Kara Vaughn helps her son Simon, a kindergartner, get set up for class on Zoom at their home in Urbandale, Iowa, on July 30, 2020.

Kara Vaughn helps her son Simon, a kindergartner, get set up for class on Zoom at their home in Urbandale, Iowa, on July 30, 2020. | Photo By: Zach Boyden-Holmes

VIRTUAL LEARNING: Expectations Vs Reality

2020 has thrown our community several curveballs and in this ever changing landscape there is no certainty in our day to day. As unpredictable as it has been these last few months, it is safe to say that the K-12 school professionals have worked tirelessly to help students maintain a sense of normalcy. From providing meals to families during our stay at home months to establishing a safe environment for the return to school, school professionals have constantly attempted to be a constant. It is no surprise that when the ability for in person learning was threatened, school officials quickly pivoted to implement a virtual learning program.

The COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms,” according to the World Economic Forum website. 

Moving to an online learning platform can help millions upon millions of students continue to pursue their education without falling behind. Embracing the online platform can open a great deal of options and opportunities to schools and students. Not only does virtual learning help maintain the risk of spreading COVID 19 low to non-existent, but it allows for a different level of flexibility for teachers and students. The access to digital learning materials like images, videos, and other interactive tools can help create a different level of engagement from students that empower them to take control over the way they learn. 

“Most institutions and students have not yet realized this, but online teaching is no longer a poor substitute for the classroom and will result in tools and dynamics that will continue to be used when the pandemic is brought under control. In fact, knowledge transmission may be better in a medium such as the web that allows for richer interactions,” wrote Forbes Senior Contributor, Enrique Dans. 

While virtual learning can definitely be a long term option for K-12 students, the abrupt implementation of this new platform has caused several unforeseen complications. By trying to get students up and running with online learning, schools have been faced with issues that were most likely unplanned for. 

“Texas schools struggled this spring to abruptly shift from teaching students in classrooms to reaching them at home. Many students fell behind in the makeshift remote learning systems cobbled together when the pandemic hit. Education officials vowed to do a better job come fall. But as the new academic year ramps up, a patchwork system will still leave many students across Texas struggling to get an education. Some will be sharing computers with three or four siblings, their districts unable to muster more than one laptop per family. Others live in rural areas beyond the reach of broadband internet. Thousands of laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots remain on back order, and the state still hasn’t finished building out the system of virtual courses it is offering school districts,” wrote Aliyya Swaby from the Texas Tribune. 

Although remote learning is a great concept and the overall safer alternative to in classroom learning, the execution proved to be lacking and at times ill-conceived. The premise of online learning is the accessibility it creates across the board, however we never stopped to think about those in our community that don’t have that as a possibility. We as a society take internet access for granted and can’t fathom the notion that there are others in our community with little to no access to the web. What happens to the students that don’t have internet access at home? What about the students that have internet access but a low bandwidth that makes it impossible to have a consistent connection? Have we thought this through?

“Jill Shoemaker has two college students living at home. One needed to submit a paper to her professor but, without a strong enough internet signal at their Livingston home, she had to drive to the library at 1 a.m. to connect to the public Wi-Fi system before her deadline,” wrote Emma Kennedy, staff writer at The Advocate. “Farther down the road, Lori Parker has a high school student and a law school student competing for bandwidth on a Verizon hotspot device while her husband struggles with lagging Zoom meetings at work. They often need to stagger their work times to complete all their tasks,” added Kennedy. 

Additionally, school districts do not all have the necessary infrastructure to handle the amount of traffic coming from the new online environment. Technical challenges from an inadequate bandwidth to cyberattacks are some of the issues districts have faced during this back to school season. Aside from the technical aspects that come with remote learning, a huge percentage of students do not have access to the correct tools, such as laptops, desktops or tablets to get their work done. 

Despite the many tools at teachers’ disposal, many of their students aren’t able to connect due to a lack of computers, stable internet connections, or support at home to keep them focused on schoolwork. And even when they are able to log on, students still struggle in a variety of ways to follow along in their new learning environment — something teachers are finding that no amount of apps can help them resolve,” said Natt Garun in an article on The Verge. 

Fortunately, like the human spirit, our community is resilient, resourceful and flexible. Programs like the Houston Independent School District @ H.O.M.E. Learning Program, the Park and Learn Initiative, TMobile’s Project 10Million, and the Astros Foundation ‘At-Home’ Learning Support, are just some of many ways our community has come together to help students and parents make the best out of our new normal. 

“‘When you’re implementing a big program like this, you’re going to have bumps on the road. You just know and realize that. What’s important is that we’re listening to what those bumps on the road are, and we’re answering them and responding to them and meeting the needs of students, families and teachers,’” said Carol Boatman, Anchorage School District’s Director of Learning Innovation.

How are things going for your district? Email at marketing@primeroedge.com to let us know!

Learn more about what these programs have to offer:

HISD @H.O.M.E.

T-Mobile Project 10Million

Park and Learn Initiative

Astros Foundation ‘At-Home’ Learning Support