Governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UNESCO report, these closures have impacted over 91 percent of the world’s student population, affecting more than 159 crore students across 195 countries, as of April 4, 2020.
These closures have placed an unprecedented challenge on governments and educational institutions to ensure the continuity of education, as well as on teachers, students, and parents.
To mitigate the impact of school closures and to facilitate the continuity of education for all, governments around the world have asked institutions to opt for remote learning. However, this sudden transition to remote learning has left educators scrambling to figure out which digital tools, resources, and apps to use and how, to continue teaching and learning. It has also raised various concerns among the institutions and educators, in terms of using various technologies, tools, resources, and apps with regard to security, privacy, accessibility, and safety of their students.
In this article, we highlight key concerns and challenges that educators need to address while carrying out teaching and learning online. Let’s check them out!
Privacy Policies and Terms of Service
During this crisis, many educators have been curating and sharing digital tools, strategies, materials and tips for remote teaching with their networks. Various firms are also providing free access to their digital tools and apps for teaching and learning.
Students’ Privacy and Safety
With an increasing number of companies offering “free trials” of their products or tools to educators, especially during COVID-19 closures, educators must understand that these “free” versions can come at a cost to students’ privacy and safety. They also need to be aware that how they use the tool or technology can also impact students’ privacy, safety, and learning experiences.
For instance, there are several free video conferencing tools, and none of them claims 100% protection. Let us consider Zoom, a free video conferencing tool that is widely being used worldwide today across all sectors. Joining the videoconferencing through the tool, students can experience various unwanted things such as trolling, cyber bullying, harassment by classmates, display of obscene visuals, taking photos and using it in a detrimental way by fellow students, etc. There are also chances that students’ location data and IP address are tracked without their knowledge, to use them for other reasons.
The sudden transition from print-based to digital materials and from in-person learning to digital learning has created big challenges for many ordinary as well as differently-abled students. Like educators, many students, including parents, are also not from the technical background and find difficult in using various applications. Understanding this, educators have to ensure that their materials and resources are made available in such a way that every student, both able and differently-abled, finds easily accessible or without any difficulty.
As mentioned, most traditional teachers find it difficult to cope with technologies and they do not know how to create user-friendly digital materials or evaluate digital tools, resources and apps for accessibility. However, several tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google and Apple, have put significantly more focus on embedding accessibility into their tools and offer them for free-trials amid this pandemic. Google Hangouts Meet, Google Slides, Skype, and Apple’s video editing app clips all feature live closed captioning. Microsoft has developed new tools for accessibility, such as Immersive Reader, which allows users to adjust how text is presented (e.g., font size, colour, spacing, picture dictionary, translation) and read aloud. Microsoft and Google have support pages dedicated to teaching users how to create accessible digital materials, including documents, slides and spreadsheets.
While educators are pressed for time in moving their materials and teaching online, they must seek out ways to ensure that all students are able to access the digital materials, resources, and tools they provide. At the same time, educators need better training and support for designing accessible digital materials and learning opportunities. In the current circumstances, they should start building their knowledge of using accessible tools. Educators should also use the Universal Design for learning framework from CAST as a guide for creating inclusive educational experiences for remote learners.
The shift to remote learning has widened the long prevailing digital divide, or the gap between students who have access to and use technology to further their learning and those who do not. Unfortunately, there are still a sizeable number of people who have little or no access to internet facility or technologies. There would be many students who don’t have a personal computer, laptop, tablet or even smartphone at their home, even while these devices are required for remote learning. Educators need to see and ensure that every student has all the required devices and systems at their homes to access any learning materials and resources.
To facilitate remote learning, several schools have arranged to get laptops and tablets to students in need. And Internet providers like Comcast, based in Philadelphia, and Spectrum, based in Ohio, are offering free Internet access to students devoid of internet connection.
To facilitate equal opportunity and make learning accessible for all, educators need to survey their students (or families) to determine what technology and quality of internet students have access to, their capability and their interest, and then they need to be creative with their assignments as per the requirements. They may use Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. It encourages educators to provide students with choices for how they access and engage with the content, and how they showcase their knowledge. They should also aim at providing both low-tech and high-tech learning experiences and allow students to choose which type of learning experience suits and help them based on their interest and access to technology.
Besides the above, there are various other challenges pertaining to students with the remote learning system, including under performance, low engagement, low completion and low retention rates. These are known challenges of any distance learning program.
Since students have their classes from afar, sitting at their homes, many find it hard to be attentive or engage in learning. Not only this, technical glitches and distractions from time to time also act as a barrier to concentration and completion of classes, and eventually lead to low retention. Understanding all these issues, educators need to check their students’ access to internet connection, their interests and make their content or teaching as creative and interesting as they could.
Remote teaching and learning is a big challenge, at least for now, not just for educators but also for students and parents alike. However, being facilitator and provider of knowledge, educators must ensure that they always have the same concern and see the needs of their students as they do in physical classroom or school, in order to provide an equally better learning experience to their students.
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