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The good, the not-so-good and the unknown aspects of a forced transition to online learning

coronavirus, online learning, COVID-19, University of Phoenix
As chief strategy and customer officer at the University of Phoenix, Ruth Veloria has unique insights on virtual education. She wasn’t expecting to have to implement online learning at home, but then the coronavirus came along.

As COVID-19 has swept through our state and nation, countless parents and students have had to make the change to “remote” or “distance” learning — practically overnight. For many, it hasn’t been easy.

As chief strategy and customer officer at the University of Phoenix, Ruth Veloria has unique insights on virtual education. Since 1976, the university has been evolving a “blended” model of virtual and classroom learning including a substantial online curriculum. Veloria shares insights from that experience as well as her firsthand perspective on the current transition as a mother of three teenagers in the K-12 system and one in college.

How can parents best help their students’ perceptions of this shift to online learning? Social distancing has changed learning and forced many into an uncomfortable transition. 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. What parent would not be grateful for their child to get a dose of appreciation for their teachers!

I am trying to stay focused on them seeing this as an opportunity, not a challenge. One thing I learned is that even my ninth graders weren’t confident in saving documents and uploading them to virtual classrooms. Luckily for our family, we know quite a lot about the digital world and had to be tech support for the kids the first few days! Now we can see how this hurried switch to 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. They are getting skills they weren’t getting though video games and social networking.

What are some key learnings from the transition to the online school experience to date? The hardest part seems to be watching my kids struggle to communicate and engage with their teachers, because they aren’t used to interacting in that environment. There is value in a facial expression and in the body language that a teacher can use to see that a student is not understanding a topic. 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. Being out of school forces them to ask themselves: “What do I really want from this experience? Is it important to me that I get good grades in my AP classes? Am I just going through the motions because that is what is expected of me?” 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.

Ruth Veloria (center) with her husband and children during a family trip — pre-coronavirus, of course!

What can parents do to make online learning most effective for their students at home? I am a working mom with three children still at home who are now going to school virtually, so I understand the challenges that most parents are facing. First and foremost, I would encourage parents to follow the lead of their children’s teachers. Many 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 interests in mind and have thought out ways to keep their education going. Read the teachers’ emails and know what is expected so you can reinforce it.

Second, I’d encourage parents to make sure their 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.

As a parent, are you comfortable that your children are receiving adequate instruction for the remainder of this school year? There are a lot of misconceptions that online learning is somehow less engaging or rigorous as traditional, in-person education. All the content is there, but more onus is put on the student to be the driver. As a parent, I know my children have access to adequate instruction. They are getting a dose of something we call the flipped classroom, going through materials by yourself 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 creative tools you can use to engage the student. The difference might be the sequence of when my kids interact with the teachers. If I follow the guidance of their teachers and ensure that my children are engaged, do their work, and then seek help as needed, they can learn the academic content as effectively as they do in the classroom. The social aspects are different and less well-served, which is why we will return to the classroom when we can.

We know that the younger generation is very tech-literate, but they are getting accelerated exposure to the intra-personal and professional applications of technology. 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. Online education can help to instill those skills and competencies.

How will this rush to online learning change the education environment after the coronavirus crisis? Will it lead to greater integration of online learning into the school curriculum? We will have to wait and see the extent to which traditional schools adopt online learning.We have experienced the important role that online learning can play to ensure that people can continue to learn regardless of their physical proximity, but there will likely always be a place for brick-and-mortar classrooms for children. Children need social interaction; it’s a fundamental stage of development and K-12 students benefit from having peer-to-peer engagement.

What we may see is schools starting 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. Schools may benefit from adopting certain elements of online learning to help ensure a more effective learning environment in the future. I have seen us do that for busy working adults at University of Phoenix for more than 20 years.



Karen Barrhttp://www.raisingarizonakids.com
Karen Davis Barr is the founder and publisher of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.



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