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The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the education of 290 million students worldwide, revealed UNESCO back in March. At the time, widespread school closures were a cause for concern as deferred classes would lead students to play catch up as well as suffer from limited socialization with their peers. Months later, students returned to the classroom to confront a new normal, consisting of temperature checks, face coverings, hand sanitizer, and continuous hand washing. New York City launched a program where ten to twenty percent of staff and students would receive random COVID tests to help prevent further outbreaks. While the reopening of schools, in particular, has not influenced the surge of new cases, Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio alert a shift to remote learning amidst the second wave.
The city uses a seven-day rolling average to help determine when to close, remaining open only if infection levels are below three percent. Consequently, NYC’s school system, comprising 1.1 million students and 75,000 teachers, has begun preparing for the adjustment. “While e-learning is certainly supporting education through these unprecedented times, remote learning does not come without its challenges,” says Lindsay Guion, the Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the management-consulting firm Guion Partners, A firm believer in education, Guion gives back to his community by awarding deserving students with financial aid through the Bessie Smith Scholarship Program. Today, he discusses five e-learning problems and their solutions to help students get the most out of their education.
Along with serious health issues, the pandemic may result in financial worry, loss of loved ones, food insecurity, domestic abuse, mental health issues, and the threat of homelessness. These types of stresses can harm children as they struggle to cope with adverse events and on-going uncertainty. According to the Child Mind Institute, anxiety and trauma can disrupt cognitive processing skills, reduce student’s executive functioning skills (attention, organization, etc.) and disturb emotional regulation. As such, the insecurities caused by COVID-19 may make it harder for students to learn, process, and engage meaningfully. On top of these issues—for the first time—students have to adjust to distance learning. After years of in-classroom instruction, the switch to online can make it feel like students are ‘going at it alone.’ Lindsay Guion recommends that teachers utilize discussion boards, video conferencing, and other collaborative platforms to ease communication with classmates and encourage teamwork. Moreover, he suggests that instructors schedule regular check-ins with students and their families, as studies indicate that a positive student-teacher relationship can foster better learning, especially during hard times.
A stable Internet connection is essential to participate in online learning. Without it, students are unable to log into their online classes and complete their coursework. As reported by TechRepublic, a study by Wilson Electronics reveals that 40% of respondents have noticed an increase in connectivity issues since the implementation of social-distancing measures. “Struggling students are facing a myriad of IT problems,” says Guion. Some of the most common issues are loss of Internet during school hours, difficulty loading materials, bad audio and video, too many simultaneous users in the house at once, and poor connectivity in particular rooms.
To make matters worse, 82% of people don’t have a resolution for their IT problems. “If students face the same issues time and time again, their level of engagement and learning will inevitably take a nose-dive,” says Guion. Similarly, many households require that children share an electronic device, forcing them to take turns to complete their workload. Lindsay Guion offers a short-term solution, which involves connecting to your phone or tablet’s cellular data instead of your home’s Ethernet connection.
Additionally, in dire situations, teachers can create hard copies of lessons and send them out to students with very limited or non-existent Internet access.
Rather abruptly, students and teachers were forced to transition to distance learning to curb the spread of COVID-19. “Unfortunately, not everyone is tech-savvy,” says Guion, “which is a learning curve in itself, as instructors and students learn how to use software programs that are completely foreign to them.” For most people, it is the fear of the unknown that is preventing them from embracing online learning, whether it is unfamiliarity with eLearning tools or confusion over expectations. Schools should provide students with an online demonstration, including a video tutorial and a text-based explanation so that students can steer their eLearning platform with confidence. If students feel comfortable navigating the online environment, they are more likely to stay on top of tasks and enjoy learning. Additionally, Lindsay Guion advises taking things slow. “You want to ease learners into the technology before you subject them to more complex and interactive exercises,” he says, “otherwise you risk overwhelming them with information overload.” Finally, it’s important to ask students for feedback to improve the learning process and ensure that everyone is progressing at a manageable pace.
Remote learning necessitates that students be held responsible for their education. “Instead of relying on teachers to remind them when their report is due, students must keep track of their workload,” says Guion. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Once students have missed one assignment, it’s easy to miss another, creating a snowball effect. Guion advises that teachers be upfront about late work policies and how it will impact their grade. This way, students can fully comprehend the consequences of incomplete tasks. More importantly, Lindsay Guion recommends reaching out to students who appear disengaged after missing a few deadlines and approaching them with empathy. More often than not,
students may be grappling with problems at home, such as parents who are front-line workers or a sick relative. Understanding the reason behind a student’s absenteeism or lack of engagement means that teachers can help them move forward. For instance, developing strategies like goal setting, breaking assignments down into steps, or utilizing the Pomodoro technique encourage students to get back on track.
“I think we can all agree that tuning into a monotonous lecture with zero opportunity for interaction is probably going to be ineffective,” says Guion. If you truly want your audience to understand and retain the information provided, participation and collaboration are key. Learner-learner interaction occurs when fellow students can communicate with one another regarding the course content. “A collaborative atmosphere can build a sense of community, make learning fun, and provide new insights,” Guion shares. He proposes starting student discussion boards, chat rooms, or online forums, where students can share feedback and support each other. For students that are dispassionate about the course content, peer discussion can even inspire a newfound interest in the learning material and help improve their grades. At the same time, an emphasis should be placed on learner-content interaction. “Students should interact with their topics through case studies, quizzes, and simulations to ensure they grasp the information,” says Guion. If your classroom is suffering from little interaction, consider immersing students in the subject matter instead of having them passively attend online lectures.
With the second wave in effect, schools in NYC and around the world may return to online learning. While technology has allowed us to stay connected and productive during the pandemic, distance learning has presented several challenges, from adaptability issues to low engagement. However, Lindsay Guion hopes that by addressing these problems early, we can reduce the number of eLearning glitches faced by students and teachers moving forward.
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