eLearning During COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities
A Look Into School Districts Across the Country
For those of us who have been involved in eLearning development for years, it has been fascinating to see how technology, learning platforms, apps, and educational websites have been tested over the past 10 weeks. When most of this technology and content was created, the thought was that it would be supplementary to the classroom experience, not replace it. Now, with schools closed and the learning experience fully moved to online, we wanted to find out how school districts were finding the overall transition. We spoke with superintendents and teachers across the country to find out what is working and, more importantly, what is not. As the Superintendent from the Winthrop, MA public schools, Lisa A. Howard, M.Ed said, “We have been charged with building a high powered plane while flying it!”
The biggest hurdle for most school districts was two-fold. First, getting students access to devices and setting-up a communication platform that was organized, clear and accessible. Second, realizing that not all households are equipped with internet access, many students may not necessarily have support from parents and guardians throughout the day. Digital literacy is not a given in every household and it became clear early that inequity was going to be, and would remain, a challenge.
Another challenge teachers are facing is student motivation. Without regular, physical interaction, getting students to complete their work, let alone be interested in the material, has not been easy. Things that are usually a given in a classroom setting- socializing, student interaction, instant feedback from instructors, cannot be replaced by an asynchronous learning model (where students are doing school work at different times). Schools have remained asynchronous for the most part because it is difficult for parents to get children online at the same time while they are working and managing other household responsibilities.
All is not doom and gloom. From an administrative perspective, superintendents are impressed with how quickly their teachers jumped into action to try and adjust the learning material. Using websites they were, mostly, already using, teachers said that these learning tools have provided students with a new, interactive way of learning. They feel that students will be more “tech savvy” when they enter school in the fall (whatever that looks like). Some other successes were more specific- getting chromebooks and iPads into the hands of every student as well as finding interactive ways to help the community (one school created 3D face masks).
The future of education is unclear. Decisions will most likely be made district-by-district, but things will definitely not go back to what they were. One superintendent noted that online learning has forced the breakdown of the K-12 “teaching to the test” and teachers are now focused more about teaching the content in the most interactive way. Students are being assessed in different ways, via projects, quizlets, etc. It also seems that the idea of a flipped classroom is being considered so that online learning is the primary method of teaching and the classroom will supplement that experience.
So what does that mean for those of us who provide the content, tools and technology for online education? Is there a way to create a more engaging, social experience for students? Are there tools we can create to facilitate instant feedback that might help with motivation and an increased interest in learning? What about students who struggle with access or at-home support? How can we make digital education equitable and accessible to all? Perhaps there are no easy solutions to these problems, but it is worth it for us to ask these questions. If not now, when?
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented both challenges and opportunities for eLearning. School districts across the country have been forced to adapt to a fully online learning experience, revealing issues with access and digital literacy. However, there have also been successes, such as the quick adaptation of teachers and the use of interactive learning tools. As the future of education remains uncertain, it is important to consider how we can create a more engaging and equitable online learning experience for all students. It is up to us, as providers of content and technology, to continue asking questions and finding solutions to make digital education accessible to all.