The Challenge of Online K-12 Education
as printed in several Phoenix-area newspapers in July 2020
I love family vacations.
This year, my family took a road trip. We marveled at Mount Rushmore. We were awestruck by the Crazy Horse Memorial. So many priceless memories as these monuments naturally led to discussions about history. I was reminded to treasure my education. During those hours driving, my thoughts continually drifted back to the tremendous changes and challenges facing our schools right now.
Educating our children is one of our most vital responsibilities as parents and communities. At Veeya, we believe educators are Life-Changers. Since 2009, our contribution has been to better equip Arizona youth by providing technology that makes teachers and staff more productive. Thanks to our collective efforts, almost 20,000 students finished the most difficult school year in our lifetimes.
The challenges education faces for 2020-21 require intentional execution. When schools were forced to a virtual model back in March, people were understanding of homework packets, lack of grades, and optional online classroom meeting. Families appreciated the effort and were thankful. However, expectations will be different this year. In Arizona, we know traditional in-person classes will not begin until (at least) after Labor Day. The quality of learning experiences will be expected to keep up with traditional education.
So why is this so hard for schools?
Most businesses have been using online collaboration for years. Platforms like Microsoft 365, Google, Slack, Zoom, Asana, WebEx and GoToMeeting were already well-established in businesses. As such, shifting to a fully remote model was less impactful for most businesses. Most all meetings, decision-making processes, communication patterns and day-to-day habits were already driven by technology before COVID-19 interrupted.
Yes, most schools have made tremendous advances in technology over the last few years. But very few K-12 teachers have needed to (or been allowed to) explore and develop methods of engaging learners in a remote classroom setting. This shift is a unique opportunity for educators to make the most important advances in online collaboration in history.
What decisions should schools make now?
Schools have two challenges to solve. First, shifting the traditional educational experience to an online model. We’ve found the second to be less obvious, but no less important: Shifting decision-making, administrative tasks, and fundamental communications to an online model. Both are critical, and have an impact on the health of the school.
We all learned immensely during the last quarter of 2019-20 and continue learning together. These are a few key steps schools are taking to prepare for the 2020-21 school year:
Send clear and consistent communication with families. Parents, take the time to understand the guidance you’re receiving.
Set aside time for teachers to learn the remote classroom platform you’ve selected. If you’ve chosen Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, take advantage of Immersive Reader and the integrated tools for families with special needs students or English as Second Language.
Provide teachers with training specific to techniques for engaging people online. Simple things like looking at the camera or asking questions. Planning to ask students to engage every five minutes will help kids pay attention online.
Upgrade bandwidth at the school. Many teachers will be delivering online classes from their physical classrooms. Take the time to ensure you have the bandwidth to support your plan.
Parents — it’s our role to ensure our kids are ready to be online students. Be familiar with the technology your school is using. Perhaps most importantly, take the time every week to encourage your kids’ teachers. They are working hard. They are incredibly committed to your child. Let them know you’re thankful for their investment in your family.