- The pandemic was tough on education, but wider access to virtual learning is a positive outcomes
- In particular, edtech helps students and teachers stay connected when they would otherwise have to miss school for medical reasons
- See related article: Prioritizing teacher well-being can help schools retain talent
There’s no disputing the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on almost every aspect of daily life — from the ways we interacted with the people around us to how we earned our living, received our medical care, and even did our weekly food shopping. However, few areas of modern life were more significantly affected than education.
Students, parents, and teachers alike were compelled to rapidly adjust to new learning methods, environments, and technologies. Today, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the results of this sudden and unprecedented shift to remote learning are being roundly, but not always justifiably, criticized. Though pandemic-related learning loss is a legitimate and profound concern, to discredit virtual learning on this basis would be to misread the situation and to miss out on an invaluable opportunity.
The true lesson of the pandemic is that virtual learning can be an incredible tool for accessing education during crisis periods, including sickness. But creating a remote learning space is not in itself sufficient. Teachers and students alike can stay connected during periods of illness through the effective and strategic use of edtech.
Students who experience significant illness are likely to feel cut off and isolated from their peers, their teachers, and their school. The experience of illness in and of itself can be alienating for children, who are often all too cognizant of how their daily reality differs from that of their friends.
Edtech’s rapidly expanding capabilities, though, can go far to alleviate this sense of isolation and alienation in children who are compelled to learn at home due to illness. The key lies in the creation of virtual spaces and remote learning experiences that not only engage students, but that exceed the limits of what is possible in the physical classroom.
Through online educational gameplay, for example, students can not only learn from any location — whether at home or in the classroom — but they can also interact with their peers in real time. These technologies enable students to meet and experience a shared learning environment, the universe of the game, for example. Students who are learning at home due to illness need no longer feel different or set apart. The virtual space allows them to share the learning space and to engage with both the learning material and their fellow students through the same medium.
While edtech offers a tremendous opportunity for educators to create highly effective learning spaces for remote and in-person students to share, a fair amount of trial and error is all but inevitable. The key to building connections between teachers, in-person students, and remote learners lies in the educator’s willingness to be creative and to experiment.
For example, it is unrealistic to expect your standard, in-person teaching methods to translate exactly to the virtual classroom. This is, indeed, one of the most important lessons educators can learn from the pandemic. To be successful in the virtual space, educators need to be more–not less–engaged. Students are also likely to require more flexibility in the remote environment and certainly will benefit from some extra cheerleading. This is especially true for students who are transitioning from the physical classroom or who may be following a hybrid learning schedule.
Educators may need to create online learning activities, for example, that allow students to collaborate asynchronously or to work outside of traditional school hours. Teachers may also need to deploy technology that allows students to complete their assignments in diverse media, such as using video or audio rather than text. This allows students to enjoy more autonomy in their education as they learn to identify and capitalize on their own unique interests and strengths.
It’s not only the students who benefit from the increased connection engendered by innovation in remote learning technologies. Teachers, too, are realizing the enormous power of the virtual classroom and the effect such a technological revolution is likely to have on their careers.
The advent of the 5G network, for example, isn’t just untethering the remote workforce, it’s transforming education. The speed, stability, and ubiquity of this network mean that students and teachers alike have more accessibility than ever before. Thanks to the immense capacity of 5G, the form of an online environment is virtually limitless. Students may meet virtually in the ancient Roman Colosseum, on the high seas of the Pequod, or inside the human circulatory system.
In addition to offering seemingly limitless opportunities for engaging students in the virtual space, edtech also supports educators in maintaining their careers, even when faced with illness. Teachers who are experiencing sickness no longer have to face the heartbreaking decision to resign or go on sabbatical while attending to their health. The remote classroom means that teachers can take their work anywhere and everywhere, maintaining a connection with students that is as robust as in the physical classroom, if not more so.
The flexibility and efficacy of virtual learning spaces can be a tremendous advantage–for instance, as teachers advocate for their health and well-being in workplace policy. Those who were concerned about taking sick leave, for example, now have an outstanding alternative in the form of the remote learning space.
Edtech isn’t just transforming the learning experiences of students in the brick-and-mortar classroom. Now more than ever, it’s expanding access and optimizing the learning experience of students facing illness. Innovations in edtech are making the virtual classroom a site of wonder, discovery, and equity. In the process, they’re helping to build stronger connections between teachers and students than ever before.
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