Prior to COVID-19, a mere 34% of schools were offering fully online classes and only 2% of American students were participating in them. However, during the pandemic, 69% of parents said that their kids were receiving hybrid or fully online instruction.
This massive shift to online education happened within a matter of weeks at many schools while others made the transition in just a few days. The rapid adjustment left thousands of teachers struggling to create virtual lesson plans, as most schools were ill-equipped for such a sudden, drastic change.
Now, more than a year has passed and some teachers still feel unprepared for the coming school year.
The Virtual Dilemma
Online classes have come with their fair share of benefits, including personalized instruction, flexible learning schedules and increased access to Advanced Placement classes, electives and more. However, many teachers received little to no training in regard to teaching online classes, so students aren’t able to reap all of these amazing benefits.
A lack of training also means that teachers don’t have the tools or knowledge to create online lesson plans and deliver material in an engaging way. Subsequently, students are bound to struggle to comprehend and remember the material. Ultimately, their letter grades and ACT and SAT scores will reflect this disconnect.
Many students lack access to computers and the internet at home, too. This disparity is most common among minority populations and low-income families. Last year, 7% to 8% of households with students had little to no access to computers or the internet, making remote learning impossible for millions of kids. While educators are working to improve access by providing free laptops and hotspots, they have a long way to go before everyone has an equal opportunity to receive a virtual education.
Technology Aids Transition
Technology has played a huge part in aiding schools’ transition to online classes. Aside from computers and the internet, the ever-popular Zoom has been an essential tool for helping students and teachers connect virtually. Whiteboard technology has also adapted to suit online learning environments. Now, teachers can enjoy real-time feedback, polls and screen sharing capabilities that might not have been available before the pandemic. This technology also allows them to teach in asynchronous environments so students can learn at their own pace.
Learning management systems are also helping instructors deliver online lessons, share resources and grade assignments. These platforms streamline their work and allow them to organize curriculum for virtual, hybrid and in-person classrooms. This way, both teachers and students have a single location in which they can find all of their coursework. Google Classroom, Alma and Canvas are just a few of the most popular LMS options.
Of course, storing so much information online does come with a fair amount of risk. Because many of these tools are rather new, their creators are still working to implement strong security measures and safety protocols. Subsequently, many parents worry that sensitive information, including grades, communication records and personal details, could fall into the hands of hackers or Zoombombers.
While these concerns do have some merit, many tech companies have already responded to them by adding more protective measures. For instance, Zoom recently updated its video settings to require a password by default upon entering a meeting. Free K-12 Zoom accounts already come with this feature, which neither the meeting host nor the attendees can turn off.
The Future of Education
As the pandemic nears its end, nearly half of U.S. parents would like to keep their children fully online, and another 22% would choose a hybrid model for their kids. These preferences are becoming increasingly evident as virtual schools experience more enrollments for the 2021-2022 school year. Meanwhile, 20% of traditional schools plan to meet parents’ demands by adopting long-term virtual education.
If technological advancements continue to support and enable online learning, every student in the U.S. may someday earn their education from home. Until then, hybrid, in-person and virtual options will remain available. Schools that choose to fully embrace one extreme of another will undoubtedly see fluctuations in enrollment as students switch schools. However, it’s unlikely that the education system will ever go back to the way things were before the pandemic, and maybe that’s for the best.