When unexpected school closures occur, many schools have a backup plan in place: digital learning days.
Many schools have been using digital tools to continue instruction and communication when inclement weather, natural disasters, and other emergencies force them to close their doors since 2017.
However, implementing e-learning — also known as remote learning, distance learning, or cyber days — was not an easy task. Schools had a lot to work through, from network and connectivity issues to teacher training, to deliver instruction online and provide alternative assignments for students who did not have devices or internet access at home.
However, to ensure that students retain a voice and choice in their learning even when it occurs outside of school walls, schools must first examine several factors. The following are the most important considerations:
Ascertain that students have access to devices and the internet.
Because some students may not have access to a computer, laptop, or mobile device at home to access e-learning activities, schools may be required to provide them. However, funding is a challenge, and schools may not have enough to implement a one-to-one program for all grade levels, according to Ishmael.
Furthermore, while many schools are connected to high-speed internet broadband, this is not always the case for students at home. Even if they are permitted to take devices home, they may be unable to use them.
For example, while 98 per cent of public schools in the United States are connected to high-speed internet broadband, this is not always the case for students at home. Even if they are permitted to bring devices home, they may not use them.
Some schools have begun to install mobile Wi-Fi hotspots on school buses and park them in low-income areas. Schools can collaborate with libraries or other educational institutions to provide loaner hotspots if they are open. With the current COVID-19 outbreak, several broadband providers offer service deals to assist households with no internet access. Schools must continue to ensure that they have enough bandwidth to support the increased use of systems on which staff and students will rely for e-learning.
Customize online instruction to meet the needs and abilities of your students.
Schools must also consider how e-learning might look for primary students, who may not have had as much experience with blended or online instruction as middle and high school students. While many schools use learning management systems like Google Classroom, there are other ways to deliver instruction, such as sending assignments via email, posting activities for lower-level grades on school websites, or even sending home paper packets.
It is also critical to assess and meet the needs of English language learners and students with disabilities. If you will provide online education, you have to make sure that students get their accommodations in an online environment. You must also consider the level of tech skill and support available at home. Sometimes the devices you send home are the only ones available to families.
Fortunately, digital collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams, include accessibility features such as the Immersive Reader tool (which reads information aloud to students) and language translation capabilities.
Don’t Ignore Professional Development
You can’t just digitize a classroom experience and put it online if you don’t have professional development to back it up. However, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page regarding unprecedented school closures.
Many school districts, federal and state education departments, and other educational institutions provide online webinars for educators who want to learn how to teach remotely.
Schools should be given a little more time to flesh out their e-learning program to learn a lot about training teachers for e-learning from higher education institutions.
Maintain a high level of data privacy and security.
One of the most important considerations for schools considering remote learning is determining how to stay secure online. Schools may see a significant increase in phishing attempts, malware and spyware scams, particularly during a national emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff should use devices when handling student information, tighten email security, have an approved list of instructional resources for teachers, and reinforce cyber hygiene practices.
In the meantime, schools should consider implementing single sign-on capabilities for platforms where IT teams can monitor student data. They should also plan for device content filtering and consider that federal laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) apply to e-learning programs. They should be required to ensure the same level of data security as if they were working in a traditional school.
Knowing what drives and slows e-learning can help administrators, IT leaders, and staff make better decisions for their programs. They will also deliver quality, accessible instruction to all students as schools prepare for e-learning.