Now Is the Time to Make Online Schools Available to Everyone
Toward an inclusive remote education system
The spread of coronavirus in the United States has prompted thousands of schools and universities to shut down and move online, leading us to rethink the future of our education systems. A worldwide shutdown of schools at this rate and volume has been unprecedented, and now we can begin to imagine a possible dystopian future where similar shutdowns will become more commonplace due to climate change, pollution, or other pandemics. There’s no better time to talk about the need for an equitable, inclusive, global, and fully remote education system.
Remote education, or distance learning, was first introduced in the United States with the establishment of the U.S. Postal Service in the 1840s. “Instructional missives” were distributed via the postal service between students and professors through “commercial correspondence colleges.” Currently, there are 276 accredited online education programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
One such online college is Columbia Southern University (CSU), where my mother has been a physics professor for nearly a decade. Despite the fact that CSU is an entirely online university, the faculty and students face technological challenges on a near-daily basis, such as issues with CSU’s Learning Management System (Blackboard) and glitches in the recording software. According to my mother, at least one instructor at every faculty meeting asks the same questions about how to perform simple operations on the platform.
In order to increase student engagement, the university has encouraged professors to hold weekly office hours. These “office hours” are open conference calls that any of the students can join to participate in conversations or ask questions. The problem is that no one joins. Perhaps this is due to the difficulty of managing the logistical issue of time zones; perhaps this is due to the unfriendly interface and experience of virtually interacting with strangers you have never met in person.
The majority of schools tend to use technology to enhance or extend existing educational systems rather than envisioning the possibility…