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Remote and Distance Learning during Covid-19: Lessons from Australia

Before there was Zoom, Microsoft teams, Go-to-meeting, Webinars, and all these exciting new tools which enable remote experiences, there was (and is) Australia – a country of large, wide spaces, very long distances between people. Some Australian ranches are larger than some U.S. States. Families live on them, and often, children are raised in these settings. Australia has been practicing distance learning long before Covid-19 came along. While I lived in Australia, I learned much about how they operate. In these models, there are ideas to meet our new demands of teaching children who may not be able to physically come to school.

In earlier times, when these far-away homes had children, instruction was accomplished with two tools – the two way radio, and the mail (and sometimes materials were delivered by airplane). Periodic packets arrived. Some learning was self-directed. Other learning required adult assistance. But a key element was the appointment each child had individually with their teacher – sometimes once every two weeks for about 30 minutes. For ranches (and actually they don’t call them ranches, but you get the idea) without electricity to the outside world, those two way radios were run by someone pedaling them.

Even when I lived in Australia in 1992, distance learning was alive and well. University (called “uni’s in local lingo) researchers were beginning to add some computer instruction in instances where families had desktop computers, and fax machines which enabled assignments and feedback to reach students more quickly than only through mail.

One of my university classes I was assigned to teach was a distance learning class (through the Burwood Campus of Deakin University). An office at the campus was dedicated to assisting with distance learning. I would prepare the packet of instructional materials for teachers seeking an advanced diploma. Those were mailed. My teacher ed students returned assignments by mail, which arrived to the distance learning office, and where I would go and collect them.

Three times during one term, teachers met in person with me for an entire Saturday. For them, it meant a long drive. A location was selected that suited most. Others had to come Friday evening and book a hotel room, and maybe stayed Saturday night as well. Each teacher had to pack all their own food, as there were no food services in even the semi-remote location where Saturday classes were held. These sessions were enjoyable, social, and packed with learning to make the most of the opportunity.

All in all, you could say these “Uni” classes were a hybrid model. They mixed remote and in-person learning.

Not all students in rural Maine have computers and internet. But they probably get mail and have telephones. Maybe even facetime, or skype, or facebook messenger on a family telephone.

Throughout this pandemic, people the world over have had to get creative and resourceful and consider other ways of doing things. That’s been one of the redeeming qualities of an otherwise dismal period of time for businesses and education. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this crisis will not be over until we are all vaccinated against this dangerous organism in our midst. SO we need to continue to innovate to do what we need to do, and to do it safely.

Any educator who wishes to discuss this with me further may leave a comment and I will respond. Perhaps a good conversation can generate idea and solutions.

Wendy C. Kasten, Ph.D.

Professor Emerita

School of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Studies – Literacy

Kent State University

wkasten@kent.edu
Belfast

2 thoughts on “Remote and Distance Learning during Covid-19: Lessons from Australia”

  1. Hi Wendy. Such very good information you share on distance learning in this article! I hope that educators will consider ideas such as these and that there will be a robust conversation about how to conduct the most effective learning possible during the crisis that we’re in. I have news to tell. I slipped on Pineneedles at the clothesline two weeks ago today and cracked my humerus bone into places at the top and tore the rotator cuff. I just had surgery -on this past Tuesday at the inland hospital here in Waterville Maine. I elected to have the surgery here -a plate and screws to put me back together, because this house is better planned for someone who is recuperating. Everything is on one floor no stairs like in Dunbarton that I need to use, the bath is close to the bed, and the scenery is great! The surgeon was really wonderful, and I found out he has a fabulous reputation. Both of our daughters are taking turns coming up from New Hampshire in Rhode Island to help Bob cook and take care of me while they work from home. I’m doing pretty well as far as pain goes and transitioning to managing it with over-the-counter meds. Still can’t even think about moving this right arm very far! So I am afraid that any plans we might have had for meeting have to be put off, but the good news is that I’ll probably be here for longer in the fall, perhaps till the end of October. But I have no idea how long physical therapy will last. I hope your summer has been uneventful as far as health issues, and I hope you and Chuck are able to enjoy the good weather. Sending good wishes and looking forward to when we can meet. Joyce

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Hi, Wendy. Interesting article. I always enjoy reading your pieces. Fortunately, I am not involved I. Teaching in these difficult times. But, I hear from a couple of Florida teachers and they are terrified of going back to classrooms. I do pray for all this. I look forward to your next post.

    Like

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