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COVID and Teaching, Part 2

Several months ago, I made a post about how Covid and the pandemic was affecting the teaching profession. In the time that has followed the post, school has ended for the previous year, and a new school year for colleges and universities rises on the horizon. Unfortunately, the situation in much of the United States is approaching levels that are worse than ever before, and this is unfortunate for the education community and our children.

I was optimistic back in April and May that the pandemic would be simmering down by summer and that life would attain some level of normalcy going into Fall semester. This is far from the truth, though, and I feel that the situation this Fall and Winter could get far worse than we imagined this past Spring. This places education in a perilous spot. Students have already been without a normal day-to-day teaching regime for five months. And the pandemic is showing no signs of easing up anytime soon.

So then, the powers that be are faced with an impossible choice. Do we send the students back to University, colleges, and schools to resume their lives and regain some level of mental and social health back? Or do we keep them home to keep them safe and prevent larger spread of the infection among vulnerable groups? I’ve pondered this, as I’m sure many other educators have as well. It’s a lose-lose no matter which way is chosen. At its core, we are essentially asking: How many lives are worth the education and sanity of the young adults and children getting an education in our country? And if you give it a minute to ponder this question, you realize how absurd it is to answer, either way.

I don’t envy these powers that be that are tasked with these decisions, but I will say that I feel this could be a huge transformation for K12 and Higher Ed worldwide because of this pandemic. When the dust settles, I think the end result is going to be that online education becomes much more meta than it has thus far. While integrating technology into K12 and Higher Ed has been done for some time, and most colleges have had some online classes for years, this is a much deeper change I’m contemplating. In the post-pandemic world, I can see online virtual school-from-home to be the accepted choice for a sizable portion of the K12 student body (and by sizable, I can see it being done for 10-25% of students). And for Higher Ed, online classes could become the norm instead of the exception.

Either (or both) of these changes will have profound ripple effects upon the structure of education. Higher Ed makes much of their money from ground-based fees, such as room and board and meal plans, and the online push will definitely be a threat to that. The online push may make Higher Ed consider adjunct instructors even more in efforts to cost-save and cut corners. And childcare, family work schedules, and extracurricular activities all stand to be fundamentally shaken and stirred if a large amount of students in K12 opt for virtual school.

I have considered the exact opposite is possible as well – this huge foray into the digital world to an extent never before done may prove to be a colossal failure. If this occurs, it could be a monumental collapse of distance-based online learning after the pandemic, especially if parents and students are sick of it. If I had to be a betting person, though, I’d wager against this (given our society’s transformation at the hands of the Internet).

Regardless, the very foundation layer of primary, secondary, and post-secondary education in the U.S. and the world as a whole is being touched by this pandemic. If we are innovative and smart about it, this shuffling of the deck could render a new education system for us that could be as revolutionary as the Internet itself. Time will tell, and we have a pandemic and hard choices to face first…