Author: Eric Levitt
You have probably read more than a few sensationalized news reports about virtual learning issues after one week of school. One. Week.
It is unfortunate if any student or parent has an issue that interferes with their virtual learning; however, these reports fail to acknowledge the unprecedented scope and scale of what school districts are trying to do. These reports also fail to recognize the incredible number of things going right.
Everyone knows that last spring, COVID-19 upended education in ways never imagined. Overnight, teachers and students adapted to remote learning ... admittedly with mixed results. Over the summer, as COVID continued to spread, school districts were faced with many unknowns. Ultimately, most districts rapidly designed virtual learning programs to provide an alternative to face-to-face instruction. Let that sink in. In the space of 2 months, districts created entirely new curricula, trained teachers to provide instruction in a completely new way, designed new protocols for staffing, enrollments, and accountability, and communicated these seismic changes to all stakeholders. Did I mention that COVID was continuing to spread and every district had to turn enormous focus, energy and resources towards implementing comprehensive health and safety measures to protect students and staff.
As school has begun and virtual learning programs are getting off the ground, there are many challenges and issues that have come up for sure. But let's try to put these in perspective. Classroom teachers (primarily) are now responsible for troubleshooting technology issues remotely in thousands of homes. Yes, thousands. At the beginning of a typical school year, the first week or two allows staff to troubleshoot software and hardware problems in person. It happens every year and is not unusual. With virtual learning, parents and grandparents, who are not necessarily familiar with a district's technology, call-in frustrated and upset when their child cannot logon to an assignment, their device is malfunctioning, or any vast number of issues technology gives us the "opportunity" to solve. It's hard for everyone. Small technology departments, teachers, and principals are responding as quickly and as efficiently as possible to every need, while also continuing to serve the face-to-face students who may be experiencing their own technology issues.
Some are upset during the first week of class about long waits when coming to drop-off or pick-up a device for repair. Despite everyone's best efforts, school staffs are not miracle workers, although many come close. COVID has restricted the numbers of people who can safely enter the building which results in long car lines at times. Serving virtual learning families who can drive-up to the school at any time, while face-to-face school is going on, means that staff isn't always immediately available. Technology troubleshooting isn't always quick or easy either and takes time.
Some are upset because a device or software program isn't working as it should. If you've ever used a computer, you know something can always go wrong. School districts maintain fleets of thousands of personal devices that are used by young people and teachers day-in and day-out. Systems fail. Keys fall off. Screens break. Batteries stop charging. Hard drives stop spinning. These are mechanical devices that have many components that require constant maintenance. What about software not working? Districts use anywhere from dozens to more than a hundred different software products for teaching and learning, finance, operations, human resources, and accountability ... and depending on the device, operating system, or web browser being used, compatibility issues are common. The vast majority of the time, these issues are resolved, but again time and effort are involved.
So, as you read about some of the virtual learning growing pains that all districts are going through, please keep in mind the vast undertaking that this truly is for everyone ... schools, teachers, students, and their families ... and realize that everyone involved wants every child to learn without interruption or frustration. Schools need a little patience and understanding afforded to them as they attempt to provide quality instruction under a set of unprecedented circumstances no one saw coming.
Eric Levitt, Ed.D.
South Carolina ASCD