While schools were forced to shift to distance learning during the pandemic, many districts have continued offering remote or hybrid learning options – whether to accommodate disease outbreaks, extreme weather conditions, or other issues that might force the closure of a school. But as schools across the country roll out distance learning programs for the long-term, many questions remain about how to execute these strategies most effectively.
Here are six of the most common challenges we hear from school administrators when they’re rolling out distance learning, along with solutions for addressing each of them.
#1: INTERNET ACCESS
Let’s start with one of the most obvious challenges facing the current K-12 distance learning revolution: Internet access.
Recent reports from Common Sense Media show that even after the efforts made to connect students during the height of the pandemic, 25% of students, or 12 million students across America, do not have adequate Internet access at home. This presents an enormous task to states and counties looking to implement e-learning programs.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the digital divide or homework gap did not get as much attention as it deserved. It’s always been an issue lingering in the background but was often pushed down the priority list. Now, the inequities it presents for millions of students across the country are certainly garnering more focus and coverage in state and national publications, including in The New York Times.
Many students without Internet at home previously resorted to libraries, community centers, and fast food restaurants for the WiFi access that they needed to complete their assignments. Or educators simply avoided assigning schoolwork that required Internet access.
Teachers had no choice but to move to online coursework during the pandemic. Yet at the same time, social distancing, closure of non-essential businesses, and stay-at-home advisories made the provisional avenues off-limits for student—and highlighted just how wide the connectivity gap is when it comes to consistent, reliable Internet access.
One possible solution: School Bus WiFi. Many schools take advantage of Kajeet’s SmartBus WiFi solution to provide Internet access to up to 65 students at a time when placed in strategic locations across town or in the school’s parking lot during specific hours.
#2: SOLUTIONS FOR MULTI-STUDENT HOUSEHOLDS
Having the right tools is necessary for success in any endeavor but is especially critical in distance learning. While many schools have implemented 1:1 programs that provide Chromebooks for students in support of their remote schooling needs, many have not had the funds to do so.
In an ideal distance learning scenario, each student would have a dedicated device to complete his or her work. If the student were at home, only that student would need to use a home computer at that time because other students in the house would be at school. In the case of a pandemic or inclement weather, everyone may be learning and/or working from home, putting additional strains on families’ digital resources as multiple people vie for time on a limited number of devices.
Unless schools provide students with mobile devices or laptops, kids’ ability to complete schoolwork will be inhibited by the need to use shared computers at home.
Some possible solutions: Scheduled computer usage time. If individual Chromebooks for students are not possible, parents may communicate with their schools about their need to share a computer and segment instruction into 45-minute intervals so that the student can alternate with the other students in the household for computer time.
Even better than segmenting time is equipping households with HomeWireless™, a cost-effective and robust fixed WiFi solution made for multi-student homes. This solution allows multiple students to access distance learning simultaneously, without compromising on bandwidth or speed.
#3: ONLINE VS. TRADITIONAL LEARNING
While distance learning has been carried out for well over a century (a recent example is online and distance education programs offered by universities), the widespread use of distance learning in K-12 schools is relatively new.
As schools have begun to incorporate technology into their practices, they’ve realized a number of benefits from increased technology usage, including savings on print materials and the ability to create personalized learning experiences for students. But they’ve experienced drawbacks as well, including unresolved questions about learning comprehension and differentiation, among others.
The bottom line is that online instruction is very different from traditional instruction and comes with its own set of challenges. For this reason, it makes sense to have more realistic expectations about what students can accomplish when they’re learning remotely.
One possible solution: Modified instruction. Recorded lessons may not be the same as classroom instruction, but they’ll take up less data and give students the opportunity to rewind to return to the recording for review later.
#4: PARENTS AT HOME
As distance learning shifts childcare responsibilities during work hours from the school to the home, it places an additional burden on adults who may also be working remotely during their children’s school day.
Many K-12 students, especially those in lower grades, still need constant supervision by adults during the day. Even if the supervision required is minimal, parents may still need to assist their children with schoolwork.
Distance learning overall can be difficult for parents to manage for any number of reasons, including technical difficulties, working with multiple children, or feeling unprepared to provide instructional support.
One possible solution: Parents forming support groups via social, personal, or professional networks so that each parent can serve as an “expert” in a subject matter and act as a resource to other parents or students within the group. More on how parents and community members can come together to support their students’ education in this blog.
#5: PARENTS AT WORK
Although many parents will be working remotely when their kids are learning remotely, that’s not always the case, especially for parents who work in areas like healthcare, retail, grocery, transportation, delivery and other services. Their children may be dropped off at daycare or another location away from home, which means distance learning may not work in quite the same way.
One possible solution: Dedicate time to working with diverse learners, which include children of essential workers and children with disabilities. In addition to modifications to lesson delivery and completion expectations, these students may need to be assigned counselors to give them special instruction or assistance to get their work done and keep up with their peers.
#6: UNCERTAIN DURATION
Whether it’s a pandemic, a snowstorm, or a water main break at the school, we can’t always predict when things will clear up and kids can return to the classroom. Many parents and educators have a difficult time planning around so much uncertainty, which introduces yet another layer of complication to distance learning.
One possible solution: Plan for the long term. With any project or activity, it’s always easier to scale back than it is to build out—and the same goes for distance learning, especially since it’s likely to remain part of the educational experience in one way or another going forward. If schools (and parents) keep in mind that distance learning is now simply a part of the learning experience, they can make necessary adjustments to ensure that their learners can be successful. This may include creating a dedicated workspace for distance learning at home, creating a routine to help students manage their days, finding more permanent ways to create balance and structure at home, or just thinking and acting positively about staying at home.
Many of the challenges to distance learning are unavoidable, but some strategies can help keep learning achievable and productive during these periods.
Do you have any tips for improving distance learning in your home or with your students? Post them in the comments below.