Ensuring Equality & Equity in an Online Space
The past few months have been like nothing we’ve ever experienced. From health-related policies in place everywhere we go to digital learning and working becoming nearly worldwide overnight, to say this year has been different would be an understatement. As we move into a new school year and are still combating a global health crisis, more and more students are facing the likelihood of online learning for the foreseeable future. Whether they enroll in an online school or their district is offering digital learning options, it is the responsibility of educators everywhere to promote a learning environment that embraces diversity and simultaneously encourages equality and equity for all students.
Address Concerns for Access
If you’re a parent or teacher in a traditional school district who has temporarily opted for digital learning, explore your options when it comes to providing internet and device access to all students. At the bare minimum, all students should have a device on which they can easily complete schoolwork and a decent internet connection with which to do so. While some low-income areas are lacking in access, school systems and online schools can offer support or solutions so that there is more equality at the baseline of online schooling.
Understand Personal Situations
Although it may not be possible for all teachers to contact each individual student to determine their personal situation in regards to school and home life, the more a teacher knows, the better the outcomes will be for the student. If a student has several siblings at home, has to work to support his family, or is in a dangerous or unhealthy home situation, their teachers can work with them to ensure they have every opportunity to complete assignments and get a quality education, all the while understanding their personal challenges and obstacles.
Traditional classes are often centered around discussions and student interaction, and although that can be difficult to replicate in an online setting, it’s incredibly important. Students thrive when they interact with one another and are able to discuss ideas and concepts, so communication should be encouraged and facilitated in a variety of ways. Have virtual meetings so students can talk “face-to-face” and allow discussion board communications. Start an email thread or create a social media group for older students to talk about the content.
Balance Synchronous and Asynchronous Opportunities
Synchronous activities are ones that take place at a specific and designated time, such as a virtual meeting, a live lecture, or a live chat. Asynchronous activities are things that can be done or accessed at any time, such as a discussion board, a video lecture, or an email thread. While synchronous activities make up the majority of a traditional school day, virtual learning should balance the two, leaning more heavily toward asynchronous learning opportunities. Students may not have the flexibility or consistent device access to participate in every synchronous event that is planned, but they should not be penalized because of that. Record live lectures, record live virtual meetings, and send transcripts of live chats to all students so that no one misses out due to a difficult schedule or challenges with device or internet access.
Consider Exceptional Circumstances
If you cannot hear from each individual student about their personal circumstances, try to give your students the benefit of the doubt when it comes to missed assignments or lack of participation. Understand that some students may not only have device or internet access problems, but there may be language barrier problems, learning disabilities, family challenges, or other adversities that are keeping them from thriving in a virtual learning environment. Reach out to students who appear to be struggling and offer help—whether that means extended deadlines, one-on-one calls for extra help, or more.
Focus on the Big Idea
Schools that aren’t used to digital learning may feel like they need to replicate a standard school day, just in a virtual setting. But this is not effective, nor is it necessary. Students do not need to be sitting in front of a computer for 7 hours a day to learn the material needed for their success, and they certainly shouldn’t be required to spend that much time completing assignments. Students with poor internet access, those with large families with minimal devices, or students with learning disabilities may find it nearly impossible to spend that much time doing online school, so schools and districts should take into account the most effective scheduling and time requirements for their students. They should focus on the big idea—students are learning and growing, rather than simply checking the box of completing schoolwork.
Each teacher, student, and parent will have different opinions and different experiences with digital learning, and their approach and feelings may change frequently. All those involved in a student’s educational experience should check in with one another regularly to evaluate progress and make any changes to the learning approach.
Digital learning, especially in the current circumstances, may be a little more fluid than it has been in the past, but educational progress and growth should still be the goal. Equity and equality in the virtual learning realm can be difficult as there is so much to overcome to even slightly level the playing field for all students. Educators and community members should work together to provide each student with the best chance for a positive educational experience and the best access to quality online education. To learn more about virtual learning and online schooling at San Diego Virtual School, contact us now.