Because most schools have moved to virtual learning environments in response to COVID-19, what are the likely long-term outcomes of this?
The first outcome will be that teachers and students and administrators see how difficult teaching remotely or online can be. It’s challenging technologically, logistically, socially and academically. As a result, many will seek out and start to use tools that have been designed specifically for online teaching. And as that happens, the barriers to quality online instruction will fall and comfort and use will increase. It will start hard but end very well.
When people find and use the right tools for virtual learning, they will want to do it more often.
That will probably also incentivize and reward companies built specifically for education systems and teachers. The increased use and trial and error will, I hope, clean out the market a bit. The best products will rise to the top. That would be good for everyone. I believe there will be statewide purchases of products to standardize offerings and make them easier to manage.
Will more schools embrace distance learning once we’re beyond the pandemic? If so, what will that look like? Will some educational entities move beyond physical classrooms altogether?
Yes. Many already have.
This is an awful situation, but that can have some good, indirect consequences sometimes. One is that now teachers and students will see the power of video when it can be built in with a learning management system to record attendance and allow one-touch confirmations, while being powerfully hosted on smartphones or other devices. For many teachers, it’s a game changer – changing a classroom to a class in any room.
Could in-classroom learning go the way of the dinosaur or is that panic-stricken hype?
That may be too much change too quickly. In person, classroom learning will persist. We may just see less of it compared to other, technology-enabled options such as video.
Think of it this way, movie theaters still exist because they offer experiences that streaming video can’t. But streaming services made more content more available to more people, faster and cheaper than theaters ever could. Once that technology broke out, things never went back to the way they were.
In essence, what is the future of classroom-based learning and the technology that plays a role in providing instruction?
Classroom based learning will be more and more in-person optional. There won’t be any specific need, any hard requirement to be physically present in a classroom. There may be reasons to be there, but the quality of the technology will make a video experience just as good, perhaps even better and definitely easier than being there.
Integrated remote video will, for example, allow a student to access supplemental resources in real time, materials that may not be available in person, all while being able to see a class, ask questions, and engage with students. Soon there won’t be much difference between being there and being somewhere else – everything will be one thing, the way you may buy shoes online but return them in a store. Or find something online but reserve it at the store. The actual way you get that item won’t matter much anymore.
You know what you’re doing, and the service you’re providing is helping teachers teach and students learn. In my case, that’s directly what my colleagues and I are doing, putting teachers and students together in web and video conferences, integrated with their learning management systems. I know what we’re doing is making the process of education easier, better and more efficient. We’re absolutely helping more students access their teachers and helping more teachers use the modern tools of teaching.
That’s comforting. And rewarding.
But it is also isolating and challenging at the same time.
The 22 part is that for anyone to recognize your work, they have to see you, know you’re there. They need to understand that great bridges require great bridge builders.
The catch part is that, if you do your education IT job well, you’re invisible. Your IT can be so good, so seamless and so intuitive that no one has any idea you were ever there. Or that it did not simply just work that way to start.
In IT, being invisible is winning, even though it may not always feel that way. I liken it to what a studio-level makeup artist must feel – you know, the person who makes movie stars look great or gruesome, depending on the role. If you’re at the movies and you’re talking about the makeup, something probably went wrong. It’s only when they’re really good that they can fade away.
And sure, knowing you do good work is satisfying. And please don’t misunderstand, I’m not in this business for glory and adulation. I feel certain that almost no one goes into education for that. Still, what we do – those of us who build the bridges and apply the makeup of education IT – is not easy. Or free, unfortunately.
It can also be a marketing challenge. Wrap your head around this sales pitch. “What I do is so smooth and subtle that, once you start using it, you won’t notice it all.” Where do you sign, right?
I exaggerate. People do notice when they have to drive around a river instead of having a bridge to cross. But once it’s up, people don’t remember what it was like before. And people who’ve become used to driving around an obstacle, or not traveling at all, don’t know cool bridges are available.
Polluting my metaphors again, I think back to the talented make-up artist who probably has to go pitch new producers and directors by saying, “You probably didn’t notice me at all in this other movie, but …”
To tell you the truth, though, I’m not deterred by the education IT paradox. Solutions that work are always in demand. Bridges are easy to sell when people have to get somewhere. When people look at nearby towns and cities and say, “hey, how did you get that cool bridge?” the phone rings.
And the big education dynamics favor companies like ours. More and more people are studying online, and more schools are needing to invest in tools that make that reality easier and safer.
But as it does, I feel for others in education IT or in IT in general – on staff or on their own. I know that some of the best among us are the least seen. That’s what happens when we do our jobs well. And it can get old. It’s also not likely to change. I cannot see a future in which IT solutions have pretty construction plaques saying, “Built by Julie Carter at IT Solutions in 2019” or whatever. So, we’re just going to have to accept that as the way it is.
At the same time, we can take comfort in the real value we’re providing, unseen as it may be. Cynical types may say that gleaning value from the service you provide, regardless of recognition is cold comfort. I prefer to think of it as warm comfort. It can be easy to forget that IT is about making connections and helping people do great things, in our case, helping people learn. When we do that, we’re doing right, whether anyone notices or not.