by Ella Casey ’21
With schools shut down for the rest of the academic year, we are left to wonder about the long-term impact of this shift to online education across the nation. Looking toward the future, if online learning ends up working out during this crisis it could show what needs to be done to create a national online education system that works for everyone in the future.
The biggest obstacle for remote learning, initially, became the accessibility; school systems are relying on students and teachers all to have adequate internet connection and computer access, which may not be realistic for some low-income households, and thus boosts the record-low attendance that has been seen in several schools. With the need to quickly make remote learning work, many school systems have figured out ways around the problem by providing mobile hotspots and other means of wireless internet connections.
It is hard to tell how effective online schooling is given that it came with little warning and much of the curriculum is up in the air, especially for AP classes in which the content required for exams was significantly reduced. For some teachers, it seems like the most efficient way of teaching these classes with such sudden change has been to hand off the students to the College Board videos, which followed exactly what the exams were looking for this year, while the teachers diligently monitor discussion boards and emails for questions. However, some teachers find it frustrating that they cannot easily connect with their students and thus find it more difficult to assess their individual needs.
“Teaching is much more than mere sharing of textbook knowledge,” said computer science teacher Swikrit Manandhar. “I miss interacting with students. In class I tried to be observant and aware of each student, hence I knew where they need help and support.”
Social studies teacher Michelle Games also is struggling with the lack of personal interaction. “There just isn’t a lot of student feedback [through distance learning], so it makes me wonder if I am spending all this time for only 10 students who bother to watch [my videos] … I don’t even know if the kids are reading my comments.”
If there are positives to this massive experiment in online distance learning, it is that we now know what works on such a large scale, but also what does not. Therefore, we know what things need to be changed in order for distance learning to, perhaps some day, be an efficient opportunity rather than the panicked afterthought that it became during this pandemic.
“There has to be more rigor, communication, and accountability for real learning to take place,” stated Games on how distance learning should change in Montgomery County if it were to continue.
On the other hand, education being fully online means that both students and teachers have access to numerous sources of information at all times and work on their own time in the comfort of their homes. And as more schools and staff members are introduced to and/or are getting more familiar with new technologies, it is likely they will incorporate these tools in their classes post-pandemic.
Online learning technology can be used both to simplify teaching in person and outside the classroom for students to use on their own time, either for homework or as extra learning tools. They also open the minds to other possibilities of creative learning strategies. Several classes have found that they can use distance learning as an opportunity to use new, creative approaches to learning.
“Students can learn at their own pace, in their own environment, on their own schedule. Teachers have more flexibility, opportunities to be creative and an abundance of online resources,” explained math teacher Thomas Cohan.
All over the country, schools are making online education work for them in different ways. Despite the need for some extensive fine-tuning, a more advanced and common online education system is not so far into the future as it may have seemed pre-pandemic. Although it may not transfer the entire school system online, it most definitely has the potential to impact the rate at which technology is incorporated into face-to-face education.