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Podcast: The State of Remote Learning and PD with Rushton Hurley

/ Jason Sholl

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo Podcast. I am Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad and I'm very excited to have my friend Rushton Hurley on today. Welcome, Rushton.

Rushton Hurley: Hey, thanks. Glad to be here.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Honored to have you on the show today. Now, if you don't know, Rushton has worked all over the globe as a Japanese language teacher, a school principal, a school improvement consultant, an inspirational speaker, and just an all-around good guy. He directs the educational nonprofit Next Vista for Learning, which houses a free library of creative, educational, and service videos at nextvista.org and holds a master's degree in Education in East Asian Studies from Stanford University. He's also the author of three books. Rushton's fun and thoughtful talks and writing is centered on inspiration in creativity, technology and leadership, avenues for engaging learning, the power of digital media and tools for collaboration, and personal-professional perspectives in a technology-infused, ever-changing world. You have quite the resume, my friend, so thanks for sharing your expertise on the show today.

Rushton Hurley: It's such a pleasure to share ideas. We're going through such interesting times right now that-

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, we are.

Rushton Hurley: The more creative our conversations become, the better prepared we'll be to do what our students need us to do.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely, and many educators have definitely engaged with you thus far. As we are tackling this pandemic, our world has changed and it changed very quickly. For years, we've talked about schools transitioning to online learning or remote learning and we see pockets of it happening, but now we are in the throes of it and everyone must change. Everyone must have a plan going forward. So, I feel like teachers are definitely listening and ready for new ideas and obviously, in the end, they just want to ensure that their students are taken care of and that their students can learn during this hard time.

Rushton Hurley: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So, obviously you've been tasked to hold webinars around online learning and remote learning. What is it that you feel that teachers are most seeking for right now during this time?

Rushton Hurley: Well, let's take in the rapidity of the changes. What was really abstract for a lot of teachers only a few weeks ago has become suddenly concrete, and I don't think it's hyperbole to say that, in the educational profession, we are in the most intense period of professional development the world's ever seen, right?

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yes.

Rushton Hurley: So many teachers are engaged in the questions of what can I do for my students? What can I do to make any of this work? So, as we were dealing with this at a school where I spend a lot of time, it was the day that Japan shut down all at schools that we looked at each other and said, "Okay, we need to move into high gear." We spent a few days getting people up to speed on the two accounts that we thought, "Okay, this is just going to be critical for us." It was Zoom as a video conferencing tool and Screencastify as a screencasting tool, because we knew we were going to have people just needing to work with each other using those. Then to say, "Okay, well, what's next?"

Well, there had been this one day in-service planned and it was going to be about something else, but it became one on online learning. So, suddenly we're looking at things like, "Okay, how do people do summative assessment?" You're not going to do some multiple-choice test. The opportunities for cheating in online learning with something like that are rampant. But the better question has always been what makes for a better assessment?

So, you look at something like interactive video. So, whether that's a video conference or a student responding to a prompt by creating a video, and you see the student grappling with an idea, trying to describe it in some ways. If a student can use a video tool to show not just that they have facts down, but that they can create connections and they can begin to describe things in ways that are intriguing to the teacher, then we're hitting a very different speed with regard to what can happen in education. I think what teachers want is to know that we're not just doing a bunch of busy work, here's a bunch of packets to do at home, but that we are actually creating the conditions that allow us to take what we're doing now and to use it for years to come.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. It's interesting you bring up packets and worksheets, and packets and worksheets were never the answer in the classroom and obviously never the answer outside the classroom. I think maybe what happened was that there is a panic, so when you go into crisis mode, you grab what's the easiest thing is to grab there. So, printing off worksheets was an easy thing to do. But obviously we know that during this time, and you said it, we want students to be their most creative selves, we want them to really the exercise their brain and they're not going to have the classroom teacher there at home with them being able to have a structure for different learning. So, they have to kind of figure this out. So, there's a lot of independence, but I think there's some structure that can be provided.

So, as we think about the structure, what have you seen as far as teachers, what tools are they using to connect with their students? Obviously, you have the obvious ones, the video conferencing, the online, we have Google Classroom and we have email, but love to hear more about what you're seeing as far as how teachers are staying in contact with their students.

Rushton Hurley: Well, I think the short answer is any way that's comfortable for both the teacher and the student. I was talking this morning with one of the people in the state education department for the Western Cape in South Africa about how do they deal with the environment that they have where maybe 80% of students in certain areas don't have internet access at home. We talked about what this means and how to get messages across in useful ways.

But, when we think about tools, I think tools generally are part of the spectrum, where we say there are tools and there are learning activities. If you talk about a tool, then the natural development of the conversation should be what's possible in terms of learning activities? If you're talking about learning activities, then you want to ask what are the really interesting tools that we can be using? So, key. For those who are in a space of, what do I do now? Use what you know well. This is not a time to try to probably learn a bunch of new tools, and ask your students for their thoughts. How does this work for you? How could we make it better? If we're going back to students and we're asking those kinds of questions, not only are we probably getting the answers we need for what to do with our students now, but we're also developing a different kind of rapport with them.

I wrote a book called Making Your Teaching Something Special, and the first of the five areas of the very short chapters are within is rapport, rapport with students. How do you get them to believe that you are somebody who not just cares about them but sees potential, sees them as people with the ability to contribute to others? Allow them to see themselves as having a path towards a meaningful life. So, as we look at these things right now, the first step is actually a very low tech one. Ask your students however you can ask them. If that's by email, it's by email, if it's by WhatsApp on your phone, you do it that way. If it's via video conferencing, you do that, but you listen and you act on what they say and you credit them.

I'm big into citing my sources as somebody who does a lot of work visually, but getting a message out to a class that says, "Hey, Nicole suggested this and we want to try this in this way. I think it's promising for these reasons. Let's see what we learn." Soon they learn that their suggestions actually go somewhere as opposed to being things that get tossed out and swept aside.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Really, this really powerful statement that you just articulated Rushton, because so many times, as experts, as educators, we plan for the year. We plan units, we plan lessons and yes, we say we plan with our kids' interest in mind. But how often do we just ask them the question? How simple is that? But I think it goes back to our willingness to relinquish control and our willingness to truly say, "We want you to be in the driver's seat of your own learning and we are strictly here to be the passenger seat and we are going to support you and guide you and give feedback along the way. But you get to decide the how and the when and the where." So, I appreciate the message that you're sharing around asking students about what they need and how they learn best.

Rushton Hurley: Yeah. I think two of the questions that are in that space of what do you ask, one of the questions is, "All right, so I've asked you to do this thing." Whatever the assignment is. It can be anything.

One of the questions is, "Can you make it fascinating?" Because often we don't. We just say this is what's expected. So everybody assumes that they need to do the minimum. But, I had a moment some years ago where I was working with a group of teachers and I'd put them in groups and they were learning how to use, at the time, Google Slides. So, one of them had created a collaborative slide deck, and on each one, on each slide, one teacher would put at the top a geographic fact. So, they put different facts up there and then their job was to go to the other teacher's slides and add questions that follow on from the fact. So they did this and they ended up with these different things, and I came back to them and I said, "So, did you create a slide with the fact at the top?" "Yes, we did."

"Did you add questions on the other people's slides?" "Yes, we did." "Were the questions fascinating?" There was a silence, and then one person looked back at me and said, "Give us another couple of minutes." I was like, "Yeah, sure." So, just a few minutes later, we looked at their slides again and the questions were fantastic. Same group of people, same place, same activity. The one difference was the question, is it fascinating? It's not the case that every student is going to come up with something amazing, but a few will push themselves and they set a bar if how you work with student work is to get it in front of everybody as a point of departure for discussions. So that's one question.

A second question is just for yourself. As you put things together, you say, "Okay, given what I've just created, is it fascinating? Is this something that I look at and I say, 'This will be kind of interesting.' Have I brought something else to it?" This is a time where we have to stop and say, "Is there anything in my head that I can try?" Because often we're in that space of, "It would be cool to try that, but ..." Now's the time. Try it. Ideally, you'll end up learning tons about what you're capable of doing as a teacher, while at the same time helping kids see new possibilities for their learning.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. It's interesting to me that we have to continue to ask that question, "Is it fascinating?" I think about what is the purpose of learning if those are not the questions we're asking? That's truly where it goes from an activity that's loosely connected to a meaningful learning experience.

Rushton Hurley: Absolutely.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I'm also wondering, as teachers prepare, there's a spectrum, I think, of the level of the teacher to student interaction that I'm seeing, We mentioned packets earlier, and I'm also seeing that this synchronous hop on Zoom and have these open office hours or maybe teach classes, and they have these asynchronous kinds of experiences, which, at WeVideo, our mission is to help students make an impact with their voice. So, we're all about them creating these experiences where they're creating a book trailer from their favorite fiction book that they're reading, or let's say that they're helping Mom and Dad and the kitchen and they want to create their own cooking show, so they're creating an explainer video about how to make this recipe. So, those are obviously asynchronous things that can be done because they're creating in their own time. They don't have to jump online at a certain time.

Rushton Hurley: Absolutely.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I'm interested if you've seen any innovative ideas for teachers. Again, nothing you mentioned earlier, nothing that's too crazy because we want something that's simple for students and parents to be a part of, but something that is beyond the status quo that you've seen, where technology is being used for very meaningful experiences?

Rushton Hurley: Well, in exploring the possibilities for webinars for teachers at this time, I was asking myself, "Well, what do teachers need?" Initially, it was just guidance. What does it mean to shift from in-person to online instruction? But for many, many teachers, that was a need and now they're past that need and they're at a new need, which is, "How do I do this well?"

So, the path I decided to trod on this was activities across grade levels. So, I did a webinar last week, doing another one this week, where just take and activity and look at it from the point of, how does this look for the early years? What does this look like for upper elementary? What does this look like for middle? High school? That to me is becomes an interesting discussion. I decided that for the next one I'm doing, which has to do with using images, I brought in a buddy who is a bit of an expert on working with young learners so that we could develop our ideas a little more fully, and we went from, say, two activities to one activity as part of the webinar. I'm trying to keep the webinars down to 30 minutes.

I think that, in trying to describe something at different grade levels, what we're really doing is describing different possibilities in different ways. So, for example, if we are talking about the kinds of stuff we do nextvista.org, which is video contests often, and one of them, for example, is service via video. In two minutes or less, tell a story about an organization or people who make life better for others. Well, we have the resources, we have the finalists from different contests that we've done along this. So, those videos can be videos that kids watch and just react to and discuss, draw lessons from. They can begin to say, "What are the different organizations in our community?" Maybe they engage in their local community at some level doing that.

They can research them, they can begin to discuss what about those organizations intrigues them. They can begin to say, "Well, what would be effective as a video story if we were telling about what they do?" So that can happen as a script, a discussion about a script. They can use the videos that are already there to begin to say, "I like this one for that reason, I like that one for this reason," to be able to really begin to get a sense of there are so many ways to tell a video story. So, by the time you actually get to, "Okay, create a video," you may have done all kinds of activities on your way there. I think that's important for thinking about what we're doing right now. I think the first couple of years I taught, I think what I was really learning was whatever I thought was the easiest way to describe something was not.

So, it was like, "Oh, okay, you guys don't get that. What about this?" They're like, "Oh yeah, why didn't you say it in the first place?" I'm like, "Well, I didn't know too." So, we're all learning as we go, and that's fine. It's totally fine if what we do right now is we figure out, "Hey, this is something that I can prep in this fashion. I can do this experience, this learning experience as a way to build towards something else that I may or may not choose to do." We have a whole lot of flexibility to try things right now and that means that we've got the opportunity to push ourselves in a really nice direction. One of the things I say in the teaching book is, "Little things make you better." Now is the time where we're trying all sorts of little things.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, that's powerful. You're exactly right, you hit the nail on the head with the flexibility. Now that high stakes testing has finally been removed, something that teachers have been begging for for years now, to not have the pressures and stresses of testing. Now we have an opportunity to learn in an online remote environment, and I love the words you say about keeping it simple and giving choice and saying things in different ways that then make sense. I think now more than ever, we have the opportunity to really be innovative. They always say the most creative things come from constraints, and I think we have a lot of opportunities here to do something amazing and to make learning fun for kids even in the midst of the crazy times that we're living right now.

Rushton Hurley: I agree.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Well Rushton, this has been fantastic and I know that our listeners will want to follow up with you and find you and find the resources that you're sharing. So nextvista.org is your website. How about social media, Twitter, where can we find you?

Rushton Hurley: You can find me at RushtonH.com. That's where my blog is. On Twitter, I'm @rushtonh, and I was a little late to Instagram so I'm @rustonwastaken.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Awesome. Well, I appreciate you coming on the show today, especially in the midst of just everything you have going on. I know we'll continue to learn from you and personally myself as well. So thank you again, Rushton, and take care, my friend.

Rushton Hurley: My pleasure, and if anybody listening to this has questions about it, they are welcome to reach out to me on any of those sites.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Fantastic. Thanks so much.

Rushton Hurley: Take care.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Thanks for joining me on the Deeper Learning With WeVideo podcast. If you liked this topic, recommend this to your friends, give us a five-star review, and check out our other episodes on this platform.

Be sure to get a copy of my latest book, WeVideo Every Day: 40 Strategies to Deepen Learning in Any Class, available now on Amazon. You can interact with me on Twitter and Instagram at @drlangraad. You can also check out more media content on YouTube at youtube.com/wevideo.

WeVideo empowers all students to express their ideas authentically and creatively. To illustrate these ideas of sharing stories, broadening perspectives, and promoting student confidence, check out WeVideo on Twitter @WeVideo, or also check out the website wevideo.com/education. See you next time. Bye.

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Deeper Learning with WeVideo explores ways to inspire creativity in the classroom, activities that ignite deeper learning for students, and interviews with thought leaders in education that motivate teachers and influencers in education technology. Listen to us on your favorite podcast apps: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, SoundcloudSpotifyStitcher and TuneIn!

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