Classroom to Cloud: 3 Factors to Consider When Transitioning to Remote Learning
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Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. In the face of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, organizations of all types are being forced to rapidly reevaluate and restructure the way they conduct business during a public health emergency. Like other business leaders, school administrators must think critically about how each decision they make may impact students, parents, and surrounding communities.
Just as some professionals are working remotely in a bid to maintain productivity while practicing social distancing, schools are making moves toward virtual lessons with the aim of minimizing disruption while keeping students safe and healthy. According to a recent Education Week post, 39 states (at the time of writing) have decided to close schools due to COVID-19. Thus far, an astounding 41.8 million school-age students have been affected by the closures, and this number is sure to grow as outbreak minimization efforts continue.
Among affected students are those in Washington state, where the country's first case of the virus was discovered back in January. In response to the contagion, Dr. Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Seattle-area Northshore School District, mandated that her district would switch to virtual learning for a period of two weeks before declaring “Education is a service to which our district is resolutely committed; it is not a place.” The forward-thinking example set by Reid illustrates how measures that may have seemed radical just a few weeks ago are now being not only considered but enacted in many districts across the nation.
For school leadership, innovation and flexibility are more important than ever. With that said, let’s examine some of the factors to take into account when implementing a course of action for the transition to cloud-based learning.
Communication is key
Beyond requiring a new style of learning from affected students, the move from the classroom to the cloud may result in a significant lifestyle jolt for parents and guardians, so it is critical to keep the lines of communication open. For instance, Dr. Reid began her district's switch to virtual learning by sending out an informational letter to families and making sure her team returned every inquiring phone call within 30 minutes. The district also hosted a webinar attended by 2,500 parents and livestreamed a cabinet meeting so families could watch district leaders make and discuss plans in real time.
In addition to employing the above strategies, Donna Mazyck of the National Association of School Nurses recommended that leadership enlist school nurses to play a prominent part in communication efforts. As CNN contributor Dakin Andone explained, “School nurses in particular can help alleviate unnecessary anxiety … especially when families have the news on repeat.”
Access is imperative
Virtual learning requires a different set of tools to its classroom-based counterpart. With this in mind, Reid’s district made sure all students had access to the necessary equipment and supplied a device and a hotspot to those who did not have a computer or internet connectivity at home. Of course, in some of the country's school districts, the demand for these tools outpaces the supply, which leads us to our next topic.
Students facing hardships or disabilities must be considered
Questions to take into account when contemplating school closure include how best to serve students from low-income households who may not have internet access (if the district is unable to equip them with connectivity), what child care options are available to parents and guardians, how to ensure students who depend on the school lunch program still have access to meals, and how the healthcare industry's existing worker shortage might be compounded by employees staying home to look after their kids. Often, students who have the least are the ones most at risk, so schools should attempt to prioritize resource distribution to high-need cases as much as possible.
There is also the question of how remote learning may impact students with special learning needs or disabilities. As Bonnie Donham of the New Hampshire Parent Information Center pointed out, “There are some children who really need hands-on support. It’s hard for a child for example to get physical therapy through remote learning.” According to Donham, districts contemplating making the switch to remote learning need to figure out how to continue adhering to student Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that may require, for example, hard copies of papers or braille assignments. When certain required special education services are simply not feasible during remote learning, the Department of Education permits districts to provide compensatory services once school buildings reopen.
Ultimately, there are countless factors for school administrators to take into account in times like these, and approaches are likely to vary from district to district. Whichever decisions are made, districts will learn from these choices and apply this knowledge to the way they handle future emergencies related to health and safety, weather, natural disasters, and more. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and other disruptions without end dates, it is critical that schools maintain flexibility and efficiency. In a world where technology rules, let's use it to keep the learning going.