Alex Urrea, CEO of Eduscape, has been leading educational companies for more than 20 years. Urrea says passion is to reach as many learners as possible by leveraging technology to personalize the learning process and give teachers and students an active voice in their education.
Urrea spoke to WBGO News Director Doug Doyle about how Eduscape, based in Montvale, New Jersey is working with schools and parents during the coronavirus pandemic.
At Eduscape, Urrea invests his time collaborating with his team and partners to provide schools the support they need to design and nurture engaging and exemplary learning environments.
Urrea began Eduscape in 2007 to bring the best resources, digital and other technology resources into schools, but more to empower teachers to use them in their pedagogy.
Alex's idea came way before anyone had heard about the coronavirus which has forced everyone to think about online learning.
"I think what's most rewarding is that teachers are more willing to take risks now than ever before. Teachers are learning that these tools that they had at their disposal all these years and maybe were not trained as well as they could have been or a little bit anxious to use, can actually be great resources for them well beyond this time as we enter a new normal in education. They may remember the challenges but I think they are going to embrace the opportunities to have learned these tools even though they've been kind of drinking from a firehose to try and implment their remote teaching plans. I think historically we'll look back on it and it may have some great benefits."
As a parent of three children, Urrea says he's learning too during this unusual time. His son is in college and he has two daughters in high school.
"What I'm learning is not just that I knew all my kids were different, different personalities and strengths, but this new modality of the way they have to learn is tapping into some areas of their strengths. Also, I'm seeing one of my children learn a lot better in this format. She's more self-directed and has less distractions than she had before. While the other one who is more structured, I think is finding while she's getting her work done timely, I think she's struggling because she likes the social dynamic of the classroom a little more and doesn't get distracted. So having this structure or this really open ended learning is just impacted the kids differently. And then my son falls right in the middle. They all learn differently but this is impacting them academically in a way that I really couldn't have envisioned before."
How stressful is that in his home?
"Given their ages and the fact that were blessed with devices and their own internet they're doing okay that way but we're the exception. I feel for so many stories I've heard from teachers who are teaching a class of 24 or 30 students remotely and they have to ask their own two or three children in the house to pause their devices because it's slowing her down from teaching her students. It's not just time management, it's resource management and allocation. All these different organizational structures and skills they we didn't know we needed to apply in our own households are impactly a lot of people right now."
Urrea says even though some teachers are newbies to online instruction doesn't mean they are struggling right now.
"Great teachers are great teachers regardless of the circumstances. They roll with the punches. They know how to adjust. There are a lot of great teachers that hadn't embraced technology to this point but who are still getting results. One thing we can't abandon as an educator is the need to plan effectively. In New Jersey, more than other states, we're blessed with great resources. What we're also learning is that the rapid migration to remote teaching and the challenges they're in is proving that teachers enhance technology not the other way around. Before teachers were fearful of what is technology is going to do to use or change us, but now they're realizing they're in control of this. It's up to them how they use it, when they use it and how they adapt to its impact."
Alex says he's finding out that teachers are playing a critical role when they learn that a student has had a tragedy in the family. He says what helps the most is communication.
"Not close communication like text to text but having meetups outside of the regular rigor of the virtual school day where kids can get together online and not learn but communicate and talked about what else they're doing with their day. How are they keeping themselves occupied during the weekend? We need school districts to encourage teachers to allow for this to happen and build it into the school day so that kids can almost have recess together online and allow that communication. Kids need to vent in other ways."
When it comes to technology, Urrea says the challenges lie with the younger grades for teachers, with pre-K through fourth grade. He stresses they not be as comfortable using technology.
"To reach those kids it's a little more challenging online because they get more easily distracted. Teachers need to rely more on interactive applications that align to their curriculum to engage students in learning and making sure they're staying on task. If there's a parent or older sibling that can facilitate teaching for the younger student it's always helpful."
Eduscape is addressing those issues for parents.
We've done a number of webinars and they're all free. One of our webinars has been a parent as a remote learning aide and it's been very popular because parents are struggling themselves. They're basically homeschooling. Our webinars are called 'Continuity of Learning Webinars."
What's the latest project for Eduscape?
"We are working on creating a dashboard to facilitate teachers teaching remotely and online. The idea of the platform is to help teachers organize their resources different than a LMS (Learning Management System), more open ended where they can build their own dashboard, go to the e-learning that they need to meet them where they are help them "self-elevate" their practice when it comes to this. Then start to build and curate resources that they can easily apply as they really adjust to this new normal."
Urrea says he'd like to see a lot of the telecoms step up more.
"They have wonderful foundations and they do alot, especially our Verizon in our backyard and AT&T, but I think there needs to be a program where kids in these urban areas are given WiFi hotspots in these situations. And we allow for E-rate funding from the Federal Government which exists at the tune of nearly three-billion dollars to allow schools and districts to maintain banks of WiFi devices in case this happens again."
Click above to hear the entire conversation with Alex Urrea.