The 2020-21 virtual K-12 schooling experiment, born of necessity from the wholesale disruption of the modern educational process and haphazardly planned and implemented by an institutional elite that does not have to practice managing entrepreneurially since the educational industry is relatively monopolistic, is failing for a variety of reasons. Although I admit that the sample of students I’ve polled (public and private high schoolers) is limited, yet given the tendency of educators to copy other educators, I’ll assume for contemplations sake the following examples can be reasonably argued to represent the lack of effective learning for the greater whole.
The first knock against the run of the mill, factory-like virtual K-12 class is that exchanging ideas, a pillar in an effective learning process, for which in person classes have well-established procedures, are not yet widely instituted for the virtual settings. Often during Zoom class, multiple students simultaneously unmute their microphones, blurting responses to a teacher’s question, no longer bound by classroom management processes which often include raising your hand until called by the teacher, among other codes of conduct. Students, then, utter apologies about speaking in unison, trying to yield the mic to the other person, thus delaying or halting actual learning, and definitely diminishing learning outcomes.
At other times, even using the technology available, like the Zoom chat box to seemingly exchange ideas, delays occur or there is no back-and-forth. Students type their response to a teacher’s question, but in the interim, the teacher continues lecturing without stopping to type a response, no dialogue, no feedback. Thus, students are left wondering if their answers are correct or not especially given the difficulty in reading non-verbal cues such as body language or facial expression within the context of a three-dimensional analog physical space.
Additionally, attempting to encourage greater interaction amongst students, who may be less inclined to speak out in front of the entire class whether virtually or in person, by creating more private educational exchange in the breakout room feature of Zoom, teachers may still not achieve the intended outcome. One high school senior shared that if she’s in a break out room with students she doesn’t know, even in AP Literature, a class where there’s typically robust socratic dialogue, they will all turn off their cameras, sitting in awkward silence until the teacher “calls” them back to the “class”, despite their grades possibly being at stake for college admissions.
The student further shared given that the extent of knowledge she has of her peers in the breakout room is from the waist up, remotely to boot, and given the sometimes fierce social politicking inherent in the teenage body politic, she was reticent to expose her thinking to those she was unsure, risking, in her mind, the possibility of obtaining a social demerit that could in some circumstances lead to being ostracized or even bullied, which on the internet never ceases.
Furthermore, teachers are struggling to effectively check students’ understanding. Typically, teachers can scan the faces in the classroom, intuiting who does and doesn’t understand, (or in some cases waking up the teen who’s sleeping) in one of the myriad polls a teacher does reflexively hundreds of times a day. Afterwards, teachers can adapt the lesson if needed or repeat themselves, or as one high school math teacher shared, tell a funny story to liven the mood and redirect the attention of teenagers to complex academic concepts. Virtually, teachers are at a loss to assess the attention and understanding of their charges.
Many educators, parents and students are enduring the disruption and the attempts to shove the “square” schoolhouse model into a virtual “round” hole, hoping that the current state is a temporary stop-gap until all “returns to normal” if such a state can even be defined suggesting we may never return to normal and maybe that itself is a positive outcome. Others are beginning to posit that since the internet has existed and evolved into such a robust tool for learning for the past two decades, why are educators having such difficulty adapting to a virtual learning environment? And, what are the costs incurred because of such deficiencies in virtual learning when do-overs are costly for the young?
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