To the Editor:
Distance education is defined as a method of teaching where the student and teacher are physically separated. A simple search of the internet provides a wealth of information for creating a distance learning curriculum. While the majority of the information is geared towards postsecondary education, COVID-19 has brought more public K-12 school systems on board.
Distance education is not a new way of teaching. It can be traced back to the 18th century. It has evolved and progressed since that time, and the advancement of communications technology has resulted in rapid growth since the 1990s.
Some early examples of distance education are correspondence courses and independent study assignments to name a few. These and other methods of distance learning were primarily developed for individuals who were looking to better themselves, usually on an adult level. In other words, the “student” was doing it by “choice” and not as a requirement of compulsory education, i.e.: K-12 education. That is important to keep in mind in the development of any distance learning curriculum.
Let us consider the purpose of this communication, limitations of distance education. While each is important, the most important is “access to the internet”. Without access, distance education is not possible. Along with “access to the internet” does the student have access to a device that will receive the necessary information? While most young people today are computer savvy, does she/he know how to navigate the programs used to transmit the message? All three of these are important things to consider before assuming that any problems on the part of the student are her/his fault.
It is rare that you will find a teacher that will not agree that a student’s home life has an affect on her/his learning in school, be it good or bad. There are individuals in school who have no interest in learning, period. But there are also a good number of students who will learn only with prodding by the teacher, be it eye contact, pointing, a raised voice, etc. How is this accomplished with distance learning? What about the home where all adults are off to work each day? Without someone “on their case” will they get out of bed and participate in the required lessons? What about “students with disabilities” and those where “English is a second language?” These individuals usually benefit from small classes and/or one-on-one instruction.
Even those students who like going to school and “learning” are limited by distance education. These individuals thrive in lab classes. How can experiments and research be conducted in a home environment? These students are usually active and inquisitive in class and learn from “group interaction”. Will not happen in a home environment.
What about evaluations? Can a teacher be sure that all students are doing their own work when “out of sight”? Speaking of grades, a brief search showed that there is a tendency to lower standards for distance learning, yet the same credit is given towards a diploma.
Distance learning curtails the possibility of social interaction among the students, something important in the development of young people. I have not touched on teacher training and curriculum development for using distance learning. Differences exist between teaching and learning in the online and face-to-face environments.
Distance learning is here to stay in one form or another and a quality educational system will continually work to develop and improve its content and strategies and consider “all limitations.”
Ronald L. Hoenes
Ron Hoenes of Forsyth is a retired school administrator who worked in Henry County schools.