Each week, I have the privilege to spend significant time with school leaders, principals, presidents and chancellors, all carrying the poignant responsibility and privilege of managing and overseeing our academic institutions while navigating some very rough waters in changing times. Across the board, they are continually challenged with sometimes not knowing from one week to the next what the rules are. Amidst the chaos, there have surfaced certain needs and concerns all schools face, including ensuring there is some viable plan for allowing students to participate in their virtual education.
While going ‘online’ and interacting with others in this virtual space may seem obvious for those of us privileged to live where the internet flows and devices are current, this is not a reality for much of our global student community.
In reviewing what is really at stake and the common challenges faced by administrators, educators and students, I discovered a common thread that included three crucial issues all schools face in this pandemic age. Here are my summary and thoughts on where we should be focusing our energy to keep education flowing.
Student Access to Broadband and Equipment
Many school districts are about to start the school year with more distance learning. Probably the single most crucial failure in distance learning during the pandemic is the digital divide, the haves and have-nots of necessary internet along with the lack of sufficient digital devices to participate in online education.
The consensus is that schools recognize the failure at many levels of not being adequately prepared for such monumental events. Currently, 12 to 15 million students do not have access to the internet, and 35% of low-income families in the United States do not own computers. How can they narrow that divide so more students can continue their education while more and more schools decide to move towards distance learning for the 2020/21 school year? The good news is schools, government officials and corporate leaders are working towards closing the digital divide before many students lose out during the most critical learning years.
Data Privacy and Security
While schools scramble to get online, teachers and school administrators reach for what they know. Out of necessity, teachers string together disparate online communication tools like Facebook, Instagram and online conferencing systems such as Microsoft meetings and Zoom to teach online and share interactive lessons. These practices of stacking these non-integrated communications systems put schools, teachers, students and parents at risk for data privacy breach, and in many cases, are violating all types of student privacy laws, potentially exposing sensitive student data to the outside world without understanding the future implications for every student. It is imperative to have continuity that is natively provided when using education technology tools, understanding that they have been properly architected and carefully integrated with third-party products with an understanding of privacy laws. They must protect student data history, locations and sensitive classroom outcomes such as grades, project assignments, tardiness and other personal information specific to the education ecosystem and its laws and regulations.
The Art of Teaching Online
The stigma of online education specifically with education faculty being a career-ending pathway and blocker to a tenure position at a higher educational institution has been taboo for many teachers and has slowed the adoption of online learning over the past 15 years. The pandemic has forced most teachers who have resisted teaching online to quickly adapt to teaching virtually. The outcomes have been mixed for many, and for various reasons, I am hesitant to say that most schools were not properly prepared and did not have the infrastructure or appropriate regulations to support a comprehensive, all-in, distance learning program for learners.
Remote learning strategies have never been developed, however, many schools are learning and creating such strategies for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. In the last 20 years, schools have experimented with education technology including learning management tools used in classroom management and virtual schools to promote their brand, earn additional revenue and promote social good. This was never thought of as a replacement for traditional in-person education. However, most educators have the familiarity of the technology to adapt to online education. These challenges schools face are not insurmountable as education technology tools and platforms have overcome them over many years. They can help schools build and share strategies and implement classroom processes and online content integration, including faculty training and infrastructure support, that can better-prepare them to transform seamlessly to online education.
Find out how ODEM provides integrated solutions to support universities, schools and educational organizations through today’s challenges.
The education community has faced great challenges in the past months, and while it has brought many hard realities and unexpected losses, educational leaders are also finding an opportunity in the madness, an uncovering so to speak of where they can both strengthen their online presence and overall technology, as well as broaden their student community beyond their campus walls.