This article is part of a multi-part series examining the unique virtual learning challenges and opportunities many parents, teachers, and students face in the age of COVID-19. Learn more about our research methodology and key findings here.
Last month, over 1 billion students were affected by #COVID19 school closures. Even before the pandemic, the world was facing a learning crisis. We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future.
In the daily flurry of negative news, we often hear about the struggles thousands of companies and industries have faced in the wake of COVID-19. While the pandemic has brought about unprecedented challenges, it has also highlighted a number of significant areas of need and opportunity. With thousands of schools, universities, and other training centers closed around the world, the need for online education for educators, parents, and students has never been more urgent.
COVID-19 has caused a significant disruption in the world of education, but it has also been a boon to education technology (EdTech) companies as they strive to fill the void left by empty classrooms. Even when a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved, online education is here to stay and has the potential to close gaps that already existed in the education landscape.
Even before the pandemic, online education helped reshape learning opportunities for some students in underserved populations as well as students with special needs and disabilities. Now, many students are coming to expect more online class options—even when things return to normal.
Few schools in the United States will get through the 2020-21 academic year without some form of remote learning for some portion of the student body, for some period of time. A general lack of preparedness for digital technology has left many students without the tools they need to access and benefit from remote learning.
A recent PwC report notes that of 2,000 K–12 teachers surveyed, only 10 percent reported feeling secure in their ability to incorporate “higher-level” technology into their classrooms. This report underscores a need for quality training programs to develop teachers’ skills with emerging tech. However, while many teachers admitted to a lack of confidence in their current technological abilities, a recent study conducted by DockYard found teachers have an immense desire to improve.
EdTech at DockYard
To explore what it is like to teach and learn in this new environment, DockYard recently conducted design sprints focused on parents, teachers, and students engaged in online learning. We issued a survey, conducted interviews, and led a design thinking workshop to gain insights around the common themes, pain points, and recommendations from educators, their students, and the parents that have been brought into this equation in a new and challenging way.
Based on our interviews with educators, one priority came through loud and clear: they need help to realize the full potential of EdTech.
We surveyed 12 educators with 1 to 30 years of experience, teaching students from Kindergarten through college and came away with a number of significant insights that have impacted how we approach projects and the challenges EdTech providers face.
Needs Improvement: Remote Teaching Challenges
According to our research, 75% of surveyed teachers think that virtual learning is not as effective as in-person learning due to the lack of socialization and human connection and its direct impact on engagement.
Many educators told us that their students feel a sense of awkwardness when they are on video with people. The environment feels unnatural and, even after months of learning in this way, they are still getting used to the differences between in-person and remote communication and interaction. The majority of respondents also cited making course material engaging in a digital format and identifying the best tools to use as top challenges.
According to conversations with their students, the most engaging remote experiences were:
- 1-on-1s with educators;
- Video recordings by teachers to share concepts (especially as they can be repeated multiple times);
- Videos combined with worksheets;
- And live zoom lectures that attempt to mimic the classroom experience.
While it is encouraging to hear that educators were able to find ways to engage their students online, the majority of teachers felt they were given little to no support to transition to remote teaching, relying on peer colleague groups to learn new tools/skills.
Essentially, they’re on their own.
And as previously reported by PwC before the pandemic, teachers were not well-positioned for an abrupt pivot to e-learning learning—from seemingly easy-to-use platforms like Zoom to more complex digital learning tools like Canvas or Blackboard.
With this in mind, it was not surprising that the majority of teachers we surveyed found adapting, administering, and managing digital assignments was the most-time consuming aspect of virtual teaching.
Unfortunately, we learned that even before the pandemic, there was a distinct lack of training for educators transitioning from in-person to distance learning. While they embraced the opportunity to learn new techniques and teach in increasingly modern ways, many expressed that they could have benefited from more training for online platforms and help in adapting their curriculum for online use.
A greater investment in training educators may have helped to manage the chaos we experienced this past year as we watched classes move entirely to the digital realm.
Instead, our research found that communication from school leaders has been constantly changing, confusing, and overwhelming – with students and parents receiving an overwhelming amount of texts or emails. Eventually, both stopped paying attention to the noise and for that, education is severely suffering.
Education has largely been placed on hold. Many schools have stopped teaching new concepts, grading students, or holding class at all. Unengaged students simply don’t show up for class, and those who do put in the effort find it particularly frustrating. The quality and integrity of education has dropped and those in charge are perceived by their faculty as not knowing what they are doing.
“A” for Effort: Virtual Classroom Benefits
It’s not all bad, however, as educators did express some benefits to online learning. 100% of teachers considered the ability to communicate with students directly as a top benefit of using online education tools. Nearly 70% of teachers also felt the flexibility of using online education tools on multiple devices was a top benefit.
Parents Express Mixed Emotions
As we worked through our design sprints we saw a lot of need for change: more preparation, organized training, better tools, etc. It is glaringly clear that there is a huge opportunity for EdTech to improve and what makes that even more meaningful is knowing its potential.
When it comes to distance learning, we found that educators have received mixed feedback from parents:
- “I love it” / “I hate it”
- “There’s too much work” / “There’s not enough work”
- “I appreciate your effort” / “You’re asking too much of me”
It is in this range of emotions where we see opportunity. Like so many lessons learned, the virtual classroom experience is not black and white; it’s more about how we meet the needs of each user, each persona, each stakeholder. As we see in all of our work, across industries, parents, teachers, and students of all ages, means, and experiences have unique needs, motivations, and reactions.
Empowering Educators through Web-Based EdTech Tools
As our society continues to address the issue of equal access to technology, online education providers must also evaluate the tools they create and how they can best meet the needs of everyone involved in the learning experience. DockYard has a successful history of working in the education technology space, helping companies like McGraw-Hill Education and Intellispark to transform learning opportunities via the web.
Educators and their students are in need of e-learning tools that work consistently and seamlessly across a broad array of devices, operating systems, and connectivity. They also need to develop these solutions quickly and need them to work just as fast to maintain the often fleeting attention of young minds.
Progressive Web Applications (PWA) offer all the above:
- Consistent experiences across an array of devices: PWAs are accessible via web browsers while providing much of the same functionality as mobile applications. This means edtech providers can build more quickly and users can expect the same experiences regardless of what type of device they use.
- Usable in areas with low/limited connectivity: PWAs can work offline, which has the potential to ensure students and communities with limited bandwidth have access to the same content as individuals with access to more reliable connectivity.
- Speed at your fingertips: PWAs are often single-page applications. This means users don’t need to initiate time-consuming full-page refreshes just to view more content. PWAs require significantly less bandwidth to load smaller bits of requested data, which could mean less waiting in the virtual classroom.
In the era of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to bend constructs and create lasting change in education. This change will better serve students, improve the delivery of professional learning, improve equity, and improve educational leadership. The COVID-19 impact on education is weighty and multifaceted, but with the right strategy and digital tools, has the potential to be transformative.
Ultimately at DockYard, we hope to open doors for educators to creatively, and independently, take advantage of the new digital tools at their disposal. Find out how DockYard can help develop educational web technologies that are designed to meet the growing needs of educators, students, and parents in this new age of learning.