Coronavirus School Closures Reveal a Stark Digital Divide
An education expert weighs in on the current crisis
You might think online learning and content delivery will be a quick pivot as schools send students home in an effort to slow the novel coronavirus. In reality, the pandemic shines a light on the unequal access to the technologies necessary to be successful either as an online learner or as an instructor suddenly responsible for delivering content remotely.
Instructors have only days or weeks to create and maintain opportunities for remote learning and engagement at a time when they are likely experiencing their own personal and financial stress.
Over the past week, many colleges and universities and elementary, middle, and high schools have suspended in-person classes, saying they will turn to online learning over the coming days and months. Instructors have only days or weeks to create and maintain opportunities for remote learning and engagement at a time when they are likely experiencing their own personal and financial stress. And that is often not enough time to address the unequal resources they and their students have for making online learning effective.
“What we’re doing right now is not creating new online classes,” explains Lee Skallerup Bessette, a learning design specialist at the Center for New Design in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University. “What we’re doing right now is reacting to a crisis situation in delivering content remotely,” she says. When an online or hybrid class is developed over months, the teacher can plan various activities aligned with learning outcomes and be more thoughtful about what can and should be delivered, in what format, and with what assessments. In this limited time frame, larger-scale design thinking and building is not possible, and instructors instead must focus on immediate content delivery, assessments, and contact and engagement with students destabilized by the crisis.
When Jess Calarco, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, learned her classes were going online, she used this past week to try out a hybrid online class where…