The Ups and Downs of Distance Learning in the Age of Coronavirus

Today, we’re trying a new format for the blog, since we’re all facing a very difficult situation stemming from the global pandemic. Education, while not at a standstill, has greatly changed by moving entirely to distance learning for the moment, and we need to determine a number of things as we move forward. Two of these include how this type of learning, and how the online platforms we use, can be structured to meet students’ needs and teachers’ needs; and how we can ensure the effectiveness of instruction across all grade levels and all subject material.

Therefore, we’re going to present you with a set of questions, sometimes offering a little background, and then asking you, our readers, to chime in with your thoughts, your experiences, and your recommendations — we’d love it if you could provide specific examples of things you see working/not working. We’re looking for input from educators, parents, school board members, students, and the general public.

We’ll then compile all the information and release a reader “how-to” guide so that everyone can benefit from the responses. You can submit your comments with your name, school, position, and location, or you can do so anonymously. The main point is to contribute to the discussion and create our own “learning tool” for educating in the best possible way while dealing with COVID-19.

Here goes:

Question 1: Does moving all instruction online exclude students without access to broadband internet from active participation, or are there ways to get around this?

(NOTE: Some school systems are providing laptops to all students in need, and they’re setting up Wi-Fi hot spots. However, these students may not be as adept at using the computers as their more affluent peers, and learning the necessary computer skills may impair their ability to learn the schoolwork.)

Question 2: Are teachers able to use an online platform of their choosing, or do they have to use the one provided by their local school district? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each?

Question 3: How do the differences in learning platforms used across the country equate with state and federal learning standards? Is there any way to test this?

Question 4: How are teachers unfamiliar with the educational platforms they’re using balance their own learning curves with the instruction of their students?

(NOTE: From NPR, 3/26/20: “Studies of online learning suggest not only that students learn less in online environments, compared with in person, but that disadvantaged students learn the least. And that’s true even when online teachers have experience and training with online teaching. Under the current emergency, most teachers will not have any experience at all with this approach.”)

Question 5: How can teachers determine who’s paying attention and who’s tuning out during lectures without being able to see everyone in the classroom?

(NOTE: Without face-to-face contact, teachers are not able to pick up nonverbal and behavioral cues from students that might indicate the students are disengaged, frustrated or unenthusiastic about participating.)

Question 6: How do you address different student learning styles when all instruction is presented online by audio/video presentation?

Question 7: Part 1: Are emergent readers more at-risk than other students of losing knowledge and skills when they don’t have face-to-face interaction with their teachers? If so, how will they make up ground?

Part 2: How can emergent readers of low socioeconomic background stay on track when they don’t have the books and other resources at home with which to practice?

Question 7: Are teachers able to use in-class assignments, or are all activities done out of class? If the latter, how can you appropriately evaluate what the student has learned?

Question 8: Will students at all levels need to repeat courses — or even grades — to ensure continuity of knowledge? What does that mean for graduation?

(NOTE: From the NY Times 4/6/20: “There is also concern about whether large numbers of students will need to repeat all or substantial portions of their current grade. Many skills build one on another. If a child misses out on some key idea, then all of a sudden, additional ideas as they’re introduced just become Greek. Will we need some kind of beginning of the year diagnostics to try and figure out just where the kids are, how much they have lost? Probably yes.”)


Next week: Grading in the Age of Coronavirus

Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to

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