Long before the coronavirus made it necessary to shift from the traditional classroom to remote learning, distance learning was both a concept and a practice in K-12 education. Throughout its early 1900s introduction using instructional films and radio programs to its current set of online tools, remote learning has maintained the goal of delivering instruction into students’ homes. Although K-12 remote learning can facilitate teaching when in-person instruction is not feasible, many have expressed concerns over its effectiveness as a full-time substitute.
Remote Learning in K-12 Education
In the past, remote learning has been used to either supplement or replace face-to-face instruction. While this is still true, school districts’ curriculum and learning initiatives have also transformed the in-classroom experience. Instructional models like blended learning have introduced more self-directed experiences through web-based applications. Online academy models with brick and mortar learning centers, as well as alternative schools, have also leveraged self-paced, web-based curriculum and the deployment of individual student computers.
Learning initiatives like these have made technology and technical support instrumental to K-12 education. Even before the pandemic, this need extended beyond the buildings of school districts and into students’ homes. School districts in locations with less broadband or high-speed internet access options, underfunded school districts, and economically challenged communities are especially vulnerable.
The coronavirus has highlighted the gap between school districts’ and students’ technology needs and the availability and affordability of internet and internet-capable devices. Often referred to as the “digital divide,” the gap has had a direct effect on school districts’ abilities to implement remote learning during coronavirus-related closures. According to Education Week, educators in more affluent school districts were more likely to deliver virtual live classroom instruction.
Affluent school districts also stood a better chance of reaching more students with online learning during coronavirus-related closures. Education Week reports the following insights:
- In districts where most enrolled students come from low-income households, 34% reported being able to reach all of them.
- In comparison, districts with a minority of enrolled students from low-income households were able to reach 73%.
- In rural communities, 42% of administrators reported they’ve been able to reach all students.
- Suburban area districts have been able to reach 62% of students.
- Ironically, districts in urban areas have also faced challenges, with only 43% being able to reach all those enrolled.
Additional & Ongoing Concerns
Educators and students’ families alike have expressed concerns besides access to technology. These concerns are mostly related to the effectiveness of learning outside the traditional classroom for all students, as well as the social limitations of virtual classrooms and remote learning. As reported by American Public Media, some school districts have expressed fears about being able to provide equitable virtual educational experiences to students on Individual Education Plans or IEPs.
With online learning, it has also been more difficult to get some students to engage or remain engaged. Some districts have implemented review assignments instead of new material, while some have already collected data that indicates students have fallen behind in subjects like math. Worries about whether students will be prepared to start the new academic year in the fall have surfaced, along with whether some students will need to repeat last year’s curriculum.
Although COVID-19 put many school districts in crisis mode, parents have also had to quickly learn how to keep their kids on track. Having children go to school at home has been a challenge for parents while they have had to work from home or have had to continue going to work. The economic crisis and job losses spurred by the coronavirus have only added to the issues with the availability of home internet and computers.
Some school districts have been able to hand out school-owned computers to use at home for remote learning, but this has not been the case across all districts. Picking up paper instruction packets and assignment has been more of the norm for students in low-income areas and rural or small-town communities, according to Education Week. Despite these setbacks, remote learning can be successful with planning, coordination, adequate resources, dedicated mindsets, and a little creativity.
Outlook for Remote Learning
For now, states like Colorado and Nebraska are planning on reopening schools in the fall. While the Colorado Department of Education is preparing guidelines for districts, administrators are expected to put together their own plans, including contingency measures and the inclusion of remote learning for students whose parents wish to keep them at home. Nebraska has stated that reopening is contingent upon what is happening with the virus locally, but anticipates the majority of its districts can plan on a normal school year, according to Education Week. The state has, however, given school districts resources to help implement remote learning.
While it isn’t fully known how the new school year will start, remote learning will likely need to remain a part of the plan. EdTech states the keys to remote learning success are individual consideration for each student’s circumstances, maintaining student engagement, and leveraging technology. To make this happen, cooperation, coordination, and resources from multiple stakeholders in each community will be necessary.
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What are your thoughts about remote learning? How has COVID-19 shaped your experiences and perceptions of education outside the traditional classroom?
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