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Is Online Learning The Answer For The Coronavirus Closed Schools?

With the rapid spread of the Corona Virus, there has been a clarion call for schools to close and immediately shift to online learning in the interest of health and safety. With all that has been written and talked about in regard to “online learning” over the last decade, the perception is that now is a great time to put tech to work and implement this modern methodology to address our current situation and limit face-to-face exposure in order to self-quarantine a huge portion of our population. Online learning will do all of this, and kids won’t miss a beat in their education. That is a great picture of progressive ideas in education coupling with the advancing strides of evolving technologies to carry us to the next level in the evolution of education. That may get us a short way away from the flying cars that we have always been promised for generations. Of course before any of this can happen we need to address several questions to determine the viability of this wondrous solution.

Is the infrastructure in place for online learning? In order for this to work, we need the teacher to be able to connect with the student. That takes computer equipment for both, as well as some capacity for connecting them. Of course that connection would need to be made for each and every student for which each teacher is responsible. Assuming that the schools are closed to teachers, as well as students, the school will have very little to do with what devices teachers or students have, as well as what internet accessibility is available. Schools having issued each student a computer would have more control.

Do the teachers have lessons prepared specifically for “Online Learning”? Teaching online is not the same as teaching face to face in the classroom. The class is far less captive with many more distractions in each student’s personal environment. The lessons need to be far more engaging. Feedback from every participant is more important with online learning. Summative assessment is essential and must be ongoing. Learning is not a passive exercise online. Interaction is the key. Teachers need to be more aware and more demanding of student participation. These are only a few of the needs that teachers must address in “online teaching”

Does each teacher have the mindset to be an online teacher? Being forced into a situation that effects one’s livelihood and challenges lifelong beliefs is not a good way to introduce a person to a new way to perform his or her job. A longstanding fear of educators is that some day they will be replaced by computers. Personally, I don’t believe that will ever happen, because education is best served through strong relationships of students and teachers. Technology however, will change the way those relationships take place. Forcing people into performing a job they don’t believe in cannot have a positive outcome for anyone. A majority of teachers have never been trained to teach online. They have been taught how to teach in a classroom. Kids sitting in rows where a teacher can see them is not the same as connecting with students online.

Will a knee-jerk decision for a quick fix to a problem with the Corona Virus have a lasting effect on education? My overriding fear about this situation that we find ourselves in, is the long-term effect it will have on education. If schools close and mandate online learning to carry them through the period of time such as this crisis requires, will the resulting failure of education be blamed on the teachers, the technology, or the folks who pushed for an ill-considered idea? I fear the teachers and technology will unfairly bear the brunt of the blame. Of course the folks who pushed the ill-considered idea are also the judges.

When will online learning be a reality? I truly believe we will move to a methodology that uses both face-to-face and online learning. This will only happen as teachers are taught what online learning is and how it works best. This is still a new and developing methodology. We also need to teach students how to use it before they are thrown into it. Most importantly we need to instruct parents on the benefits of it as well. They did not grow up with online learning, so they will need to be sold on its value. Before we can change the system, we need to change the culture. Mandating online learning before the infrastructure, methodology and mindset of educators and students are all in the proper place, the endeavor will ultimately fail. That would be a setback for an evolving education system.

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