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It's over a year since the pandemic first shunted teachers and students out of the classroom and into their homes. Now, we face the complex challenge of getting back to school safely with Covid still circulating.
So, what have we learned from last year's great remote learning experiment, and can we make this year's back-to-school go smoothly? Has the pandemic been a great moment for learning, or has it worsened the 'digital divide' for disadvantaged students? And how can technology help us bridge the gap?
We look at four tech trends to watch as a new school year begins.
The EdTech industry has been growing for years but started to roar in Covid’s wake as educators harnessed digital technology to keep students’ learning on course. Take Google Classroom, which doubled its active users to 100 million in the first month of the pandemic alone. Or the EdTech startup Class DoJo, which helps parents and teachers communicate about students, that’s now used in 95% of America’s schools. As schools and higher education institutions return to in-person or hybrid classes after the summer break, the EdTech solutions that emerged during Covid will prove indispensable. Tech-fueled collaborative, immersive experiences will continue to power student-centric education and provide invaluable data to help teachers keep students on track.
Historically, educators have taught to the middle when faced with classrooms filled with pupils of varying learning abilities. Now, thanks to advances in technology, individual students can enjoy tailored learning at their own pace, with the same teacher, in the same classroom. How? Because artificial intelligence, learning analytics, and big data help teachers pinpoint those who need help. AI-powered tutors can offer a personalized approach for each student so that one student can move ahead quickly while others receive the tailored support they need.
This past year, the pendulum swung to remote learning and then back to in-person learning. Now, it looks set to oscillate between both, in a long-term hybrid learning model. In fully remote environments, educators can’t scan the classroom and quickly assess the mood, engagement, or comprehension levels, and many students are struggling and falling far behind where they should be. Blended learning models take the best of both worlds, using digital platforms to support in-person teaching while minimizing teacher workload. Technologies such as interactive projectors and document cameras help teachers create engaging learning experiences, whether students sit in the classroom or join remotely.
According to McKinsey, pandemic-induced shutdowns could exacerbate America’s pre-existing inequalities, causing disproportionate learning losses for disadvantaged students. Why? Because, although most children have the tech they need for online school in some form, some might be logging into school on Mom’s phone before she heads to work, or via a TV in an overcrowded living room. And parents who lack education themselves – or don’t speak English as a first language – often lack the skills to help kids online. On the other hand, hyper-accessible, free-to-use virtual platforms promise to narrow the divide by supporting inclusion for all, opening extra tuition and support to disadvantaged kids. Whether the gap will close or widen will depend on several factors, including whether and how quickly states can widen access to digital tools for all.
While there is no blueprint for re-opening schools amid a fickle pandemic, it’s vital that we help students make up for lost learning, and fast. As educators work towards a new ‘normal’ that works for everyone, it’s unclear to what extent schools will drop EdTech solutions to prioritize social proximity. However, all signs seem to be pointing to a future learning model that’s hybrid, with technology as the bridge keeping everyone connected, and on track for success.