After speaking to many teachers it’s clear that teachers are trying to make virtual learning work, despite the tremendous challenges. In addition to the usual curriculum tweaks each year, teachers and administrators must contend with a variety of virtual learning challenges, including disparate parent expectations, enrollment challenges, educational equity for all students, internet access issues, & education technology.

“In the first month of the pandemic, March, 2020, web traffic spiked 20% in one week, according to Verizon.”

With kids and often parents all working from home, internet bandwidth needs have dramatically increased in residential areas. In the first month of the pandemic, March, 2020, web traffic spiked 20% in one week, according to Verizon. Their CEO, Hans Vestberg, told CNBC that “data usage has surged double digits over four categories.” Web traffic climbed 20%, virtual private network, or VPN, jumped 30% and gaming skyrocketed a whopping 75% as people were suddenly marooned at home, trying to fill their time.

In many ways, core subjects like math and reading, are well-suited for a pandemic because teachers have already been teaching those subjects online for decades. The pioneering online school University of Phoenix began teaching classes online in 1989 using the dial-up service CompuServe. This was before the World Wide Web was developed. By 2012, a third of the 20.6 million college students in the US were enrolled in an online course and by 2015, educators were declaring that online education was mainstream (Kentnor, 2015). And not a minute too soon for looming pandemics.

Teachers and parents alike have a wide variety of education technology, or ed tech, tools they can leverage when kids must do virtual learning. For example, you can create baseline diagnostic assessments at the beginning of a term, and then periodically circle back with updated assessments to see progress. Let’s Go Learn provides a robust suite of math and reading diagnostic assessments, giving you deep insight into a student’s knowledge across many sub skills, so that a personalized education plan can be created.

But not every subject enjoys years of experience as an online subject, especially in K-12 grades. It’s particularly challenging to teach the arts using virtual learning. Performing arts classes such as band and theater are based on in-person collaboration. And hands-on art classes such as wood-working, textiles, and fine art, necessarily require specialized equipment and activity. Unfortunately, many school districts are cancelling or scaling back arts classes during the pandemic because they are simply too difficult to redesign for online education.

In a future blog post we’ll explore some of the ways schools and parents are building engagement for virtual learning. For example, one popular way to build engagement is to integrate the arts into core subjects. My own kids were fascinated when introduced to Desmos.com, the free, online graphing calculator. If that sounds boring, it’s not. Desmos, whose mission is to “build a world where every student learns math and loves learning math,” allows students to build works of art using math equations. In fact, every year they sponsor a global math art contest where thousands of students submit their artwork, all while learning math skills.

Desmos Art Example
Artwork drawn by a high school student using Desmos.com’s graphic calculator