Reports Reveal the Impact of COVID-19 on Student Learning

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You can get multiple opinions (a.k.a. guesses) on when schools will reopen by clicking on just about any news site these days. No one knows for sure what's going to happen. Governors from some states have extended their initial two-week shutdowns for an additional two weeks. Further extensions may be coming. Others have maintained what amounts to an open-ended moratorium on classroom education.

Complicating the closure situation are almost daily reports of new COVID-19 infections coming from areas on or nearby college campuses. Here's an example of that from Penn State's main University Park campus. High schools are having similar problems.

Meanwhile, students are home, sheltering in place. Some are even quarantined, such as those careless spring breakers from Florida. Who knows how many others these partying collegians infected while having a good time on the beach?

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in at least two main circumstances:

1. Schools are grappling with the realities of distance (online) teaching

2. Students and parents are adjusting to remote schooling.

This past week, some interesting information has emerged about these issues.

First, regarding distance learning -- in this case, online teaching by colleges and universities (K-12 experiences may be similar), online education expert Dani Babb, PhD, MBA, reported what's working well for schools, what's not working, and how education delivery will be forever changed by COVID-19. These observations are from her notes.

What's Going Well

- Schools are finally now pulling together resources to help in tech support to navigate the system.

- The schools that were already online worked out all of the tech and layout kinks pretty easily.

- For-profit schools are not having bandwidth issues as they are already used to being tech sufficient – they are operating normally.

- Schools that invested in the new technology and the most intuitive tech-savvy course layouts are, obviously, having much less trouble acclimating students and professors to online learning.

What's Not Going Well

- Some schools' systems are not built to handle this high load of traffic – tough for faculty as they can only go on and grade at off-peak hours.

- Lectures are not laid out in a consistent way – for example, a biology course will look completely different than the layout of a math course – creating a lot of confusion with students.

- Proctoring sites for exams are closed – meaning students are not able to schedule their exams.

- Students are used to video driven content, but classes are text driven – a learning curve for some students.

- Many schools did not invest in the new systems – which is creating problems because students are not used to accessing online systems that are antiquated.

- Faculty are not used to working from home – they are facing distractions.

- Professors are having tech trouble running discussion boards online for student-to-student interaction.

What Will Be Forever Changed

- Schools will begin to realize the value of online ed and begin to build their online infrastructures so that they can offer more variety in online classes in the future.

- If students get the hang of it, many will prefer online coursework moving forward. Only time will tell.

- Once on-ground professors realize what it's like to teach from home (albeit without their own kids home, too) there will be more professors wanting to transition to full-time online.

- This last trend has some online professors afraid that on-ground professors will take their jobs as more decide to move into online learning.

Could Economic Changes Be on the Horizon?

From my perspective, I see additional "changes" (consequences) looming, mainly economic. Many smaller colleges face unprecedented cash flow challenges. A transition to online instruction, at least for some aspects of their curricula, may ease operating overhead expenses and enable them to stabilize.

Of course, professors working from home or from a less elegant collegiate setting may raise compensation reevaluation issues, possibly resulting in lower pay. At this point, however, with higher-ed (and K-12) distance learning in its (emergency) infancy, it's hard to anticipate long-term effects and consequences.

As for how high school students and their parents are adjusting to all this, we have some survey results from Kaplan, which shine a bit of optimistic light on things. The survey results are entitled Amid COVID-19 Uncertainty, Most Parents of High School Students Express Optimism that Schools Will Reopen Before September. Here's what they say:

Parents of high school students across the United States are bullish that schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic will reopen relatively quickly, according to a new Kaplan survey (based on the results of a nationwide survey conducted by email of 320 parents of high school students, between March 19 and March 20). Of the parents surveyed, 33 percent think high schools will reopen at the start of the regularly scheduled fall semester; 30 percent think they will reopen before the current school year is over; 20 percent believe they will reopen over the summer; four percent think they will start up again within a few months after the regularly scheduled 2020-2021 year begins; two percent say in January 2021 or after; and 11 percent say they don't know.

According to one study, as of March 21, 46 states had decided to close their schools because of the COVID-19 crisis, affecting at least 53 million students.

Overall, 77 percent of parents say their child's high school has done a good job of communicating with them during the COVID-19 crisis. But when it comes to providing guidance as to what their child should actually be doing at home, that percentage was lower. While 67 percent of parents believe their high school has done a good job of providing the support their child needs to continue their learning from home, the range of support offered varies greatly across schools:

- Less than half (43 percent) say their school has provided their child with homework assignments

- 37 percent say their school provided them with an online/virtual learning environment

- 28 percent say they have been provided with online tutorials

- 27 percent said they were provided with laptops or tablets

- 25 percent say they were provided with online study tools like the Khan Academy or Quizlet

- 20 percent report that their school recommended that their children read certain chapters in textbooks

- 18 percent say the high school has organized virtual study sessions with classmates

- 15 percent say their high school is not requiring any work while closed

- 8 percent report that their high school has provided stress management resources

In another survey result, nearly seven in 10 parents (69 percent) are confident that if their child's high school switched to a virtual classroom environment for the rest of the year, their child has the necessary skills to succeed ...

Kaplan, like a number of other test-prep providers, offers some free prep resources online. This would be a good time to explore online preparation for standardized testing, since students are sequestered at home and pursuing interactive learning.

Education at all levels may be evolving like never before. Yes, the COVID-19 emergency has precipitated sudden changes that would not have happened otherwise. However, as technology advances and the preferences of education "consumers" become more personally refined, I predict that a number of these crisis accommodations will remain in place. Brave new worlds!

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