So it has come to this. Virtual learning is taking place on a scale never imagined before. Not because anyone wants it to, but because it needs to.
If you had asked my opinion about teaching virtually as recently as a month ago, my answer would have been a resounding “Meh.” I still teach online a bit and while it’s certainly not my preferred way of doing things, my students show improvement and keep coming back. So obviously something works. It always bugs me that I can’t seem to connect in the same way online as in person–FaceTime obviously doesn’t compare with face time–and technical issues can add unneeded frustration to the mix. All in all I’d give the experience a solid C. C+ if I’m feeling generous.
Now I’m less sure what to think. On one hand, students aren’t going to fall in love with the virtual learning just because they have no other option now. You can’t flip a switch in someone’s mind that makes them focus all their mental energy on studying, quarantine-induced boredom or no. If anything all the usual distractions are piling up, and the fact that we depend on our screens gives them a front row seat during learning time.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of new material out there. An abundance of new content has been created in the past few weeks. Just take a look at the bounty of singalongs, tutorials, hangouts, motivational talks, and goofy challenges on your social media feed. People are coming up with new ways to combat isolation all the time and they’re eager to share. Who knows what we’ll come up with next?
This is only the beginning. We could very well be at the threshold of an educational renaissance. A sharp increase in both content and demand hopefully means we’re about to see the quality of virtual learning content–everything from the production and entertainment value to the ideas themselves–improve dramatically.
This sort of thing has happened many times before.
Remember the Harlem Shake? (This is a terrible example, but bear with me). It was just another passing meme that enjoyed its moment in the sun before fading into obscurity, right? But in that moment, gyrating like a raving lunatic in an office break room while wearing a bear costume seemed like a fantastic idea to millions. What followed was a globally shared experience that–alright, it got old fast as memes are wont to do. The point is this: ideas can catch fire, and in education we need all the fiery ideas we can get.
I fully believe we can change the state of online learning into something truly remarkable and immensely helpful to the world at large. I myself am embarking on a mission to do just that, for my part. This week, the school I work for has transitioned to 100% virtual. We don’t yet know what challenges lie ahead. We’re not nearly as prepared as we would like to be. But we’re going down this road together nonetheless. Our goal is beautiful in its simplicity; improve every week. Whether your dipping your toes into virtual learning or a hardened veteran, it’s a pretty good place to start.