Online Education-- How's It Going?
Raji Sahota posted on November 12, 2020 |
With education changing dramatically, remote learning is not going so well.
During these unprecedented times in higher education, institutions are actively working to ensure that students and faculty are fully supported. (Image courtesy of Rev.)
During these unprecedented times in higher education, institutions are actively working to ensure that students and faculty are fully supported. (Image courtesy of Rev.)

Over 2,000 colleges and universities have already announced their plans for the fall semester. Around 44 percent are planning to implement full or primarily virtual learning, while 28 percent will hold the majority of classes in person. The rest will follow a more hybrid approach to learning. 

However, online education comes with its challenges. 

Researchers suggest that school closures due to the pandemic are worse than summer closures, even with virtual learning. A study showed that students only improved their grades by 70 percent in reading and by less than 50 percent in math following an online model. The consequences could be substantial if schools continue this closure through the fall. 

With 18 million college students affected by school closures in the United States, many are left questioning whether reopening schools will lead to outbreaks in the broader community. 

To be specific, the school closures affected 5.3 million students in public two-year programs, 7.9 million students in public four-year programs, 3.8 million students in nonprofit four-year programs, and 750,000 students in private for-profit four-year programs. 

It is unclear whether schools should reopen once a vaccine is approved. Due to the technical difficulties in creating a new vaccine, it is hard to say when one will be made available. 

It is also possible for schools to open earlier if they can adapt to COVID-19 health and  safety regulations. 

2018-2019 post-secondary enrollment. (Image courtesy of freopp.org.)
2018-2019 post-secondary enrollment. (Image courtesy of freopp.org.)

These measures can include limiting the number of schools that open or identifying students who have specific needs that require them to attend in-person school. For example, low-income students may not have the equipment or Internet access to participate in virtual learning. Students with disabilities might also need to attend in-person school for the best education, as they can have to access specialists who can help them. 

In the process of reopening, schools may need to set up designated spaces for different students, create floor markers to direct traffic, purchase hand-sanitizing stations, and check temperatures daily. They may also need to enforce mask use, hand washing, and hygiene policies. 

Adapting to a New Normal

With 1,100 universities and colleges in the U.S. transitioning to online learning, it is crucial to consider that online-only college programs can have negative consequences for student learning. A 2013 study demonstrated that students with below-median GPAs who studied online performed significantly worse than those who studied in person.

Post-secondary students, specifically those studying science and engineering, which require lab-based classes, are also struggling to find comparable and effective education options online. Educators continue to search for ways to teach hands-on courses and labs through online platforms or project-based virtual communities.

While online education does present the ideal situation during the pandemic, many professors have hastily crafted virtual curricula, which are negatively affecting students with low academic performance.

It is necessary to improve virtual learning and other outside-of-school tools because of the lack of other learning options. 

Sure, schools can use the remaining classroom space to distance students or stagger schedules so that some students are not physically in the classroom on certain days, but tight budgets, overworked teachers, and overcrowded schools do not have this luxury. 

The pandemic has already put a strain on many colleges and universities’ financial standings. For some, the revenue drop has forced permanent closures, as many students are refusing to pay full payments for online-only classes. 

Thus, the only solution is to build better virtual learning tools that will increase engagement without increasing costs for the school.

Make Room for Virtual Learning

(Full disclosure: Make: Projects is partially owned by engineering.com.)

For every student to succeed in this new age, Congress must use the $30 billion in education funding authorized by the CARES Act to create better learning options and ensure that all students in the U.S. have the right technology to support at-home learning.

The good news is that virtual learning has already been more effective at the post-secondary level compared to K-12 through organizations like Coursera, edX, and Make: Projects

Coursera offers over 3,900 online courses from schools such as Yale and Stanford, as well as big tech companies like Google and Amazon.

Sites such as Make: Projects offer students a platform to connect with other STEM students where they can share their creations or complete team-based projects. During the pandemic, the space became the perfect site for virtual, project-based learning and student engagement, as it features essential tools such as file sharing, whiteboards, project collections, project templates, teams, contests, and a worldwide community. Not only is the program affordable (some features are free to use), but it also encourages collaboration, engagement and discussion. Learn How Make: Projects Engages Students Online and Enhances Project-Based LearningInstitutions are at varying points when it comes to online learning. While some have developed great online programs, such as the University of Maryland and Arizona State University, others are still far behind. 

It is now in the hands of every institution to implement the right tools. Universities and colleges must invest in quality online courses, and with services such as Make: Projects, it has never been simpler. 

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