COVID-19 has disrupted virtually every realm of society, and education is no exception.
According to Education Week, school closures due to coronavirus have impacted at least 124,000 public and private schools in the US, affecting at least 55.1 million students. As of 10 April, UNESCO’s data shows there are 1,576,021,818 affected learners globally with 188 country-wide closures.
Due to the pandemic, educational institutions have suddenly found themselves reaching for technology to connect teachers and students and resume educational activities as easily as possible.
Using the right online learning tools
In the face of a new reality, teachers and students have a range of digital solutions at their disposal. First, there are hardware-based tools such as smart boards, smart tables, cameras, and projectors that are largely classroom-oriented but can also be applied on a wider online scale.
Then, there are widespread resources like digital textbooks and online courses, along with a variety of more applicable (and affordable) software-based educational applications and platforms that aim to facilitate student learning and interaction during times of school closure. These include:
- Digital learning management systems such as Google Classroom, Remind, and ClassDojo.
- Mobile-only systems like Cell-Ed, Eneza Education, and KaiOS that facilitate learning via basic feature phones.
- Offline systems like Ustad Mobile and Kolibri.
- MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, and EdX.
- Collaboration platforms with live-video support like Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Lark.
The beginning of a lasting shift?
With already existing models in many schools that can serve as foundations, all it takes is a little innovative thinking to transform the current crisis-driven experiment into a long-standing education model.
Some aspects of the teaching experience are easily replicated online. For instance, certain lectures that require little to no face-to-face interaction can easily be digitised and repackaged as multi-media presentations with enhanced interactive elements.
Yet some elements will be unlikely to change long term. Especially disciplines which have students doing a lot of practical or laboratory work. These classes will likely have to remain unaffected as the only way to supplement material that has been presented in a lecture and learn how to work more effectively and safely in the field.
We mustn’t forget the psychological effect of virtual classrooms. Online content is an enemy of attention span, especially in an era where young people are used to multitasking and doing things on the go. With such a mindset, it’s going to take a lot of adjusting, as well as training to provide a smooth experience. That goes both for students and teachers who are jointly venturing into academic cyberspace in the middle of semesters.
For many international students, 2020 saw their studies take a dramatic shift into the virtual world. Which was exactly the case for 81 students from Tokyo City University (TCU) who were studying at Murdoch as part of the Tokyo City University Australia Program (TAP).
Wanting students to still get the most out of their program, Murdoch worked closely with TCU to help transition the students to online learning once they returned to Japan.
Using live chat, webcam, pre-recorded videos and Murdoch’s online learning platform, myMurdoch Learning, students had full access to their Murdoch lecturers and could ask questions, talk with classmates and get the help and support they needed at any time.
Having never studied online before, Noa was a bit apprehensive when she was first told her studies would be moved online.
“It was my first time to take online learning, so I was anxious. I was worried that I couldn’t hear the pronunciation, couldn’t communicate well, and couldn’t understand the content compared to face-to-face lessons.”
However, with the help and support of Murdoch staff, Noa found the transition to online learning easy and even got a few visits from her lecturers’ dogs.
“I think I was able to understand and actively participate in classes thanks to the teachers’ explanations and using the chat functions and camera.”
While online learning may not be ideal for all international students, these virtual lessons have provided a valuable opportunity for students to overcome a range of obstacles and adapt to new ways of learning.
Perhaps the answer is a hybrid model of education that has the potential to make education both streamlined and more affordable for everybody. Right now, many of the ongoing developments are experimental in nature, and it’s too early to conclude if technology-enabled learning is viewed more favourably than that which takes place inside a physical classroom, or how it these changes could go on to impact other education sectors.
The future of online learning in education
Online education was the default response to school closures, which meant schooling has entered the household domain – one already occupied by work-from-home parents grappling to find a balance between work demands and home responsibilities. While those circumstances will hopefully change soon, they will also likely shed a light on the merits of traditional education – in particular, a teacher’s value that’s often taken for granted.
All in all, now is as good a time as any to promote remote learning. In times when COVID-19 is dominating our collective headspaces it just might be the disruption education market needs, spotentially kick-starting a deeper exploration into how innovative thinking and jobs in technology can support these changes.
A lot will ride on how good the adjustments are made now. So far, it’s been challenging, to say the least. Online education is still in its early stages and doesn’t fully reflect its capabilities, so for now, we’ll just have to wait and see how things unfold. The motivation for shifting online as much as possible is certainly there.