With COVID, Will education systems transform to remote learning systems?

Ellen Dougherty

COVID 19 is going to keep children and youth out of the classrooms for some time. School boards and post secondary institutions are trying to figure out how to recuperate the school term. 

Companies like Microsoft are offering free software for remote learning. It opens up the possibility for a temporary fix to a major problem. But one which could lead to much more usage of online educational technology. 

Social Canada talked to Ellen Dougherty, who teaches at the University of South Florida and Florida State College. Some of her courses are taught remotely. Ellen is also working on her PhD in Education, specializing in educational technology. She is a specialist who has worked in the Quebec education system, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA. 

Her answer to the question above was that educational systems should adapt to ever changing demands and times. Schools and colleges and universities should be using this period of imposed isolation as an opportunity to try out or expand remote learning. Is it happening?  “It’s a mixed bag. It varies across systems. Many teachers have been using technology as a tool in their courses and classrooms. But not many have not had previous experiences with online or remote learning.” 

“In the US, some school districts have been encouraging teachers to integrate digital technologies in their learning spaces. But a problem is that testing has become so big an issue here, that the system is focussed on teaching kids to pass tests, rather than, say, project-based learning or challenge based learning. Many educators are using what is called “drill and kill’ versus the creative use of the digital tools. There is a resistance to change. I think the integration of technology in classrooms may be better in parts of Canada, where forward thinking, informed educational leaders are urging a transition from being a teacher to being a facilitator of learning”.

Technology can play many roles. It can level the playing field providing students with objective, tangible measurements, not only on current projects or tasks, but also with the possibility for self reflection on their individual, overall progress. It can be a kind of self-disciplinarian, as online courses require structure and focus to succeed. “In many courses, educational technology is used for accountability, both of the student and the teacher.”

And about adult learning?

“Youtube is a wonderful platform for a wide range of practical learning. Almost any task you have can be demonstrated there. At one time it was thought that ITunes University might bring in a brave new world of online education. But Apple lost Steve Jobs …”. There are many other learning management platforms being developed, Canvas, Blackboard,etc.,  which show lots of promise. 

Digital learning tools can dramatically broaden access to learning. Witness the explosion of online courses and programs in the private sector. But we definitely need to catch up in accrediting new sets of skills and competencies. It means a shift from evaluating the credibility of the teaching institution to measuring real learning outcomes, especially relative to the skills required in the new world of work.

“We are moving into a new world of education, and COVID 19 might just propel us forward a bit faster.” 

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