Education Is Suffering Through Distance Learning, But What Can Be Done?

Walking the dogs, I listen to different radio shows. This morning it was Amstrong & Getty, who were discussing schooling at home. Jack Armstrong, who has two young sons, admitted he didn’t feel he was doing a great job—and most of the parents who chimed in with text messages, which he read on-air, gave themselves failing grades, as well.

Speaking with parents and teachers in Pacific Palisades, I’ve heard mostly praise for Paul Revere Middle School and Palisades High School and what has been accomplished this spring.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case for many public schools in Los Angeles, which have been challenged by two main issues.

The first was the initial lack of computers and internet connections for many public-school students. The second was expecting parents, many of whom still worked, to oversee the daily instruction, oftentimes in an apartment that held many people, including siblings who were in different grades.

In an April 21 L.A. Times story (“Students Are in ‘Desperate Need’ of Computers Amid Coronavirus Distance Learning”) the reporter noted that “As the school year slips away, state officials are far behind in a race to provide students the computers and broadband they need to continue learning that was interrupted by campus shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, in a May 11 L.A. Daily News story (“Coronavirus: Nearly All LAUSD Students Are Now Learning Online, Says District Superintendent”), added that through district efforts to secure internet and computers for its students, more than 96 percent of them are now connected to their teachers virtually.

So, the kids have internet connections, but now what?

“Dear Students: Please Come to Class!” said Rick Gough, chair of the English Department at North Hollywood High School, in a May 10 op-ed in the News.

He wrote that as he was preparing lessons over the weekend, he saw evidence that “Students have been drifting away from ‘school,’ such as it is.”

In two of his honors English 10 sections, about 45 percent his students were not showing up for Zoom meetings, nor submitting assigned reading journal entries. “My three AP English Lit sections are slightly better, with an average of 52 percent showing up. My journalism/creative writing elective is the worst; about 25 percent of the reporters are writing news stories.”

Gough said he has contacted students who say they are struggling with motivation. “Yesterday, I received two emails from students explaining that their gardeners had clipped the internet cables. There are also a surprising number of students who are working real jobs during our online learning. Working to help support their families very likely in quarantine-imposed financial duress.”

He explained that no matter what work the students do or do not do, nobody will receive a grade lower than what that person had when schools closed on March 13.

“Teachers are stuck with trying to motivate students to come to school for the sake of learning itself,” Gough wrote. “Though this is pretty much the reason most teachers become teachers in the first place.”

In an April 20 Atlantic story (“Distance Learning Isn’t Working”), the author details the issues of online learning. “Parents, teachers, and administrators need to understand the unique nature of education at home. Every family looks different and has different needs.

“Some children have no siblings; some have many. Some children have parents who don’t speak English as a first language, but who could provide instruction much more easily in their native languages. Some families have two working parents trying to fit in school with their kids. Some families have an out-of-work parent because of the financial crisis that has resulted from this pandemic.”

Even though Christopher Murdock’s 2011 summary, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Distance Learning,” is based on an article titled “College Distance Education Courses: Evaluating Benefits and Costs from Institutional, Faculty and Students’ Perspectives” (https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ917151), it also highlights online learning problems that many elementary and high school students face, too.

Good

* No commute, fighting for parking spots, & less time away from home

* More efficient use of one’s time

* Virtually anyone can use it

* Classrooms will be less crowded

* Lessen the chance of a schedule conflict between classes

* Supporting more environmentally friendly technology by decreasing the use of paper and photocopying — everything is nearly electronic

 Bad

* Less one-on-one interaction between student and teacher

* Less interaction with other students

* Delayed feedback from peers and instructors

* Lack of direct assistance and explanation from instructors

* Easy to fall behind if student does not have time management skills

* Need access or to own a computer, internet & specific software

* Harder to receive feedback if the faculty member is busy-can’t just go to their office hours

Ugly

* Expensive to train new instructors on how to use distance education

* Difficult to motivate students for learning

* Some instructors have a negative attitude toward online technology

* Instructors will have to re-design a course to fit online learning objectives

* Instructor cannot receive visual feedback as well compared to traditional teaching

* Different teaching practices from traditional classroom environment

* Hard to stop students from cheating during quizzes or examinations.

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