In 2020, we all watched with trepidation as, one by one, school districts across the world sent their students home and began to transition to distance learning. Some schools have risen well to this challenge, while others, hampered by outdated ideas and even more obsolete technology, struggled to deliver the remote education that their students deserve.
Some schools went entirely remote, while others tried a hybrid model. Some focused on making in-person education possible for those with the lowest transmission risk. In contrast, others prioritized children with the highest needs, such as those with learning difficulties who needed in-person support from specialists.
Other school districts and individual institutions gave families the choice to choose either 100% in-person or 100% remote instruction. They were happy to let families self-select into the model where they felt most comfortable.
With so many unique approaches, it’s no surprise that we’ve learned a lot over the last year. Today, we’ll break down some of the top lessons that experts identified as key to a school’s remote education success and show how educators can apply these lessons in 2021.
Achieving success in remote education in 2020
In one survey of 50 schools in Northern California, researchers identified two key factors determining whether a school would succeed in its remote education approach.
The first was the “functionality and flexibility of their school culture.” Were the teachers and the student body used to adapting to changing circumstances, or were they bound by a rigid teaching philosophy or bureaucracy that was unsupportive of change? Delivering lessons to students remotely was much more complicated if the school did not have a team-oriented culture that was flexible and used to change.
The second factor was the school’s experience with technology, meaning whether the student body was familiar with or had access to specific devices they could use for lessons. A lack of supportive technology was undoubtedly the most critical factor. After all, schools could be flexible and deliver outstanding lessons, but it quickly put them back to square one if students could not access them.
What we learned from our experiences with distance learning in 2020
With the barriers to high-quality remote education clear, how did schools overcome these challenges? Here are some of the top lessons we learned from our collective distance learning experiences in 2020:
Improve access to technology
Improving access to technology is the most important thing we can do to ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to succeed during remote education. To make technology more accessible includes everything from triaging students’ technology needs and investing in devices and equipment to the expansion of instructional models and software to include those with mobile capabilities.
For many schools—including elementary, high-school, and colleges—grading software like Crowdmark was a significant investment that educators have hugely appreciated. These tools have given both students, and teachers access to their work anywhere, making it easy to turn in assignments even if the only device they have to use is a mobile phone.
This flexibility has made it easier for students to receive equitable treatment while simultaneously allowing educators access to a robust suite of grading tools to grade intuitively and much more quickly.
Supporting instructors and educators is key
With so many school districts using different approaches to remote education, one thing became apparent: instructors and educators need support at every level for success.
In-person instruction and running remote lessons are two different skills entirely. A redesigned role is possible to achieve but requires strong institutional support as educators learn updated technology and acquire new skills to serve their students better.
Keep learning active
The best remote education programs of 2020 involved some kind of active learning. When expecting students to simply sit and listen to instruction over Zoom, especially those of elementary school age, the lessons were mostly unsuccessful. The best educators kept learning active, either through interesting off-line assignments or by ensuring that students could engage in lectures in a hands-on way.
While the educator’s teaching style was a massive factor in keeping their students engaged, the reality is that their technology also impacted engagement. Like Zoom, some platforms offer teachers the ability to put students in individual break-out rooms. Here, students can better discuss and collaborate before being brought back into the primary classroom group. Incorporating smaller group dialogue helped students get to know their peers and made it easier for them to speak and contribute to the lesson.
As we move forward into 2021, administrators and educators must invest in equipment and software that enable these active learning approaches. Otherwise, students will continue to disengage.
Focus on relationship building
Another great way that educators can serve students is by helping them build relationships, even when lessons are remote. This challenge was most evident in September 2020, when many students faced going back to school after the summer break and having classes with a teacher (and even a peer group) that they had never met in-person.
Many solutions were offered, such as organizing small group visits so students could meet their instructor before moving to remote lessons. While still being safe, approaching this problem will continue to be a challenge we must face in 2021.
Support family engagement
Ultimately, students are most successful when their families are involved and invested in their education. Many schools tried to facilitate this by ensuring that staff members regularly spoke to each family, while others provided academic and social support through open office hours.
Whether schools and educators leverage existing relationships or create new ones through outreach, supporting family engagement in students’ education must remain a key priority for 2021. Otherwise, it’s easy for students to disengage from their studies and slip through the cracks.
How Crowdmark supports remote education
There are many ways that schools and educators can continue to support their remote students in 2021. Lessons should be both engaging and easy to access without piling too much work on overburdened educators.
Crowdmark is an excellent resource for any school that wants to continue to support both students and teachers working remotely. With useful features like a cloud-based student portfolio, it makes both turning in and grading assignments easy.