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In response to the spread of COVID-19, on February 3, 2020, the islands off the east coast of China, known as Hong Kong, closed their schools. This sent home more than 900,000 students in this self-governing region of China. The students’ first priority: Begin some serious social distancing.
With half the school year yet to go, nearly all schools reached out to offer those students online learning. Much like those in the United States soon would be, teachers and students were caught off-guard. They had little time to adapt.
After weeks of trial and error, Hong Kong’s teachers — and students — can share what they’ve learned. Plenty of challenges emerged. So did some tips for success. What they now share can help communities of students anywhere who may be forced to face the new normal of learning from home.
The U.S. Department of Education recently released a new proposed rule on distance education that could alter online learning, correspondence, and study abroad programs long after ongoing social distancing practices have ceased. These changes are made pursuant to Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). The HEA provides federal money to students and institutions of higher learning via grants, scholarships, loans, and other forms of support. Title IV authorizes student financial aid programs that are the main source of direct federal support for most students in postsecondary education.
Students are using several online-learning platforms to join daily meetings with teachers and classmates. Some schools have paid for their classes to take place on Google Hangouts Meet. Others use Zoom, Microsoft Teams or BigBlueButton.
The proposed revision to the definition of “distance education” would eliminate references to technologies such as DVDs and CD-ROMs used to facilitate interaction between students and instructors. Instead of listing the various technologies, the proposal replaces them with the words “other media”—broader statutory language that encompasses current and future technology changes in distance learning.
- School districts will serve increasingly as a technological support arm for its families – The demand for technology and resources will only continue to increase at a district level and, as such, districts and schools will engage even more in the support role for families. Any controversy in 1:1 technology learning environments will be reduced. Access to technology in order to facilitate remote learning environments from any household will become the norm and the benchmark in school districts.
As the demand for technology increases, so too will the expectation that local, state, and federal funding be used to help fund it. School districts’ budgets will see a reallocation occur toward technology solutions.
- Schools will further adapt to cater to the physical environment –Food, physical health, technology hardware, and physical spaces will all require a second look. We can imagine how class sizes and school schedules could change as a result of social distancing and public health measures. Specifically, we could expect smaller class sizes with larger virtual offerings. Several European research institutions have shown that smaller class sizes will result in a slower spread of communicable diseases and, as such, schools have made attempts to limit class sizes for their students through staggered scheduling.
There is also the obvious, existing proof that smaller class sizes give students a learning advantage as well. We will see more schools fight for smaller class sizes and staggered scheduling to not only respond to the recent public health demands but also for the sake of their students’ learning outcomes as well.
- Schools will further adapt to cater to the emotional needs of students –Therapy, social-emotional learning, mentorship, and counselling for students from multiple avenues will grow insignificance. The need for teletherapy had already shown itself before the recent months, but the demand has assuredly accelerated. More solutions and programs around SEL technology solutions that are accessible at home will find their way to districts’ portfolio of enterprise technology as well.
The current societal landscape is uncertain, which makes the future more so. However, there are distinct moments that have shown educational leaders the areas of improvement in processes and technology systems. The opportunity for school district leaders to act is now, in an era of change and progression, to set up the foundation for the future of education.