Trans-literacy: A silver lining to distance learning

An interview with NapaLearns Fellow of the Year 2020, Lisa Gottfried

Mario Piombo, Director, Innovation
Published on April 27, 2020

NapaLearns is starting this series to connect with our NapaLearns Fellows, connect with educators that are close to NapaLearns work, and to provide insight into “What does it look like in the world of an educator right now?” because, as you know, things have really been turned upside down when it comes to teaching and learning; for teachers and for parents and for students. In today’s conversation, Mario Piombo, Director of Innovation with NapaLearns, and was joined by Lisa Gottfried, New Tech High School, digital media educator and NapaLearns Fellow of the Year in 2020.

Watch this two minute video excerpt to hear Lisa Gottfried discuss the impact and silver lining of the COVID-19 driven school closures.

Watch the full 30-minute video with Mario Piombo, Innovation Director, NapaLearns

How has life shifted for you as a result of what’s happening?” – whether it be personal or in your teaching?

Lisa: When we first started, I was all excited because I actually home schooled my kids for seven years. So I was super excited actually to be able to home school my third kid who I’d never had at home, and that quickly dissolved as I realized the workload that I needed to do, and that I was not available, like I used to be when I was a home-schooling mom.

But now there’s just so much to do! For example, she wants help with her writing at 11:00 at night when I’m just exhausted and have been through the wringer all day long, trying to work. And she’s not getting a huge amount of work done. So as a parent, I’m a little worried about that. I’m going to get on her case today and see if we can get some work done.

Then as a teacher, I usually teach in an asynchronous manner in the classroom. So I don’t think I would change much in the way of my practice other than some of my students don’t have access to the applications that I teach in the classroom. It’s an access issue. I have to rethink how to set up the lessons and how to teach them. Now, it is much more, “What is the lesson?” based on what they have or don’t have available to them at home.

Many lack the broadband access needed for online-learning

Mario: Access is a reoccurring theme that we’re hearing from educators and parents, whether it be Internet or devices or down to specific applications in your situation. Everyone has technology, but they don’t all have access to the same level of applications or connectivity or maybe households have students sharing a computer or sharing multiple computers among multiple students or multiple adults who are trying to do their work and telecommute.

Lisa: I just got off a call with 120 international educators. This is a worldwide problem and a worldwide concern. They’re talking about ways that they can reach kids with TV and with radio and other means of media.

As it relates to access, can you explain what asynchronous learning is for people who may not be familiar with it?

Lisa: Asynchronous learning is basically where I take a child through a lesson through screen casts. I record myself walking them through a lesson. We talk about it. I show them my screen. The whole lesson is packaged. It would normally be the lesson that I would teach from the front of the classroom.

But the reason why I switched to recording myself is that, first of all, I lose half of the kids when it’s a live lesson. It’s a constant fight to get kids to pay attention when I teach from the front. This way, kids can actually access the lessons when they’re ready for them, or when they go back to a lesson and look at it again.

When I was in the classroom, I became just the support person that was there to answer questions or to help them puzzle through their thinking process. It freed me up, especially in a really large classroom. I taught—sometimes it was almost fifty kids in a room at one time with another teacher, but I’m the only digital design teacher in that moment.

You have to allow kids who want to move forward when they’re ready

You have to allow kids who want to move forward, to do so with lessons when they’re ready, and those who want to go slower to do so when they’re ready. It’s been a great equalizer for students who learn at different paces, and then it’s a great thing—especially in high school—to be able to say, “Look, I’ll teach from the front if somebody needs it. If you don’t feel like you can actually pay attention right now, I’m okay with that. You do not have to be here for this workshop. Go on the computer. Go access the videos that says exactly the same lesson I’m teaching right now.”

It is one of the most amazing ways to manage my classroom. I never have a kid walk away and say, “I’m going to go watch the video,” and I immediately get kids to noncoercively pay attention in class because they recognize there’s a value to have an in-person person teaching a workshop in class. So that’s been awesome for me.

Mario: What I really love about the asynchronous model is it’s really learning on demand, right?

Lisa: Yes. It’s a specifically targeted video. Here’s what you need to do next. Here’s what you need to do after that. Here’s what you need to think about, and it’s very specific to that project that we’re working on, which is kind of like using YouTube, only I’m making my own.

Do students create their own videos?

Lisa: Yes. It’s actually part of their oral communication grade. I will often have them, once they’ve done a project, reteach something that they learned in that particular project. Then we’ll use those videos over again. If they’re really good, we’ll use them in place of me for a tutorial, or we’ve used them to teach people all over the world on how to do really cool things on the computer.

What tools do you use to build those asynchronous learning opportunities for students?

Lisa: At New Tech, we use a learning management system called Echo. It’s a way to serve the links to the videos and then all the videos go up on my Google Drive. I don’t use YouTube anymore because we had problems with losing the videos—I lost years of content when we moved from to for our emails.

Mario: How do you actually do a screen recording for asynchronous learning?

Lisa: For me, I have a Mac. So I use QuickTime, which is built into every Mac. other people who are on PCs can use Screencastify. There are other screen cast programs and you could even use Zoom to talk and walk through what’s on your computer.

And the cool thing is, for students, it really gets them thinking about procedural thinking, how to follow directions. If they have to write their own directions, all of a sudden, they appreciate the directions that their teacher is writing for them. So there’s math and some thinking there that’s kind of useful.

It also augments what they just learned. Say they just learned how to use a certain tool. Then they have to go teach somebody else, which I do a lot in the classroom, too, like “I’m going to teach you how to do this. You’re going to teach the next person.” With the recording, if they don’t remember, then they have to go back and look again, and it really cements the lesson for them.

LOL is an acronym for Link Online Learners, an international effort to connect kids from around the world during the COVID-19 school closures.

I also wanted to ask you a little bit about your new project: What’s LOL?

Lisa: So there is a group of international educators, consisting of about five core people. In addition, there are about fifteen to twenty other people all over the world who are a part of, which is an organization that helps to promote innovations in education around the world, and they’re members of the Adobe Education Leader Program, which is also an international organization of Adobe educators.

I tapped into a couple of really important networks that I have. Link Online Learners (LOL) came about because a friend of mine who lives in Yorkshire, England, and I were talking via Zoom three weeks ago when all of this was first going down, and we were both pretty upset about it. We were meeting to talk about education but really it became a conversation about “What’s going on with you with the virus? What’s going on in the United States with the virus?” and I walked away from that conversation, feeling so much better that I wasn’t alone. Even in England, somebody was going through the same stuff and had the same questions. So I thought, “Well, if it’s making me feel better, I want that for my students. So how do we have that happen?”

So at the same time I posted this idea on Facebook and said, “Hey, does anybody want to use their Zoom rooms and get kids together because it’s so isolating being at home? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get kids from around the world to talk to one another?” And it just exploded from there. About twelve of us got together and said, “What would that look like if we were going to do this?”

A Facebook post kicks off LOL

Lena is my cohort in Denmark and she is awesome. She got our website up and running and within less than a week, we had a logo. We had a Facebook page, and we decided that we were going to host teen and tween chats and young adult chats so that people would feel less isolated. We had ten to twelve different countries participating, anywhere from Mexico to Vietnam to Czech Republic to the US, Denmark, Venezuela.

We usually start our pilot calls with a doodle board. We ask a question like “What was the latest snack you ate today?” and someone liked kim chee. Some things that we’re used to having are extraordinary to people in other countries. We just have fun with that. We put some music on, and we talk to one another, and we draw.

Then we usually give a quick icebreaker assignment like “Go run and get a snack and show us what it looks like from your country.”

So there’s Marmite and Nutella, and these really spicy peanuts and roasted seaweed, and, of course, in California, Takis are big. And my friend from Mexico got super excited when he saw the Takis. That was great.

Sharing favorite snacks from around the world during a LOL meeting.

We’re going to start doing another round of pilot calls probably next week where we’re going to have interspace groups. LOL has just been generally, “How are you dealing with the virus? What’s a typical day look like for you? What does it look like outside your window?” It’s super fun conversations with kids.

There are adult chaperones so that it’s safe with educators. Right now, we’re looking at how do we keep students as safe as possible? How do we get kids talking more and have adults talking less? We currently have not opened this up to the public yet. We’re still keeping within our small groups, but we have reached about 150 kids so far.

We have room for about another 150, maybe 200 kids, just based on the volunteers that we currently have. We’re looking for sponsors and celebrities to come and do like an icebreaker for us.

I would say, stay tuned to the website because it’s changing all the time. Pretty soon, we are going to launch this thing publicly or allow people to run their own Zoom rooms, if they want, but really it’s just about like reaching across cultures. There’s so many commonalities to who we are around the globe that you can reach across country to country. You can reach across generations. You can even look at school cultures in the same town or family to family. What we’re saying is, there’s never been a time like this where we have had so much in common globally, that we should really reach out to one another and start raising global citizens because that’s what’s required. We could end wars, if we have kids talking with other kids from other countries and realizing that we’re not enemies.

How are you looking to integrate LOL into your classroom? Do you think at some point you’ll have some kind of assignment where students are actually collaborating globally on digital media projects?

Lisa: There’s a really big push, especially from some of the Vietnam contingency that they want to do projects right now. They want something meaningful because kids are so bored. Oh, my gosh, the kids in Vietnam are starting their third month of being in isolation, and a lot of them can’t even go out and go for a walk. They live in cities. They’ve not left their apartments for three months.

There’s no limit to what we want to do. It could be possible that we’re just laying the foundations for an international school. I just don’t know where this is going to go. I know that, of course, yes, we are going to collaborate when we get back to the classroom. My daughter’s involved in this, too. She sat in on one of these calls and she’s already saying, “Oh, I want to be friends with Mei in Vietnam” or “I want to be friends with Stacy in Canada.” If we can make those connections, it’s super easy to do a collaborative project together once we get back in the classroom.

Mario: It’s kind of like the idea of penpals back in the day.

Lisa: Totally, but way more immediate and personal because you’ve now been virtually in their home, or you’ve seen who they are, not just through a letter, but you can see them and talk to them and learn more about them pretty quickly.

What do you imagine a fully developed LOL platform looking like?

Lisa: I think we could become a hub for whoever wants to run a Zoom room on whatever topic they want and that kids could participate. There will always be, we think, four different times that calls will be offered, like every six hours to hit every time zone, and then people could register. It might say, “Monday at 2:00 in the afternoon, there will be these Zoom rooms. One will be on anime. One will be on music. One will be on sports,” and then kids would register for the topic and time they’re most interested in. Then they’d automatically get an email that says, “Here’s your link. Be there at 2:00 p.m. Can’t wait to see you.” It’s something along those lines.

We’ll vet whoever is offering Zoom rooms, just to make sure that they’re safe, and they have some kind of credentials. We’re working on that vetting process now. Once that’s in place, and somebody is approved as a moderator, then they could run their own Zoom rooms around a particular topic of interest. There are kids who do many Zoom rooms in a day. One kid did all four Zoom rooms like every six hours. He was in a Zoom room talking to new kids. Or you could be like, if it’s regular, it could be like the same kids show up every week to really like get to know each other, almost like an after-school club.

What do you think is going to change in education long term as a result of what’s happening? Do you think there will be things that stick? 

Lisa: I definitely think that in terms of what we call “trans-literacy,” people’s ability to use different media, we’ve all leveled up, or we’re leveling up right now. I see teachers who have never used Zoom or never done screen casts who are now talking in Facebook chats about like, “Oh, when we get back to my classroom, I can see using this here, here, here, and here.”

Even my parents, who are not technically that good, now know how to use FaceTime or understand how to use Facebook and social media properly. As a society, we’ve now leveled up in our trans-literacy abilities, which is exciting. I would love to see more student-centered learning and student choice about their learning; and that we really understand that not every student learns at the same pace. Not every student is engaged in every lesson that’s offered. If you give them more control because you have the ability to understand how to create content besides just standing up in front of your classroom, then I’m hoping that that trickles down into the classroom and that kids really get a personalized approach to learning.

I’m also really concerned as a person who used to home school my kids for seven years, that we’re trying to do school at home, and that’s not what home schooling is.

We need a paradigm shift about education that addresses who delivers education and where you can get it.

Lisa: I’m talking to a friend of mine who’s in Florida who’s teaching the same exact project that I am to her digital design kids, but she’s strong in photography, and I’m strong in video. I said to her, “Look, let’s set up the lessons. You do the ones on photography. I’ll do the ones on video, and we’ll just swap.”

So what is to stop us from doing that? Why do we have to be in the four walls of school? A student should be able to access not only everything that’s online, but every teacher that’s online.

Can you imagine that? That’s the Internet times 100 right there.

Mario: What an opportunity to learn from each other and support each other in delivering the best possible learning for our students.

Lisa: I think that’s what teachers are going to become: content creators and content vetters, that help align the pedagogical models with the standards that they’re trying to teach. They’re going to become like librarians in a ways of learning.

What are your biggest needs right now as an educator? How do you need to be supported?

Lisa: The biggest support that I could get is some clear communications with my students as to who has what technology and who does not right now? Honestly, getting kids connected to the Internet is the biggest support that I could have as a teacher. Teachers know how to teach. We don’t have to throw a bunch of stuff at teachers. They understand, “Okay. here’s what I have. Here are the tools that I have. Here’s the content standards. That’s my job.” I really do believe that teachers don’t need to worry so much about that. They need a couple simple tools to connect with their kids, and that might be it.

Are there kids who don’t have Internet at your school?

Lisa: Yes. I have no idea how many. Right now, we gave out lessons for the two weeks of school, and I would say about 30 to 35 percent of them have turned in work to me. I also think that we inundated our kids with too much work, and it’s crazy to expect more, especially kids who don’t have support at home. They might be in a situation where they’re raising themselves. They might be in an abusive situation at home. They might just have parents who are working long shifts at the hospital or in medical. So they don’t have an adult at home to help them.

That’s where teachers have been really supportive of kids and learning, and that’s why school works, and it’s so helpful for so many kids. So right now, they don’t have us. I don’t know how to coordinate that, and you don’t want to inundate families with too many calls from their teachers. So we’re taking our cues from the district and holding off on some of the reaching out stuff.

And how the heck do you support a special ed kid? I’m used to doing it in my asynchronous classroom because I always adapt my projects. I think project-based learning is really made for this particular environment so that kids can work at their own pace. Giving them worksheets or “Here’s a lesson. Now do this activity” every day is going to be really wearing on students. Yet some students are going to need that because they don’t have the support at home to do a project.

I don’t know what the answer is. I want to connect with my kids again. I want my relationships to be back with them, and I want to know that I can talk to them. So that’s like the biggest question mark for me right now, and where I feel like I could use support.

You’re a NapaLearns Fellow and you’re a NapaLearns Fellow of the Year. How do you think the Touro and NapaLearns program have enabled you to tackle this challenge head on?

Lisa: I think the content that we teach is so incredibly important right now. A lot of Touro graduates are offering to teach other teachers how to screen cast, how to make assets for their students, how people learn and really look at online pedagogies or online curriculum, and how to deliver content online.

I think any Touro graduate is going to be so much farther along. We are being asked to do all the things that we’re were asked to do in our master’s program. So we’ve had practice. We’ve had time to learn it. We didn’t have to learn it all in like a week’s time and be up and running. We had a year and a half to experiment and see how it changed our lesson plans and see how it changed our approaches to classrooms.

So, if anything, I would say like, “Yes, take the program if you’re interested in it, and also be really kind to yourself.” A lot of the graduates have had a year and a half to do what you’re doing in a week or two weeks’ time.

Be willing to fail and trust yourself

Just be willing to fail. You have to at this point. You have no choice. I would say reach out to people. Don’t be embarrassed to say, “I don’t know how to use this program.” Even as we’re doing Linked Online Learners, a lot of us are super facile with technology, but it’s okay to say, “Oh, I’ve never used Facebook post pages before. How does that work?” Just ask. Just say, “Hey, this is the one thing I don’t know.” I’m being asked all the time to do stuff that I don’t know how to do, and I’m just asking. “Oh, I don’t know that program. How do you do that?”

Mario: Yes, and we’re all here to support each other. Thank god we have the technology and the tools to be able to instantly reach across the world and support each other.

Lisa: I want to tell every teacher—be kind. Do things that are joyful that boost your immune system. Don’t be hard on yourself. We’re all being asked to learn and grow. I have this self-talk going on in my head all the time like, “Who am I? I don’t know what I’m doing. What the heck?” We’re all just jumping without a net so just take care of you.

Trust yourself.

Mario: Exactly. Well, thanks for joining me and having this conversation today. I think it’s really going to be insightful for people that are looking to provide asynchronous learning in their classroom, and I’m really excited about LOL.

How can people get connected or learn more about LOL? 

Lisa: The best thing you can do is go to and look for the updates on when the next chats will be. We also have a Facebook page. You can look up Link Online Learners as a Facebook page and just follow us. I think in like five days, we have over 500 followers.

It’s growing pretty quickly. I have a feeling it’s going to blow up really fast. We want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row before we push this to the public. I think it’s going to be huger than we thought.

Mario: Very cool. We will definitely be following you and sharing that out on our NapaLearns channels as well. Thanks again, Lisa, for making time to hang out with us today.