1. Online Learning is Here to Stay
According to Inside Higher Ed, many schools resumed in-person learning in the fall of 2021, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania State, and California State, who hosted around 80-94% of class in person. But for many schools, the surge in coronavirus cases has meant eLearning is here to stay.
Online classes give flexibility to professors and students, such as immunocompromised professors, international students having to postpone their return to campus, and quarantining students. In language classes, wearing a mask can hinder learning, so these professors may choose to keep their classes online as well. Despite meeting in person, we still used EdTech tools often. My class materials are all found on Canvas. Some TAs had in-person office hours, while others opted for Zoom. In addition, even though I attended my classes in person, many professors recorded their lectures. Then they uploaded them to Panopto so that students who were quarantining could keep up with the class.
My university made it through an in-person finals week, but other schools did not. With the Omicron variant spreading throughout the U.S., some schools held finals online—like Cornell and Princeton. And now, the first three weeks of my university’s winter quarter are online. Welcome to the hybrid model of education—it’s enough to make your head spin.
2. Online Learning Comes with New Challenges
Although EdTech helps us continue our education during Covid spikes, it still poses many difficulties, such as keeping students engaged, and technical hiccups. Time zone differences, maintaining student interest, and Zoom fatigue are massive challenges. With these issues in mind, instructors need to have the flexibility to change their plans. When school is online, the learning environment is less controlled. Some students may have instability at home, such as food insecurity or trouble accessing Wi-Fi. This instability underscores why it is vital that instructors adapt to their students' needs. Takeaways three through six include tips to improve the overall student experience in this new hybrid eLearning world.
3. Engagement and Interaction are Necessary
Platforms like Poll Everywhere or Zoom’s poll feature allow instructors to see if students understand the material they are presenting. With Zoom classes, many students do not turn on their cameras, and in my opinion, they should not have to. Some students may not be comfortable showing their living situation. They may not have a private area where they can Zoom without family members walking around in the background. Or they may have anxiety from having their camera enabled. Since teachers may use the faces and reactions of students to gauge whether they are understanding, polling is an adaptation that allows teachers to circumvent an online learning challenge.
4. Adapt to Students in Different Time Zones / Online Learning is International
College students come from places all over the world. Some are international students; however, even within the U.S., they are spread from Hawaii to the east coast, making teaching in multiple time zones a true challenge. Some discussion-based classes may require students to attend the lectures live, which can be a real struggle if you are in Barcelona and have a 4:00 p.m. class at Stanford (1:00 a.m. in Barcelona). Now imagine if that is a scheduled exam. Ouch. With customization, professors can record their lectures and set up time zone-specific testing times. Usually, professors are very strict about all students taking tests simultaneously so that students do not gain an advantage by taking them later. However, with this new hybrid learning experience, Professors can extend that to a 24-hour period and put some elements in place to ensure integrity standards.
“EdTech companies need to consider user feedback and … [make] improvements to their products and tools”
5. Success Depends on Continuous Improvements from All Parties
Many professors, teachers, and students are locked into platforms because their schools require them. For example, my school uses Canvas, Zoom, Outlook, Google Docs, Google Slides, and Microsoft Office, while others might use Schoology and Microsoft Teams. In my EdTech Workarounds article, I discussed the workarounds I use to make my eLearning experience better, but it is safe to say that EdTech Companies need to consider user feedback and that every student and professor would love to see EdTech companies making improvements to their products and tools.
6. Adequate Online Support is a Priority
EdTech platforms need to make tech support for educators and students a priority. From accessing Zoom recordings, assisting professors with making Canvas assignments, or helping students figure out how to sign up for a conference on Canvas, help needs to be accessible. We should not have to do a deep internet dive to solve platform issues. Help chats, tools like a knowledge base, and tutorials are essential to any onboarding or user experience and should, therefore, be in any good EdTech platform. Students and educators deal with challenges brought on by Covid-19, like quarantining alone and lowered engagement in school. Making the tech aspects of online learning seamless is critical to their experience because students do not need to overcome another challenge while trying to learn.
Right now, the overall EdTech user experience is akin to buying a used car that you know has a bad engine and being hopeful that there’s a YouTube video out there to help you fix it. I would rather have a mechanic fix my car. How about you? As we head further in 2022, it would be amazing to see EdTech companies invest in their products and services to simplify what is already a difficult learning environment that often changes overnight. Those are pretty low expectations for a growing tech industry.