When Morgan Keena shifted her seventh-grade world history class to remote learning in March, she realized she’d have to do a few things differently. As a teacher at Lone Star Middle School in Nampa, Idaho, her in-person strategy of “voice and choice,” where students decide how to show their understanding of the material with individual projects, wouldn’t work through a screen.
Keena asked her students how they preferred to learn and then designed weekly modules that allowed them to choose three activities to demonstrate their mastery of her lessons on topics such as Renaissance art, the Reformation, and the Inca Empire. Her students responded positively; she was even able to engage some online who hadn’t shown much interest in history before.
For 13-year-old Danae Martinez, having a say in her homework for Keena’s class was one of the best things about studying online. “I like getting to choose what I do, rather than having to be told what to do,” she says. “We have a lot more options with online learning.”
More than 56 million children and their teachers in the United States abruptly switched to remote education this spring due to the global pandemic. Now educators like Keena have an opportunity to be more thoughtful about what online education could be and should be. She plans to offer similar online assignments when school resumes in the fall — in whatever form it might take.
Teachers are working hard to create new types of lessons, school districts are investing in more technology, and industry partners are stepping in to help fill some of the gaps. While online education runs the risk of leaving some students behind due to a lack of technology and connectivity, it also has the potential to engage all students in new ways, including offline solutions and individualized learning opportunities.
Bridging the digital divide
Keena felt better prepared than many of her fellow teachers to switch to remote learning because she had already created a largely paperless classroom. And Lone Star, which is an HP Spotlight School, provides each of its 840 middle schoolers with access to their own device during the school year.
But that’s not the case for all students. While the number of one-to-one schools where every student has access to a device is steadily growing, only around 75% of all K–12 schools in the U.S. have enough laptops or tablets for every student. Many also lack access to a computer at home, or have to share a single device with their family. Schools also provide connectivity that might be lost in the shift to remote learning — more than 9 million children lack internet access at home, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.