How deeply will digital learning transform K-12 long term?

Table of Contents

Dive Brief:

  • Using data from Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up Research Project, a new report identifies three takeaways as evidence of potential significant, long-term impacts on K-12 educational models at large.
  • Among the takeaways from “Digital Learning During the Pandemic: Emerging Evidence of an Education Transformation”:
    • Greater digital resource usage by teachers and students expands opportunities for defining rigor and quality of resources, and greater context for defining digital learning’s value.
    • Parents have a stronger appreciation of digital learning as a mode of delivery for education as well as their role in the learning process at home.
    • Students’ appreciation of technology as a learning tool has also grown, with recognition of new mediums for educational delivery and better learning environments for some.
  • The report is based on 2019-20 Speak Up Research Project survey data collected from 110,467 K-12 students, 11,731 teachers and librarians, 1,128 school and district level administrators, 11,749 parents and 1,532 community members, representing 8,933 public, private and charter schools and 268 school districts nationwide.

Dive Insight:

In a news release, Project Tomorrow CEO Julie A. Evans said examining the Speak Up results from before and after spring school closures allows education researchers “to see in almost real time how the unexpected shift has altered not only teachers’ expectations for using technology within learning, but also parents’ perceptions on the value of digital learning and the impact of this experience on students’ aspirations for enhanced learning environments.”

While the transition to remote learning due to COVID-19 came swiftly and with its share of challenges, elements that have worked well are likely to persist as new features of the educational model long after the pandemic subsides. School districts, for example, now have a model for continuing to deliver education in the event of closures due to inclement weather, natural disasters or other unforeseen emergencies, should they choose to do so.

But even as some students have acclimated well to digital learning, there are still hurdles for many. Access to home internet connections remains a barrier for some low-income students, as well as those in remote rural areas where local infrastructure isn’t in place for even some families that can afford service to get reliable broadband internet. Some of these areas also lack cell towers close enough to tether take-home Wi-Fi hotspots to.

And for low-income students who do have home internet access, administrators like Henry Turner, principal of Newton North High School in Massachusetts, point out that some students may feel a sense of socioeconomic shame as it pertains to what is — or isn’t — behind them on camera.

In schools where students have returned at least partially to physical classrooms, there also remains the challenge of making synchronous learning — in which half of a class in-person and half online are taught simultaneously — a more manageable experience for educators, who must balance the needs of both groups of students.

Ample professional development is a must, experts say, to prepare for these and other scenarios playing out in schools nationwide. But projected budget cuts resulting from a pandemic-driven recession, as well as the impact of business shutdowns and slowdowns on tax revenues that fund schools, will prove to be yet another challenge principals and superintendents must navigate in providing those opportunities and other resources in the coming years. 

In short, while the stage is set for significant educational transformation, how far and fast it goes is dependent upon numerous factors that will vary at the state and district levels.

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