus-related school closures.
The Canyon Professional Development team, a branch of K12 Educational Development, was undaunted. When it comes to virtual-instruction readiness, their message to teachers: We’ve got your back.
The Weekly Wednesday Webinars (broadcast at 10 a.m. Wednesdays, Phoenix time) are just one of the new initiatives the department has launched in the past week, along with a YouTube channel and more, as it continues to support teachers and their work in the classroom.
When schools closed and online learning became an inevitability, “we just leaped into action and said let’s put it on a YouTube channel -- we know we can do this,” said Araza, Director of STEM Outreach and Program Development. “The one thing I love about GCU is that everybody is so willing. They have a smile on their face. They’re, ‘Hey, we’re in this together and let’s serve one another,’ so I really appreciate that.”
Educators have shared how they’re drowning in resources being offered to them from various sources, so Canyon Professional Development started to think of ways it could help. It didn’t want to duplicate what larger institutions with behemoth resources are doing. And it didn’t want to overwhelm educators even more with a barrage of information without a lot of direction.
Araza, along with Landry, the K12 STEM Outreach Manager, and Lippert, Executive Director of K12 Outreach and Education Program Development, immediately started talking about all the resources to which they were connected.
They wanted to share those resources.
They wanted to helm webinars.
They wanted to make short videos.
“We’re small but mighty,” K12 Educational Development Communications Specialist Amanda Steele said of Canyon Professional Development, which wanted to translate that into how it would help teachers. “We decided we’re going to do more of a boutique experience."
So they created the YouTube channel, which not only houses archived Weekly Wednesday Webinars but a Tip of the Day, Tip on Demand and Practical Tips for Parents seeking to find activities for their children that are also educational.
Wednesday’s webinar covered not only Kahoot!, an educational, game-based learning platform in which students answer multiple-choice questions, but Zoom, used for video conferencing, web conferencing and webinars.
One of the Tips of the Day: How to make your online searches as efficient as possible by using hashtags. Another Tip of the Day: Try using Flipgrid, a social learning platform that allows teachers and students to share with each other via short videos.
And here’s a Tip on Demand, which are specialized “made-for-you” videos in response to a specific educator’s question. The first Tip on Demand came after Wednesday’s webinar and addresses how teachers can do assessments in the world of virtual instruction.
Steele herself posted a Practical Tip for Parents video on hand washing, which she shot at home with her 8-year-old son.
The effort to make these short videos and post them on YouTube seems to be filling a gap “because teachers are a little scared and a little overwhelmed,” Steele said. Diving into emails that lead them to pages and pages of online-learning tools might not be something they have time for or want to navigate. “We’re just trying to come alongside them. We’re letting them know, we’re walking as close to you as social distancing allows.”
This boutique approach of short, digestible videos, tips of the day (often highlighting cost-free resources) and longer webinars just may fit the needs of Christian schools, for example, which might not have the same resources other schools do.
“So many districts and schools, especially Christian schools, they don’t have the support like a large, public school district, so they might not have Google Suite for Education. They might not have Microsoft tools at their disposal. They might just be needing free versions of different technological tools,” said Araza. “So our main push is to customize professional development. What do you need and then let us give you a tool that helps you do what you want to do rather than here’s 95 tools, pick one.”
In addition to the YouTube channel, the Canyon Professional Development team has been posting an Inspirational Sunday series on social media, and the team is creating online lessons and activities for students on Facebook @SEA.GCU, Twitter @GCU_SEA and Instagram @gcuk12ed.
Also, the group is giving GCU’s education students the opportunity to earn practicum hours, which usually involves hands-on teaching.
“We’re giving practicum hours to College of Education students if they are, No. 1, online with us and so they’re learning to teach in an online environment, but, No. 2, we’re offering them an opportunity to create online content that they can teach, either in a webinar or Tip of the Day or Tip on Demand,” Araza said. “We’re offering that to College of Education students that are grounded because they can’t go out and be in schools right now.”
Of course, all these resources aren’t limited to K12 educators. When it comes to distance learning, GCU faculty can get customized help, too, on the team's YouTube channel.
“It’s just a blessing and a privilege to be able to come to teachers in any way, shape or form and to just offer some support,” Araza said. “That, I think, is our biggest message.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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