While the learning gap has always existed for students living in the United States, especially for English language learners, those with special needs, those living in poverty, and those in certain minority groups, the divide grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. So school districts are now faced with the difficult task of trying to narrow that gap and help all of their students catch up to grade-level standards while the pandemic continues to rage across the country.
At this time, no one knows for certain how this school year will be affected by the continuation of the pandemic, when school-aged children will be eligible to receive the vaccine, or whether or not schools will be forced to shut their doors again. But what this experience has taught us is that virtual education can be just as effective as in-person learning when it’s implemented properly.
Keep in mind, that as school districts raced to put assignments online in 2020, many teachers did not have the proper tools nor the proper training to educate their students effectively which is why the learning gap widened to the level that it did. Simply turning on a web camera and throwing worksheets online is not the same as providing immersive learning through a well-designed virtual classroom environment.
So what do school administrators need to understand about virtual classrooms moving forward?
- Technology-Using right technology is vital when it comes to running a successful virtual education program. Teachers must have access to technology that is specifically designed with their needs. A web camera, an email address, and a web conferencing system are no substitute for powerful virtual education software.
- Training on the Technology-In order for educators to successfully teach in a virtual learning environment, they must receive high-quality training on all of the programs at their disposal. Plus, they need time to practice using these virtual tools before they are in front of a class.
- Social Learning-Social learning is a key component of learning in any classroom. Virtual learning includes both whole class and small group activities which can easily be accomplished with the right virtual learning software and without the in-person class distractions.
- Assessments-A huge benefit to teaching through a virtual classroom is that both formative and summative assessments can be completed and provide immediate feedback in real-time. While in-person teachers often have to grade assessments long after the class has ended, assessments in a virtual classroom show both the student and the teacher what new information has been understood and retained and what new information needs to be retaught in a different way before the students leave class.
- Analytics-Another benefit to teaching through a well-designed virtual classroom is the collection of important learning, behavior, and performance analytics. Having this information at your fingertips, helps teachers understand which students are grasping new information, which students are staying engaged with the materials, and which students are scoring high on assessments. And all of these metrics allow teachers to determine which students need additional help before they leave class.
Virtual education is here to stay and our traditional school leaders should look to embrace that using virtual learning as an educational strategy builds a stronger learning opportunity for students. It also offers benefits that go beyond the classroom. Being able to hire great teachers outside the community pool, sharing teaching resources and bridging the gap in the student body that gets built because of unnecessary peer pressure.