No More Snow Days? The Barriers To Making Virtual Learning A Permanent Alternative

An expert says we’d need to invest more in infrastructure and training – but questions whether the sense of urgency will remain after the coronavirus is no longer a major threat.

By Laura RiceFebruary 23, 2021 10:30 am,

The winter storm that disrupted everything across Texas last week certainly also disrupted schools. Even into this week, some schools are dealing with the aftermath of broken pipes or other storm damage to buildings.

While in years past, a closed school building would mean no school. In COVID-19 times, some schools are just flipping the switch to all-virtual as needed. That got Texas Standard wondering whether there are ways for schools to take what they’ve learned during the coronavirus into the future. No more snow days?

Curby Alexander is associate professor of professional practice in Texas Christian University’s College of Education. His specialties include K-12 technology integration and digital communication.

Rating our current methods of virtual learning:

“From what I’m able to gather, I have kids that are in school right now. And mostly what seems to be happening is teachers using their old, traditional methods, methods that they would have used when they had everybody in the classroom and trying to apply those to a virtual environment. There’s probably some teachers that either because they like technology, maybe they’ve taught in different settings before, or they just have a knack for different environments, might be doing a better job than other teachers. But I think overall, most teachers are just trying to kind of make it and figure out how to make it work without having a lot of training on how to teach in this modality.”

Whether there’s the appetite for improving virtual education:

“I would say the teachers I’ve been in touch with would much prefer to be in school, in person with their students. Anecdotally, I know that there are some students who have thrived in the online environment just because of being able to kind of create whatever environment makes them comfortable at their home. I would say more often I’ve heard stories of students and their families who are eager to get back in school.”

Whether in coming years a cancellation could instead mean a temporary switch to online learning:

“I would say it’s possible. My concern with that is that, you know, it just so happened, I think that this extreme storm hit at a time when we were already having to think about virtual learning. So it was easy for school administrations to say, you know, ‘let’s just deliver instruction virtually.’ What may prohibit that in the future is that the farther away we get from a really extreme weather day like we just experienced or the farther we get away from the pandemic, what’s going to happen is, you know, our families that have maybe made the extra investment for the higher speed Internet or to have Internet at home when they maybe normally wouldn’t have or parents who have gone the extra yard to buy devices and technology that they need right now. Like we had to do that. We had to purchase a new home computer. You know, the further away we get from this, I just wonder if there will be that continued investment in the infrastructure that makes it possible.”

Whether some school administrators might decide to keep up the investment in virtual learning:

“Absolutely. In fact, I worked at a school probably about 10 years ago that actually did that. They had what they called ‘Distance Learning Day’ once a year. And the whole point of it was to help teachers understand how to deploy materials and deliver instruction, virtually. There are some schools out there that have been doing this for a decade just in preparation for a time like this.”

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