Educators Reach a Tipping Point with Online Learning
March 2020 through June 2020 probably ranks as one of the most eventful times in the annals of education history in the United States. A pandemic caused by Covid-19 forced schools to suddenly close, leaving students, families, and educators wondering how education would continue. Parents who found themselves working at home had to juggle their children’s online education schedule or, in some cases, retrieve paper packets of schoolwork from their child’s school. Teachers were asked to become online teaching experts with many teachers not having experience in teaching online courses. Students and families who depended on school-provided breakfast or lunch were left without proper nutrition. Special needs students and ELL students did not readily adapt to an online environment. Then, just as the number of Covid-19 cases began to decrease, video footage of George Floyd, a Black man, dying while being held down by a White police officer’s knee on his neck for almost nine minutes resulted in nation-wide protests.
As a Professor in the School of Education at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, I teach students in the Masters and Ed.D. programs in an asynchronous online environment. Most of my students, who hail from NJ, PA, DC, California, Texas, and other states, discussed their experiences in trying to maintain some semblance of education for their students in their K-12 schools during this unpredictable time. What slowly started to emerge in many, but certainly not all, cases were resiliency and a sense of "we are all in this together." Some of my students, who work as teachers and principals in urban school settings, traveled every day to hand out meals to their students and their families. Students who were not engaged in their schoolwork were contacted by teachers, counselors, and others to check on their emotional well-being. White, Black, Latino, and Asian students and families expressed outrage over the death of George Floyd and seemed to realize that Black Lives Matter is a cause for all of us to embrace. Students’ social-emotional health and eradicating racism were being talked about with renewed energy. Teachers found that with State assessments cancelled, the online teaching environment was conducive to individualizing instruction by focusing on and building upon students’ strengths and interests. Students were able to easily collaborate with their peers in team projects, albeit through video-conferencing software. Certainly, the transformation to online learning was not without its challenges. The difference between wealthy and poorer school districts exacerbated the digital divide between haves and have nots. The wealthier districts were able to distribute laptops or tablets to most, if not all, of their students, while poorer school districts had to rely on the charitable contributions of wealthy individuals or corporations to supply laptops and free internet access to students’ families. Teachers and administrators who had already developed online courses and were using a digital platform found transitioning to an online teaching/learning environment easier than their colleagues in poorer districts.
I feel as though we, as educators, have reached a tipping point in the way that education is delivered. Now is the time to reimagine schools in a way that works for all students, not just those students who know how to play school. Thomas Friedman (June, 2020) speaks of the need for schools to move from a binary to quantum mode of thinking to allow learning to occur in multiple stages at one time. Zhao (2018) advocates for providing opportunities for children to demonstrate their greatness in their own way through personalized education and enhancing students’ strengths instead of fixing deficits. Couros (2015) says that we should focus on learning by asking questions instead of looking for answers, creating instead of consuming, and making learning deep and personal. Now is the time to re-imagine what learning can be for students. We need to really live up to the many vision statements that speak to educating ALL students. That means that we can no longer rely on a one-size-fits-all strategy and hope for the best. Providing online and in-person learning environments based on students’ interests, grouping students by ability rather than age, utilizing cross-curricular content based on real-world problems, and incorporating experiential learning can begin to transform learning reality instead of simply being educational jargon thrown into vision and mission statements.
Couros, G. (2015). The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
Kumar, R., Berger-Sweeney, J., Crow, M.M., Friedman, T.M., & Nooyi, I. (2020, June 11). Future of Education [Webinar]. Infosys. https://www.infosys.com/newsroom/events/2020/future-education.html
Zhao, Y. (2018). Reach for Greatness: Personalizable Education for All Children. Corwin Impact Leadership Series.