Remote Learning Is Here to Stay, Raising Concerns About Teacher Training and Data Privacy
More Remote Possibilities
It’s clear that emergency remote instruction over the past year hasn’t been a pleasant experience for most school districts. But continuing it after the emergency ends may have appeal.
An appropriately titled RAND Corporation research report, “Remote Learning Is Here to Stay,” finds that one in five U.S. school districts plans to offer fully online learning even after the pandemic ends. The survey, conducted of RAND’s nationally representative American School District Panel from September through November 2020, included more than 375 K-12 public school districts and charter management organizations.
RAND researchers found that remote learning, in some form, is likely to outlast the COVID-19 closures. Virtual school or a fully online option is in the to-be-continued cards—either planned or being considered—by 20 percent of districts and charter orgs, and a blended or hybrid model by 10 percent. Seven percent indicated a more generic “remote learning in some form” based on the open-ended responses. Respondents’ answers could be applied to more than one option.
District leaders’ reasons centered on both convenience and practicality: offering students more flexibility, meeting parent or student demand, meeting the diversity of students’ needs, and maintaining student enrollment.
What’s the biggest and more immediate challenge in the current school year? Addressing disparities in students’ opportunities to learn that result from differences in support provided by families during the pandemic. It was called a moderate or significant challenge by 86 percent of the district leaders, ahead of state accountability requirements, supplemental help for instruction (like tutoring), and even making sure that students and teachers had internet access for remote learning.
Confidence, Meet Pandemic Reality
The RAND study also found that 69 percent of district leaders cited a moderate or great need for additional professional development to help teachers use technology tools to provide high-quality instruction.
It’s a need teachers themselves seem to echo.
GBH Education (part of the public broadcaster formerly known as WGBH) dug into teacher use of digital media in a new report based on two surveys taken in pre-pandemic February/March and full-pandemic June 2020. Turns out that educators’ confidence in their ability to teach with edtech tools actually dropped as the pandemic settled in.
The combined analysis, “Teacher K-12 Digital Media Use Before & After the COVID-19 Transition to Remote Learning,” is based on online surveys of 1,914 educators nationwide. While 66 percent of K-12 teachers reported feeling“very or extremely” confident in using digital media to teach last June, that number is a decrease of 11 percent from several months earlier. Some 13 percent of those surveyed hadn’t used digital media services for teaching before the pandemic closed schools.
One possible reason for the decrease in confidence over the period, aside from the number of first-time users of digital services, was the sudden lack of choice. “Teachers may have been confident in using digital media to supplement their in-person classroom instruction” GBH Education notes, “but may have experienced diminished confidence when required to teach only through technology with little time to prepare.”
Not surprisingly, the report concludes teachers “need additional professional development and support.”
Can We Keep These Grades Between Us?
With continued plans to stick with some form of online school, and teachers feeling iffy about remote tech, maybe that’s why data privacy and security is on the minds of state legislatures.
The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit school system edtech association, has been tracking such legislative activity. In its new “2020 State and Federal Cybersecurity Policy Trends” report, CoSN says nearly 100 bills were introduced in 2020 by 27 states, Washington D.C. and the federal government, out of which ten new laws were adopted.
Not every bill was focused on K-12 or higher ed. But of the 25 state bills that were, the report says areas commonly covered in K-12 were cybersecurity instruction for students, technical assistance to schools, and investments in tech improvements and professional development. There were no obvious patterns in higher education bills. Ultimately, only Alabama approved specific K-12 cybersecurity measures and Louisiana a post-secondary bill to fund cybersecurity degree and certificate programs. Yes, just two education-directed laws in two states.
As 2021 legislative sessions are underway, CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in a statement that with cybersecurity attacks targeting schools during remote learning, “Protecting student and educator data must be top of mind, and good policies and practices are essential.”
Now, Let’s Do the Numbers
All of this may mean more investment in technology used for education purposes. But as a proportion of overall education spending, tech is still a bit player.
Market research firm HolonIQ has released a high-level series of ten charts “to explain the global education technology market” using its proprietary methodology. Two charts speak volumes. Global edtech spend is $227 billion now, but that’s still just 3.6 percent of total education spending at all levels, from early childhood through adulthood at school, work and home.
HolonIQ says that will grow some 12.2 percent over five years, so that by 2025 it’ll nearly double to $404 billion and account for 5.2 percent of all education spending.
In case you’re wondering, the remaining 96.4 percent of the current spend is for labor, buildings, physical equipment, non-digital content and more. To the tune of $6.2 trillion.
If you work in edtech, it’s okay to take a moment to feel relatively insignificant.
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