The Challenges of Distance Learning

Like many of you, I have a child who is now attending her classes from home due to the COVID-19 crisis.  As a freshman in high school she had been enjoying the benefits of a large high school campus filled with a diverse set of students, teachers, and activities.  Since the words “shelter-in-place” became a part of our daily vocabulary and routine, I’m even more aware how fortunate that my family is to be part of a school district in Silicon Valley where the majority of families are technically savvy and have access to the technology required for remote learning. 

But I recognize many families within the United States don’t have that.  With us, the transition to remote learning was smooth and quick.  Within two weeks of being sheltered in place, my daughter’s school was up and running with online classes.  But my nieces, who live just 20 minutes away, are still transitioning to online learning four weeks out.  Unlike online colleges, this situation isn’t a choice, its mandated, and many K-12 schools and families weren’t prepared, nor could they have ever imagined needing to be.

What do students need to participate in distance learning?

  • Need a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet with a camera?

    Many schools are able to provide students with a loaner device if a student doesn’t own one.  Google announced they are offering free Chromebooks. Contact your local school district to learn about online learning resources available to you.
  • Internet connection is critical for remote learning.  Even families with Wi-Fi may find it difficult to manage as they likely have several family members working and learning from home, sucking up the Wi-Fi bandwidth.  To manage, create a schedule for Wi-Fi use among family members, or contact your cable company to see how you can boost your Wi-Fi performance.  It could be as simple as a plug-in Wi-Fi booster.  Companies like Google, AT&T, and several cable providers have stepped up to provide low-income and rural families with free internet.  To find out how to get access to free internet for your family, contact your local school district or state education department.
  • There’s one computing device you might have missed. With Wi-Fi connection, your child’s school will be able to utilize an online document sharing platform.  My daughter’s school was already using Google Docs to share homework between students and teachers, often never needing physical paper.  But many other schools are still collecting homework the traditional way via paper. Other document scanning companies are offering a free document scanner to educators during the COVID-19 crisis.  Learn how your school may qualify for a free ScanSnap document scanner.
  • The final requirement is access to online meeting tools, such as Google Hangouts.  Teachers can teach and see their students, and the students can see each other, all in real-time.  This helps to reduce the isolation students and teachers may feel during this difficult time.  Other online meeting platforms include Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.  Try to set your student up in their room, or in a quiet corner of the house, where they can be free from distractions while class is on.

For college students, the challenge is a bit different.  While most colleges / universities have the infrastructure to conduct online classes, many components of higher education are not so clear.  How does taking classes online affect class credits, what classes are eligible for Title IV aid, how do students participate in classes that are supposed to be hands-on, such as science classes with lab hours?  The U.S. Department of Education is currently working on these standards and hopefully they will be resolved for graduating seniors.

School provides so many other things than just academics. They provide social interaction and a place where students can explore things they’re passionate about; art, music, photography, sports.  To keep your child enriched, there are so many things to do right at home.  Anything creative, like painting, sketching, taking photographs, or making a home movie, are easy and inexpensive ways to spend time.  For older students who are aware of the critical situation, they may find a way to help their family or community.  My daughter decided to make medical masks using dish towels and hair bands, and her 3D Design teacher is giving her extra credit for it!

Getting outdoors can be a great way to manage stress and cabin fever.  While still practicing social distancing, you can take walks, hikes, bike rides.  And if you have a pet, that’s the perfect excuse to get outside.  Also, just in your own yard, see how many different types of birds you can take pictures of, or what types of bugs you can find. 

However you manage this time at home, our education system will eventually go back to normal, but we will be forever changed as we work through the difference between emergency remote learning and online learning. With distance learning, at least we know our kids can continue their education.  I want to thank all of the school administrators, teachers and IT professionals, dedicated to our kids, who make this possible.