Covid-19 and its domino effects have hindered education for nearly six months now in the UK, with no assured date on which things can get back to the way they were. Although the closing of schools prevented the virus from spreading to children at an uncontrollable rate, nobody is certain anymore as to whether reopening schools in September is safe until a vaccine is made available. Education Technology, or EdTech, is the only reason why education as a whole has not come to a complete standstill, even in the middle of everything that is going on. That being said, the digital classroom does not come without its own set of challenges either.
Most issues affecting the efficacy of virtual education can be solved, but each problem requires a proper understanding first. Faced by both students and teachers in a virtual school setting, adaptability related difficulties and delays can become quite disruptive. Unless addressed with the right approach, they can make virtual education sessions a much less effective method of learning than they should be.
Adaptation is a Big Problem
The inability to adjust is the first problem that affects both staff and students. The more acute challenges of not being in the same classroom comes in later, but acclimatisation issues present themselves immediately. A digital classroom breaches the psychological barrier that separates school from home. As human beings are all creatures of habit, the very idea of teaching or learning without being in the same room with each other feels alien to both. This in turn could negatively affect an educator’s abilities, as well as the learning capacities of their students. From the perspective of the teacher, work-life balance is disturbed as they seem to be merging together. Being adult, trained professionals, most of them can still adapt comparatively better and faster than younger children. The children, on the other hand, have a much tougher time concentrating in classes due to the new platform’s “strangeness” to them.
Given that adjustment takes time, the initial problems are understandable, but they won’t always get solved by themselves. For example, the time it will take for students and teachers to adjust to the new online platform will not be the same for everyone. This means that knowledge gaps might be created among students in the same virtual classroom, on account of accessibility barriers.
A proper orientation and acclimatising plan is essential for both teachers and students to adjust with the changes at a much faster rate. With effective familiarisation programs in place, it is possible for an online medium to function just as well as a traditional classroom. In fact, by using proper education technology, digital schooling can even provide teachers and students with unique advantages that traditional schooling cannot.
Technophobia and Neophobia in Virtual Settings
The fear of technology and the common fear of anything that is new are respectively known as technophobia and neophobia. The two are quite closely related in virtual schooling, since the introduction of EdTech is fairly new at the primary and secondary school level, although they are used widely for higher education. Successfully utilising the available technology at a teacher’s disposal today can be a challenging task for them if an active effort to get over their aversion towards emerging education technology is not made by the teachers themselves.
Authority figures in schools should look for cloud-based class management applications that are easy and intuitive to operate for teachers who are not adept with technology. Young students are often helped by their parents, but teachers naturally feel less confident without a proper understanding of the very digital classroom that they are supposed to control. Even if the staff are not particularly technophobic, their inexperience with the assistive hardware and software is going to curb their natural teaching capacities in a virtual classroom due to that lack of control and confidence.
Technophobia is generally not seen in younger children, but fear of the unknown or xenophobia is fairly common. Combined with the neophobia induced by new elements in their educational environment, learning can be highly affected in children. Once again, these are not applicable for all students, and the degree to which their learning might be affected is quite variable. However, that in itself creates an education accessibility gap between students within the same class once again.
The Solution Lies in Creating Continuity
As is evident, most difficulties in a virtual school environment originate from the fact that there is a stark contrast between how things were before and how things are now. In other words, the primary issue can also be described as the difference that currently exists between virtual and actual classrooms. A solution-oriented approach should, therefore, be focused on creating continuity above all else, along with the aforementioned acclimatisation planning.
A tool like classroom.cloud, for example, can provide a classroom management platform to unify offline and online teaching seamlessly. There is no switching necessary, whether the teachers and students are present in the same classroom, or they are in their respective homes. This creates consistency between a digital classroom and a real classroom, thus solving the core issues with adaptability for the most part. Additionally, the classroom management solution is extremely cost-effective. It is scalable, versatile, intuitively easy to use, supports most platforms and integrates natively with other essential/popular applications such as Microsoft School Data Sync and Google Classroom. More schools should consider these services by classroom.cloud for creating a better and more effective digital classroom for both staff and students.
Solving Technological Availability Can be a Long-lasting Challenge in Rural Areas
Considering a cheap tablet or smartphone alone is enough to attend a virtual classroom, is that really a problem in 2020? The price of technology has come down to a point where this should not be an issue for most students, but there is more than financial status to be considered here. Technological availability is also a barrier in some locations, which originates from infrastructural shortcomings.
In poverty-stricken areas, the local governing bodies need to acknowledge the situation and step up. Supplying every eligible student with the minimum tech that they need to study should not prove to be an unachievable task. The more serious problem begins to become apparent in the most remote parts of the United Kingdom only. The locals might be more than capable of affording the technology they need, but the question is, what will they do with it without a decent internet connection?
According to a report published just a few days earlier, the unavailability of reliable internet connections is hampering education across the globe, and not just in the UK. There are still remote sections that do not have access to reliable internet, and that in itself is an obstacle that cannot be solved overnight. Despite that, efforts are ongoing to bring in new internet service providers and stabilise the ones that are already present. Cellular towers in particular can be installed at a much faster rate, so that is where the focus should be right now. It remains to be seen how effective those efforts are in a month’s time, but progress is being made.