By Ruth Veloria, Chief Strategy and Customer Officer, University of Phoenix
For the past decade at University of Phoenix, I have seen firsthand how students may benefit from certain elements of online education that help ensure a more effective learning environment. But, as my children’s schools closed in the wake of coronavirus, even I have struggled at times to make the transition to working mom and teacher of three teenagers who are now going to school virtually.
I have seen the important role that online learning can play to ensure that people can continue to learn regardless of their physical proximity, but children need social interaction; it’s a fundamental stage of development and K-12 students benefit from having peer-to-peer engagement. I will certainly admit that for my kids, the initial excitement about staying at home has turned into a longing to get back to their teachers and friends in person. I am trying to stay focused on helping them see this time as an opportunity, not a challenge.
The hardest part seems to be watching my kids struggle to communicate and engage with their teachers online because they aren’t used to interacting in that environment. There is value in facial expression and in the body language that a teacher can use to see that a student is not understanding a topic. As a parent, I know my children have access to adequate instruction regardless of modality, but the social aspects are different and less well served, which is why we will return to the classroom when we can.
This will be our new normal for the rest of the school year, but coronavirus could potentially force K-12 education to adopt more online learning practices. As parents, we must use this time for learning, too. During this short time that we have been quarantined, I have learned a few things as a work-from-home mom/teacher that may benefit other parents.
Adopt a teaching role
There are a lot of misconceptions that online learning is somehow less rigorous than traditional, in-person education. Our kids are getting a dose of something we call the flipped classroom, going through materials by themselves and using instructor time to get clarity on the areas that are more difficult.
The curriculum is the same, the learning is just as engaging, sometimes more so because of the available creative tools, the difference might be the sequence of when my kids interact with the teacher. I’ve seen this work for adult learners at University of Phoenix and the same can apply to our children. We’re helping k-12 educators transition to the online environment by offering a two-day virtual Teaching Academy and helpful webinars. The intent is to ensure teachers are comfortable in any modality and students don’t lose ground during quarantine.
Let your kids’ teachers lead
While you may have to be the teacher at home, follow the professional’s lead. Many teachers are assigning coursework schedules and others are even trying to hold their group discussions online. They are education professionals who have your children’s best interest in mind and have thought out ways to keep their education going. Read the teacher’s emails and know what is expected so you can reinforce it!
If you follow the guidance of the teacher and ensure that children are engaged, do their work, and then seek out help as needed, they can learn the academic content as effectively as they do in the classroom.
Implement learning intervals
Make sure your kids are engaged in learning intervals throughout their day. Being at home, they can become easily bored and distracted. Make learning a priority, but you now also need to help them break up the day, too.
Schedule breaks to take time away to help them when you can. They are used to a dedicated time for learning each day, so try to follow that routine as much as possible. However, I have noticed that they will probably finish earlier, so you will have to help them find activities to keep them moving or involved in their other hobbies. Even my kids’ soccer clubs have gone digital. We are uploading videos of skills practice and running maps every night so that the club knows they are on task!
Lead by Example
An early realization of the importance of self-advocacy has emerged. So often kids are dissatisfied consumers of what they feel is a force-fed product. When you must motivate yourself to get up on time for the Google Hangout or to use limited office hours, I truly believe kids start to see the relationship between input and outputs.
We may fall into a comfort level at home and let our responsibilities slide in a way that we wouldn’t in the office. Remember that your children are always watching and learn from you. When you are motivated, they will be, too.
Lean into the benefits
We know that the younger generation is very tech-literate, but, through online learning, they are getting accelerated exposure to the intrapersonal and professional applications of technology they weren’t getting through video games and social networking!
That is the way the world is heading – everything will involve technology to an extent – and simply knowing how it works doesn’t guarantee the required level of literacy. Embrace online education to help to instill those skills and competencies.
We will have to wait and see the extent to which traditional schools adopt online learning. We may see schools start to adopt stronger blended learning practices, where they combine online with in-classroom modalities in a much more integrated way. That concept has been implemented for a few years now, there are several online high schools, for example, but this pandemic has shown us that most schools haven’t yet invested much energy or creativity in figuring out ways to use online methods to reinforce learning, reduce costs or time-shift learning moments.
In this short period, we can see how online learning can open the door to tech literacy and virtual interaction that will only continue to evolve, especially when we get to the new normal. When my kids enter the workforce, virtual environments will be much more prevalent, so learning how to interact at this younger age will help better prepare them for the future.
For now, it is our responsibility as parents to instill those benefits and continue our children’s education. It can be challenging, but parents are used to overcoming challenges and doing what needs to be done to help our children succeed.