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COVID-19 School Closures: What Are Some Unknown Unknowns?

By Henry Kronk
March 18, 2020

As of March 18, statewide COVID-19 school closures have been either scheduled or put in effect in all but 12 states. Dozens, if not hundreds of American colleges and universities have also closed. Millions of students, teachers, and administrators are now doing their best to maintain instructional continuity using online learning capabilities. In response, many edtech companies have made their services available for free.

Over the past week, we’ve heard from numerous distance learning experts about their advice on some best practices. This post marks the third in a series of three compiling their responses.

Read our previous posts of expert advice on dealing with extended COVID-19 school closures:

Coronavirus Has Arrived. Will an LMS Be Enough for Remote Learning?

COVID-19: Useful Tech and Resources for Remote Learning

Unknown Unknowns Regarding COVID-19 School Closures

To compile this post, we posed the following question:

When it comes to COVID-19 school closures and maintaining instructional continuity, there are a few known unknowns involved, like: how a student body will respond to extended time out of class, how internet connections may or may not be adequate for heavier use, and, ultimately, how long closings will last. What are a few unknowns that teachers, parents, students, and administrators might not have considered?

Don Weobong, Founder and CEO of Telania and eLeaP

This is all predicated on the technologies working as intended. What happens if the LMS or video conferencing technologies are down for extended amounts of time? While I don’t want to sound alarmist, I believe we must consider some low-tech approaches to education in the absence of the tools we have all come to rely on and love. With the COVID-19 being a transmittable virus, the old-fashioned correspondence education might not work well. We encourage students to use journaling as a way to keep track of what they are learning. Explore the backyard. Spend some time in nature. Observe and report seemingly boring subject matter. Slow down a bit.

@eLeaP and @DWeobong on Twitter

Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University Christine Greenhow

When classes are put online, in traditional learning management systems with largely asynchronous, text-based formats, students can often feel invisible, disconnected, and disengaged from their classmates and their teacher, which can lead to a lack of learning, lowered performance or even dropping out.

It is important that teachers, parents, students, administrators and communities think through how to stay connected and build rapport, structure, and support when teaching and learning are remote (e.g., what constitutes strategic use of synchronous remote class meetings, facilitating real-time Q&A, providing much more scaffolding for students in terms of time management without the structure of the school day).

Find all of Professor Greenhow’s published work at her site. @ChrisGreenhow and @MSUCollegeofEd on Twitter.

Coastline Community College Dean of Online and Innovation Shelly Blair and Vice President of Instruction Vince Rodriguez

We recommend schools consider their tech support for LMS and online tool issues. Are they prepared for the onslaught of students and faculty who will need support? Do you have a list of self-paced resources you can point them to?

It’s key to consider web accessibility. Do any of your onsite students have specific needs that would be impacted by moving to online formats?

Online learning doesn’t mean easier – students will have to manage their time and communicate proactively with instructors, especially if they need so self-quarantine or care for a child whose school has been closed.

Some things cannot be replicated online – such as labs that require hands-on environment. Schools need a plan for those courses and the impact to students.

In addition, students may not have time for learning if they become ill or must become a caregiver or an ill family member.

@CoastlineInOC on Twitter

Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Rhianna Rogers, SUNY Empire State College

There are tons of models that exist in online learning that can easily be adopted. Many places are doing a great job of sharing resources, including SUNY. Please take a look at this recent post from SUNY COTE about emergency remote online teaching resources.

@project_buffalo on TwitterLearn more about Professor Rogers’ work on virtual residency programs here.

Scott Kinney, President of K-12 Education, Discovery Education and Former Teacher

I think at this point, much is unknown about the impact of the coronavirus on teaching and learning. In my career I’ve not seen anything like this. I think one unknown is how uncertainty about the coronavirus impacts students’ social-emotional health. This is one of the key reasons Discovery Education set up a special Virus and Outbreak channel in Discovery Education Experience.We wanted to give teachers the content they need to explain to students the science behind virus outbreaks and the tools to empower students to protect themselves again coronavirus.

@Scott_Kinney and @DiscoveryEd on Twitter.

Russ Chadinha, Senior Director, Product Marketing at 8×8 and Former Teacher

Vertical alignment – will it be necessary to take time during the next school year to review and reinforce specific topics that ensure grade level readiness? Being able to plan appropriately to accommodate this potential requirement may take more time than expected.

Access – how will those students without access to the technology be supported? How will English language learners be effectively supported? How will students with special needs get the services they require?

There is a limit to remote learning in terms of which grade levels can use it. Trying to conduct remote learning for first graders may not be an option.

Social, emotional impact – For example, school counselors play an important role in helping students work through issues. What access will these students have to counseling during an extended closure?

Disclosure: Telania owns and operates eLearning Inside.

Featured Image: iStock.