In the spring of 2020, many schools were forced to quickly transition to remote learning as districts across the country closed in-person classrooms. Most districts had to make this change within a week or two without warning, a commendable feat in itself! Now that schools are returning to some sort of normality after COVID-19 closures, educators are still facing many of the issues that the pandemic has brought to light: the challenge of remote learning environments, the inequitable distribution of technology, unequal Internet access in homes and schools. , not having enough staff to provide 24/7 support, and teachers not having adequate training for distance learning.
Yes, our students have lost valuable learning time over these years. As the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently reported in The Nation’s Report Card, “Average scores for 9-year-old students in 2022 fell 5 points in reading and 7 points in math compared to 2020. This is the biggest drop in average score in reading since 1990, and the first-ever drop in math score Many schools believe it means remote learning has been a failure and are pushing back on scrapping all virtual learning classrooms.But education officials have learned valuable lessons from synchronous and asynchronous learning and should review all that has been accomplished during this hasty push towards remote learning.
As Forbes magazine reports, remote work certainly seems to be here to stay in one form or another in the business world, so our education system must help prepare students for a future in which virtual workplaces are a reality. In a recent study by Future Forum, collaboration was found to be the main reason for the resumption of face-to-face work environments. Leaders who prioritize collaboration, social connections and camaraderie in virtual and physical work environments, the study authors concluded, “will shape a more productive and fulfilling future, better for their employees and their businesses”. These results also have implications for education.
Education leaders can implement some of these valuable lessons learned from remote work environments, such as flexible staffing, flexible work hours, remote tech support for students and families, and unique ways to deliver broadband to the home. Virtual learning is still a great platform for the professional development of teachers and administrators. Educators can benefit from understanding how to run online meetings and trainings, keep meetings and/or trainings interactive, run focus groups, and use whiteboards and other collaborative tools integrated into conference platforms as these events are organized.
In a recent report on lessons from remote learning, the World Bank argued that teachers are critical to the success of the program and that teaching is an intense effort of human interaction. Teachers can benefit from training on how to teach in a virtual environment, make online lessons engaging, provide just-in-time assessment and feedback through virtual platforms, and engage parents as partners in their child’s education.
Although many students suffer from a lack of social interaction with their friends, an overwhelming amount of busy work, and the boredom of staying online for too many hours a day, while the New York Times asked them in April 2020, some students reported the benefits of a remote learning environment. During school closures due to the pandemic, some students have found they enjoy getting to work at their own pace, setting their own schedule, and being free from the stresses of the typical school environment. Some shy students took advantage of this because the virtual environment gave everyone in the room a voice. Having to be seen with all the other students on screen didn’t give them a place to hide.
Here are some other innovative ways districts can use remote learning environments to their advantage:
- When in-person lessons must be canceled for snow days
- For students with learning disabilities who may need more individual support
- For pregnant or homebound students who may be home for periods of time during their schooling
- For students who have to work part of the day, an alternative to follow their schooling
- For collaborative projects between groups of students, giving them the opportunity to work online with their peers at any time of the day
- For on-demand professional development that teachers can access in their spare time
- Provide more flexible opportunities for parent conferences or office hours with teachers, for better communication on student progress
- Provide remote counseling or social-emotional support classes to students in need, either individually or in small groups
- For online tutoring after school or during scheduled hours for the convenience of students and teachers
Distance learning environments also have the potential to help solve some of the problems the country is currently facing with teacher shortages. For instance:
- They can be used by trainee teachers or beginning teachers to discreetly observe classrooms and learn from a mentor teacher.
- Districts can collaborate with other districts to share hard-to-find teachers for courses such as foreign languages, computer science, and high-level math courses
- Districts can create a Khan Academy-like setting through distance learning using top experts teaching multiple classes of students online. Local teachers or paraprofessionals can provide follow-up or support to students, either virtually or face-to-face
So, before the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, districts should make the most of what has been learned and come up with alternative ways to educate all of our students. Remote learning might still be an option that some of our students, parents and teachers need.