Glass Half Full: A positive take on Distance Learning
I will be the first to admit, I am not an instinctively positive person (I consider myself a realist), but 2020 has been rough, needless to say. Upon reflection, my first three blog posts have offered little in terms of a silver lining or positive outlook. So, here are some positives to pull out of the distance learning situation happening right now!
Teaching New Standards
No, I do not mean new state standards or federal educational direction. I mean how these new generations are now being thrust into an experience of utilizing multiple sources of technology interchangeably. Pre-pandemic times saw more technology being introduced into the classrooms gradually, but only in support of traditional in person class techniques.
The adaptation of students and teachers to virtual resources has been remarkable. For the students, this means they will be incredibly fluent and better able to learn new apps or devices in the future. The practice they are receiving now also goes beyond technology; the problem solving involved in learning new systems is an integral part of being better learner.
Students are learning something previous generations have had to acquire (or not) on the fly: online etiquette. Students are learning at an early age how to comment on other people's work, post their own opinions, and do so respectfully. Such actions are no different than what takes place in a standard classroom but, as most adults are aware, there is an increased level of comfort in sharing types of opinions while behind the comfort of a keyboard. Establishing this 21st century social etiquette is going to shape the future of virtual interactions.
While distance learning is a difficult change for many, it stands to benefit a specific group more than others: English Language Learners (ELL). A key technique teachers use when trying to incorporate and support ELL students into their classroom is called scaffolding. A two prong approach, scaffolding involves using pictures to represent things as much as possible, as well as labeling things in English as well as the languages of the classroom. This significantly increases ELL student engagement and success. The reason that ELL students may receive an added benefit in the distance learning scenario, is the ease in which scaffolding can take place with online teaching. Adding pictures and supplementary languages is incredibly easy online, requiring less intentional effort than when attempted in person. For this reason, ELL students may see proportionately higher success rates than their peers through a pandemic based education.
Distance learning, and the wonder caretakers have had leading up to our current school year, has brought unprecedented levels of parental engagement. Naturally this brought more parents and guardians into the review of the curriculum being provided to students. Though most of the interest was in questioning the quality and effectiveness of the curriculum, it has still been some of the highest levels of parent involvement in what their students are receiving.
The natural next step from being concerned about upcoming curriculum is the concern for student success. The scramble of parents seeking tutors, pod teachers, and similar supports for their students came in droves. The demand for nannies to provide educational services and for tutors to provide nanny services is a problem I have previously written about. Essentially, a new field opened in needing educational professionals who are also willing to do basic childcare to a degree. The issue this presents is that educational professionals are not best utilized for basic childcare, but nannies are not usually capable of significant educational support.
The new world has seen parents pulling back the curtain on the limitations and red tape of our school systems. Everybody is aware of funding, class size, and extracurricular issues, but the investment in issues of curriculum and simple student expectations is new to many parents. The disconnect between the levels of teachers to district staff, district staff to state officials, and state officials to federal policy makers are incredible. The teachers (and students, and parents) end up on the losing end because district staff are bound by state and federal policies made by policy makers who often do not have any classroom experience. The policy makers at state and federal levels usually have degrees in curriculum development (not implementation) and, to put it blatantly, are often outdated themselves. Their positions are not highly challenged or sought after, allowing them to make a career based on outdated knowledge. Yes, there are a few diamonds in the rough but, like other professions in our society, the majority are not being held responsible to their detriment to the citizens they are sworn to serve.
Impacting the Future of Education
The future of education may stand to gain a lot from this awful year. The following are my own theories based off of my experiences and knowledge. As 2020 has shown, nothing is ever for certain. What we can be certain about is that education will be changed forever now.
Education in spring 2020 was immediately launched into hybrid and then online learning. Primary and secondary education systems were not prepared for this, as they had not been forced to rely on technology before then. Being in college myself at the time, there was not much of a change in post-secondary education formats. This is where primary/secondary should look to for a model when returning to some sense of normalcy. Standard college courses use a hybrid system of learning. To be clear, lectures take place in person, but most of the work is done virtually. This is different from true hybrid courses for college,
where lectures are held in person some days and online on others. It is a seamless design that allows the learner flexibility that is often hard to come by in primary/secondary school. One group that would benefit the most are the students in foster care or facing housing struggles. These students consistently produce the lowest attendance ratings which becomes a problem when the instructional delivery is almost entirely in-person. Using the college standard, or hybrid method, allows these students the flexibility to work remotely while still receiving the instruction required to acquire knowledge.
But what about the equity issue revolving around access to technology? School districts across the country are dishing out student chrome books and IPads to accommodate distance learning. Many students already have them, allowing schools to prioritize those without such means. With tech getting cheaper and cheaper, the opportunity for schools to integrate it into their methods is ripe.