COVID-19 ushered in a new era of remote learning in schools. Some schools committed to a hybrid solution, some schools committed to solely learning online, and still other schools brought students back into school too fast.
With the potential for future lockdowns on the horizon — and many students wanting to continue their learning online — the success of these remote learning strategies will need to be examined.
Equality in the Era of Remote Learning
Remote learning gave visibility to some previously hidden inequalities. Students without Internet access at home, students in rural areas, and students who couldn’t afford at-home educational equipment all suffered compared to their better-equipped classmates. Some schools had creative strategies for this, such as finding ways to turn buses into hotspots or providing students with personal hotspots.
To ensure equal access to learning, some schools partnered with telecommunications companies to ensure that students had both the technology and accessibility they needed. In these areas, students were more successful.
Grading and Engagement During the Pandemic
Despite the attempts to bolster remote learning, many schools just weren’t adequately equipped to fully transition their coursework to an online environment. Teachers had to be rapidly trained to deliver their syllabus in an online-only environment and they had to use tools, such as Zoom, that were unfamiliar to them.
As a consequence, many schools decided to drop grading altogether and instead implement a pass/fail system. While this has kept students on course in terms of grade advancement, it has complicated other things such as college admissions. Additionally, the question has been raised regarding whether these students have truly learned.
In terms of engagement, many teachers struggled to keep students in class. Student absences were frequent and many teachers could not control their classes due to the distance.
These are not issues inherent to remote learning but rather the speed at which remote learning was adopted. As teachers and schools were not given adequate time to prepare, they were not able to build the processes necessary to control their classrooms or build out their online lesson plans.
Remote Learning in the Future
Despite foibles, remote learning is in demand.
Many schools have not opened up entirely, but have instead provided the option of remote learning or in-person learning. With many still concerned about the pandemic, there are parents choosing to homeschool rather than send their children back. For some, remote learning is simply more convenient. For rural students who now have Internet access, remote learning can cut off a significant amount of their commute time.
At a higher level, remote learning is becoming a necessity. In higher education, many universities are providing online-only options — to the extent that some universities can be attended full-time by out-of-state students. As more non-traditional and working students enter the mix, remote learning becomes even more popular.
To support these new remote learning initiatives, schools must think carefully about the technology, infrastructure, and processes required to support a healthy learning environment. Students must have equal access and equal opportunity when it comes to connectivity and engagement. Teachers must have thorough training on remote technology and the support they need to transition their materials to an online environment.
Moreover, schools themselves need support from their local government to make these improvements. During the pandemic, well-funded schools had the most optimal outcomes, as they were able to provide hotspots for their students, and they were able to provide tools and equipment to their teachers. Schools that did not have funding struggled to adapt.
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