Looking back at the 2020-2021 school year, it’s easy to point to all the problems and mistakes that characterized what has been widely recognized as one of the worst years in modern American education Indeed, for many parents and even more students, there isn’t a lot of good that came out of it.
To be sure, there were titanic changes to the way students attended school and the way all of us did, well, everything. These changes happened fast—faster than most businesses and school districts were able to respond. Naturally, this caused a lot of imperfect solutions to be pushed out before they were fully vetted and, in many cases, thought through.
Not as easy as it looks.
What many school districts learned (the hard way) is that online education is not as simple as putting a camera in front of a classroom teacher and sending the video to students sitting in a makeshift living room-as-classroom. More often than not, that strategy did not work. What also became clear is that teaching online is NOT the same as teaching in a classroom. Some great classroom teachers failed dramatically in the detached digital world of remote learning.
Meanwhile, some glimmers of positiveness started to show through. Some adventurous teachers embraced the forced move to online teaching as a challenge—and one they would overcome! Some teachers—and not only the young ones fresh out of education school—became tech wizards, integrating all manner of digital methodologies into their repertoire. Video, audio, interactive quiz websites, and classroom techniques carefully and thoughtfully adapted to effectively reach across the void that lay between school and home were all fair game. Some teachers thrived. Some students did, too. But not as many.
In California, it was found that 37% of students were failing at least one class during the pandemic. That’s up from 27% pre-COViD. One study found that between 33 and 50 percent of high school students did not like online school. Google searches for Credit Recovery and Summer School are up dramatically from past years, indicating that the downstream effects of a year of inconsistent education are already playing out and parents are actively looking for ways in July and August to fix the problems encountered during the school year.
In a time when statistics on just about everything related to COVID and its effect on just about any aspect of the economy, society, and education, it’s not surprising that even survey data is unclear. While one survey showed that 41% of college students found online coursework to be superior to the in-class version another found that 75% of college students were unsatisfied with the quality of their online education.
So, let’s look on the bright side. We are not simply making lemonade out of lemons. There really is a bright side, believe it or not. There are some things about remote learning that homeschool students and legions of home-based workers have known for ages.
Here are six of our favorites:
1. Learning skills and practices that will be the norm in business and education for the next decade.
From Zoom calls to document sharing, the mechanics of being a worker in the typical American—or even international—company is looking more and more like those of the typical home-based student. Many pundits, business owners, and top executives think the COVID world represents the new normal—and it’s not going anywhere.
Before COVID forced the world into houses and apartments, the business community relied on good old-fashioned face-to-face meetings to get things done. The pandemic put the kibosh on that, launching the fortunes of the telemeeting app Zoom and other similar tech into the stratosphere. Half of all businesses in the US have Zoom and 75 have Microsoft Teams. From 2019through 2020, Zoom alone increased its usage by more than 3000%.
It goes without saying that familiarity and comfort with teleconferencing systems are the way of the future. Students have been forced to the forefront of this technology, and they adapted well and quickly.
2. An increase in self-reliance and independence.
There’s no denying that working from home has forced all of us to become more self-reliant. Often, this is really because we’ve had no choice but to battle an uncooperative software program or video feed for hours on our own without anyone there to help. Certainly, this means we have all had to learn by ourselves new skills and concepts essentially, but it also extends to our use of technology and collaborative processes. For most of us, there simply isn’t a tech person on hand to solve our problems so we’ve had to learn to figure out why our mics don’t work and our video is lagging. Students have had to adopt the same DIY attitude, and their tech-savvy is impressive—and growing!
Anyone who has had tech trouble in a Zoom or Teams call has probably been bombarded with solutions from other call attendees. That is because just about everyone has had some form of problem with a call, and many had to figure out the solution on their own. The ins and outs of software, laptops, teleconferencing, and online project management software are no longer just the secretive domain of techies. COIVD has, to a certain degree, democratized tech support. If nothing else, it helped make non-techies less fearful of pushing a button or Googling a solution than ever before.
3. Experimenting with different learning techniques.
Video, reading, interactive, auditory, lecture, directed study. Online learning takes a huge range of forms, and they all contribute to students’ abilities to navigate the world of technology and education. Finding what works for oneself in the distance ed universe is now as important a coming-of-age ritual as getting on the school bus the first day of Kindergarten. But it’s not as scary.
Schools have long known that students learn in different ways and respond to different techniques. Lots of teachers actively ignore this in the in-person classroom, opting for tried-and-true (and possibly ineffective) lectures and writing on a whiteboard. COVID forced—or stimulated, depending on your point of view—creative use of various media and methodologies to get a point or idea across.
4. Improves research abilities.
Remote education has forced students to become their own study partners. Since it’s impossible to nudge the kid at the desk next to you to ask for the answer to the tough questions on an assignment, students are growing increasingly resourceful at digital research.
Independent learning requires independent research. When students are working at home without the benefit of in-class or nearby peer assistance, they have to find out the answers and methods on their own. While it’s true that some students floundered under these new requirements, many flourished—if not at first, then over time. Googling was long seen as a negative in classrooms. Online teachers couldn’t stop students from searching up and answer, so many embraced the trend and encouraged it. As John Brickley, an English and history teacher in Florida, put it, “Is it more important that I teach students to memorize information or teach them how to find it and evaluate the reliability of that information?” It’s a question teachers have been asking themselves ever since smartphones and laptops invaded classrooms. “In what job will you ever work in where you can’t look up a procedure or how to do something?” Brickley added.
5. Don’t have to be physically in a class.
Anyone who has ridden a school bus at 7 a.m. on a winter morning can tell you that the idea of staying home for a class is pretty appealing. Cut out the wait at the bus stop, the travel time, and the bleary-eyes wandering through chilly hallways in the morning, and the typical high school student would be in a near-perfect world. No travel time, no getting up at the crack of dawn, and the option to stay in cozy pajamas on the couch is a pretty attractive alternative to the brick-and-mortar classroom!
The joy of not getting dressed to leave the house is has not been lost on workers or students alike. Many professionals dress in office casual from the waist up and home casual from the waist down. The lack of a commute saves time, money, and headaches no matter who you are! Comfort is winning out, and companies that are requiring workers to be dressed up and in the office by 8 a.m. are finding it hard to find employees. Students, too, are happy to stay home and do their work in the kitchen, bedroom, living room…wherever they happen to be!
6. Set your own pace.
In asynchronous, self-paced classes, students can go at their own speed and enjoy autonomy. It also means that study time can be whenever the student is most alert and rested.
It isn’t possible for many office workers to work asynchronously—the demands of the working world dictate an immediate response to questions, orders, or other situations—but there is no reason a student who is working on his or her own cannot work at midnight or 1 a.m. if there is no requirement to be in a classroom at 8 a.m. This has been a huge plus for the night owls in the student population. Asynchronous learning has become enormously popular and professionally designed coursework has made it possible for students to work independently.
One is not the loneliest number. For introverts, studying independently at home is a dream come true! For extroverts or people who prefer the social aspects of school over the academic, studying at home is the worst possible experience. But, for those who prefer their own company or find the hectic pace and noise of a typical classroom to be overwhelming, remote education is not even remotely off-putting.