As the COVID-19 pandemic moves into the fall, institutions would do well to connect educators with high-quality professional development opportunities that will help create successful virtual learning experiences

Tech and professional development are key to remote learning success

As the COVID-19 pandemic moves into the fall, institutions should connect educators with high-quality professional development opportunities to create successful virtual learning experiences

Academic institutions across the U.S. have resumed the fall semester, with many choosing to continue offering instruction in virtual or hybrid environments. While educators pivoted and quickly adjusted to virtual learning environments at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition was not without its challenges.

In March, 41 percent of school districts reported they could not provide ongoing virtual lessons to all students due to educators’ lack of appropriate tech tools—a significant barrier to effective remote learning.

Related content: Doing PD in a pandemic

However, it’s important to point out that technology is a complementary tool for high-quality teaching, not a replacement. Learning institutions and school districts must empower educators who use technology to facilitate remote learning by providing appropriate devices, technical training, and ongoing technical support.

To ensure virtual learning is successful and efficient, school districts, colleges and universities must prioritize and invest in professional development for experienced and emerging teachers.

Technology-focused professional development improves the teaching process

Institutions invest significant resources into adopting new technology, but often for-get to invest in the educators who will be utilizing the new systems. Technology, of course, is a means to an end and a complementary tool to trained teachers. Without making space and allocating resources to properly train educators on best use practices before deploying new software or programs, technology can adversely affect the teaching and learning process.

One way to demonstrate support is by investing in online professional learning and other instructional materials that help educators develop technology skills and effectively integrate new technology into their teaching plans.

A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute concludes that well-designed and implemented professional development programs lead to improvements in student knowledge, skill, and competencies.

Even in the virtual teaching environment, educators can take advantage of professional development offerings through mentoring, coaching, and professional learning communities that offer channels for collaboration. Institutions can further facilitate this process by reevaluating school schedules to increase technology professional development opportunities and providing training sessions for educators to familiarize themselves with education technology.

Addressing equity and access to technology

Even if professional development opportunities are made more available, equity and access issues will continue to exacerbate the digital divide, leaving educators ill-equipped to serve their learners.

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a bright light on the widespread racial and economic inequalities in the U.S. education system. Not surprisingly, education opportunities and learning outcomes for students of color and those coming from low-income households have been disproportionately affected.

Furthermore, some teachers don’t have the quiet space, personal devices, or internet connectivity necessary to successfully facilitate remote learning. One in 10 K-12 teachers in the U.S. reported they live in households without sufficient internet connectivity and almost 100,000 teachers don’t have access to a device in their home to conduct remote instruction.

The lack of accessible teaching materials creates an even wider achievement gap and limits access to education for many students, especially those in low-income house-holds, those living in rural communities, English Learners (ELs) and Native American students.

To ensure educators can support effective virtual learning, school districts and institutions must deliver adequate technology devices and the requisite technical know-how to guide their implementation.

Technology cannot replace teachers

Online learning platforms and technology tools provide critical support for virtual learning but ultimately can’t serve as a replacement for qualified classroom teachers. For example, research does not support the isolated use of technology for acquiring a language. Language educators use content knowledge and research-informed teaching strategies in tandem with technology applications to support language learning. Effective language instruction is best guided by language educators rather than solely delivered via computer programs or learning applications.

As school districts and institutions navigate teaching and learning capabilities while the global pandemic persists, technology continues to grow in importance as a tool to support and enhance remote instruction and assessment. Ultimately, however, any learning tool’s efficacy is heavily dependent on the knowledge and expertise of the educator who uses it in the learning environment. Therefore, we must prioritize teacher development and training on technology platforms and, at the same time, promote policies that address equal access to education for all learners.

Supporting educators’ professional development and technological needs is instrumental in advancing learning outcomes and bridging the growing education gap that continues to be worsened by the pandemic. With adequate attention and allocation of financial and human resources, all learners have a better chance of receiving a high-quality educational experience, regardless of the learning environment.

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