Online education or the virtual classroom are the new buzzwords in the education environment today as teachers, student and parents, responding to the government mandates about school operations, are coming to grips with new teaching techniques and new uses for technology. It’s not easy as both teachers and students are discovering but all parties are showing a willingness to embrace what may become a new standard in education. But questions still need to be answered and there is little time allowed to do the research.

With an estimated 26 % of the county’s public school students committing to total online education in lieu of a partial or hybrid classroom participation, this school year will be a good litmus test for virtual education. Arguably the final semester of last year’s traditional school year, when students were sent home in March due to the pandemic, was questionably successful. Only as those impacted students matriculate through the educational system will the results be known. This time teachers and students are a little better prepared since they have that event to compare and correct. But there are still unknowns and concerns.

Among the unknowns is how well will the students attending class online handle their assignments and retain the information provided?

The Urban Education Institute at the University of Texas at San Antonio surveyed 2,000 teacher, student and parents from nine local school districts about their experiences during the spring semester of last year’s traditional school year when students were sent home due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. That report notes that teachers are responding more positively to the virtual classroom than are the students.

Mike Villarreal, the institute’s director, noted that “nearly all teachers had to learn new skills and new techniques and new ways of translating they did in the classroom online.” And though 95% of the respondents had no prior experience, 91% felt they had gained the needed skills to do their job.

Students on the other hand were less positive about their experience with 64% reporting that they felt having learned less, 25% were keeping pace with what they would have learned in the classroom and 11% feeling they had actually learned more in the virtual environment.

There are other challenges now being identified such as the need for better infrastructure so that students can have easy and equal access to the virtual classroom. Too many regions of the county have inadequate internet connectivity which is now being addressed through a special grant to the county’s Economic Development Foundation. And, as many parents have discovered, computers, particularly Chromebook computers, are hard to come by. Morehead City Walmart, as of this week, had no low cost computers in inventory.

Another concern is increased stress on students who have opted for online only program. One county student, appearing on the Monday evening radio talk show Youthpoints on the TalkStation WTKF/WJNC, noted that he is spending far more time on his computer and digital devices which leaves less time for other activities. In other communities, parents are complaining that the virtual classroom is promoting technology overuse and in one case a parent said their child is suffering from “zoom fatigue” referencing the use of digital learning using the Zoom interface.

Confirming the Urban Education Institute report, local teachers are embracing the challenges. News-Times reporter Cheryl Burke noted in a recent story that Morehead City Primary School Kindergarten teacher Norma Jean Gomez sends out videos twice daily, then does face-to-face reading groups. “It’s a lot of work but I’m really enjoying it,” she explained.

West Carteret High School Latin teacher, Michael McGinn likewise noted the extra work required for the virtual classroom but justified his effort noting, “I believe the future of education is online.”

World events such as wars and industrial and scientific discoveries are quite often permanently disruptive. While it is questionable to seek a positive result from the current pandemic, the fact is we are seeing disruptive changes that will, in the long term, permanently alter how education is delivered. What is needed now is a willingness to embrace the opportunities. But first our educational leaders need to research the best teaching techniques and know the services required to provide the end product - a solid education.

There are lessons to be learned, figuratively and literally, but with little time allowed answers need to be determined quickly. The future of our students is dependent on handling this disruptive experience quickly and intelligently.

(27) comments

Sleepwalker

“Urban education institute”. Ya lost me right there...let’s just see how California is doing it and do it that way. They’re always so avant-garde and fancy.

sick and tired

I told you. The government would decide this was the way to go, and this whole home schooling/ online would stick. There will be no reduction to our taxes for it of course but anything they can do to get and keep as much of our dollars, while having to do as little as work as possible is the way to go. It's all for the children, of course.

mpjeep

Virtual classrooms being the future will only work if the student is very motivated. If not, Asian countries will get even further ahead of us.

dc

Looks like those UEIs are "experts" in equity among other buzz words in "urban" education with the granddaddy of them all probably being the University of Chicago working across country in as many as 31 states. Be glad we don't quite fit the "urban" definition. If their boards, consultants, etc have folks like BO, Duncan & the like you might wind up with the "expertise" like we saw at Parkland. Let's stick with our own experts like our new superintendent with strong attributes including elementary experience. Another expert with strong credentials is Joe Poletti. Believe he was IT Director before taking principalship at Croatan which of course has the reputation of being one of the best high schools in the state. As current principal at WCHS it's no surprise he's innovative & got the WCHS Virtual Academy online. Don't worry CCPS seems to be in good hands.

dc

Also, Catherine Truitt running for Superintendent of Public Instruction has a very strong IT/virtual classroom background. I'd vote for her any time and especially at this particular time.

David Collins

If virtual is the way education is going to go , I guess there will not be a need for teacher assistants , guidance counselors , nurses , school resource officers , assistant principals , food service staff and certainly not the buildings themselves . In fact it could all be done from a single building in Raleigh . Think of the savings !

dc

Exactly! Can't wait.

dc

Actually, there will probably be both for the foreseeable future. The main plus should be in relieving overcrowding of current schools thereby reducing the need for more & more buildings with the associated maintenance & upkeep. That savings alone is a major.

Sleepwalker

Ahhhh..dc...I completely forgot about the overcrowding claimed in the western part of the county (I believe). Wonder if the $$$ needed is going to change?

dc

Seems it should but BOC & BOE probably still want gyms/storm shelters even if not more classroom space. Depending on how permanent that 26% plus or minus & mostly if not all virtual/home schools continue certainly should be determinative. Depending on how long this social distancing cuts into space/available seats, etc is a factor. Taking one new school out of the equation is obviously big bucks. There is still a lot of growth in the western end so another school may still prove to be necessary even with some 2,000 no longer in the classrooms on a full-time basis. Some of those still may participate in special classes, band, sports, etc. A lot for the decision-makers' future planning & execution. It would be nice after things return to "nornal" with normal distancing/seating to realize a substantial relief in overcrowding. Something to think about though is some or many if not all of that current 26% could decide to return to school at any time.

Sleepwalker

Agreed. Wonder if all “this” goes away if virtual public schooling will still be offered.

dc

Yes, they will remain but to what degree is anybody's guess, Best I can tell there are currently three state "authorized" virtual schools in NC. NC Virtual Public School (NCVPS) with over 32,000 enrollees is run by the state & assume mostly state employees would run the school. Believe it exists mainly for students enrolled in a traditional brick & mortal school but for whatever reason don't have access to a particular course there. Then there are currently two "authorized" charter schools that are "virtuals" run by private entities. All of these "virtual" schools have limited enrollment one would assume. At least one of the two privately run schools offer scheduled face-to-face meetings & other activities from what I've read. According to one website one of them at least received a "D" grade by NCDPI at some point. It will be interesting to see how so many "home schools" will provide an adequate education to their children. They will probably run the gamut but I'd be concerned overall. Teachers & administrators of all the traditional brick & mortar schools are probably having a pretty tough time delivering a "part-time face-to-face & part-time virtual education" but they are also learning a lot from the experience. Obviously some teachers & administrators are more technology challenged than others but there are so many other obstacles. As in the general population technology has its pros & cons in education but in these troubled times it's providing something that's better than nothing. I'd suspect the WCHS Virtual Academy is one example of a traditional public school that's ahead of the game right now.

David Collins

Virtual will still be offered as a hedge against private and church schools IMO . Will the virtual students be held to the same end of grade testing standards as the others ? How will they fare if and when they chose to go on to some form of college ? Will a 4 year degree change to a 5 or 6 year program because of remediation courses required to bring them up to speed ? So many questions to ponder and they all carry a price tag .

dc

Whatever the future holds my thinking is anyone teaching or trying to teach K-3 including parents need to be capable & trained in the "science of reading" which is made up of the 5 pillars of reading. Supposedly less than 50% & possibly as little as 35% of public school educators have such training & capabilty. So, it's hard to believe many parents have such training & capability. Obviously, everything else is important but that is a minimal basic foundation in reading. In math I believe there was once anyway something called the Singapore model which was a successful model. From all the hoopla not sure that core math or core anything stuff is the way to go. When possible even elementary teachers need to be trained to be "experts" in their teaching subject areas especially reading & math. Maybe some or all could be experts in both but doubt it especially teaching math which many elementary teachers & administrators don't have a good grasp in teaching. Students who have received that reading & math foundation & have successfully progressed to high school should be mature enough to learn much on their own with support. If the right system is available most sixteen & 17 year-olds should be able to complete much of their junior & senior years virtually whether in a brick & mortar or otherwise. That has the potential for savings while eliminating so much brick & mortar along with the various associated cost. The more beyond that "virtually" the better taking advantage of the great cost of technology required of education & those paying for it nowadays.

CARTERETISCORRUPT

Virtual instruction work okay for some, others not so much. Also, there are some courses that cannot be taught well from afar. For example, welding, mechanics, health care procedures, etc., cannot divorce themselves from hands on instruction and experience. In my current endeavor of machinist work, some can be taught on line, but actual experience is crucial. Additionally CNC machine can be taught on line, but actual setup and work needs to be done hands on. There is no substitute for hands on skill building. The idea that a medical practitioner can be trained on line is laughable at least, dangerous at best. This we see with nurse practitioners and physician assistants. We will in the future see the result of this approach in the mortality and morbidity rates; and insurance rates increases on malpractice. Entire on line education is a mistake. Time will show this fact.

Yankeenotion

I would like to offer a copy edit to Mr. McGinn’s notion: the future of an “incomplete” education is online. I’d for some reason thought a Latin instructor would carry more of a traditionalist sentiment. But I guess I too can be fluent in Latin as long as I have Google Translate on my telephone set. Conjugation and etymology be damned, just type in English and copy/paste the Latin.

The prospect of a 6 year old or a 16 year old in front of a computer to regurgitate a lesson plan is a terrible shortcoming, not a “future.” Online education is an ephemeral, paltry panacea to this pandemic, and school as we know it needs to return to “business as usual” as quickly as is safely possible. The virtual classroom carries a hollow ethos indeed, whatever that means.

dc

Obviously all instruction requiring "hands-on" must be exactly that with K-12 & beyond. The most beneficial courses I ever took outside my primary career were a one-year Electrical Installation & Maintenance Course & a one-year Light Construction Course. They were of course primarily hands-on. Obviously, we use books for those subjects & most any learning. Online can substitute for books. What you can find on line on any useful subject doesn't hurt. Took enough computer courses in the past to know which were useful & which were a waste of time & money. The most useful for what I was doing or thought I might do or just wanted knowledge about were probably Networking & Cisco Academy. There is way too much K-12 & beyond education money spent on computer & Internet technology not to use it when possible. K-3 or maybe K-5 needs as much face-to-face as can be mustered.

David Collins

This virtual classroom thing is only going to Increase the Inequality in our education system . The gap between the haves and the have nots will only increase . IMO .

Sleepwalker

Dc. Although I’m old we do have a child in kindergarten and you are exactly correct. I am no teacher especially the minutiae of the English language. My wife and i are regrouping.

Sleepwalker

It is already very evident that our child does much better in a classroom than at home. Maybe it’s just our situation but she needs a classroom.

mpjeep

While talking with my sister-in-law, who is a teacher in another part of NC, I got the impression that Virtual teaching/learning seems to be a joke.

We should try some kind of arrangement to get more teachers and students in the same room. Why? Because Video Conferencing just isn’t the same as face-to-face learning.

It is not easy to teach in a physical classroom one day and turn it into a virtual classroom the next.

Students may be in a private room of their homes or they may not, depending on how big their family is. May have lots of distractions. Same for teachers. Teachers may have roommates or live in a small studio apartment with limited workspace.

Teachers and students may have questionable Wi-Fi. We’ve all experienced Wi-Fi issues.

Teachers have less control over student engagement.

Some school districts, not sure about Carteret County, have dropped letter grade policies, in favor of pass/fail. Students could be less motivated to learn more.

Just seems to me that in person schooling is an important part of our community, offering a supportive learning environment for students while enabling parents and caregivers to work.

dc

If talking nationwide & achievement gaps all the face-to-face & money you're willing to provide won't matter the way those controlling/dictating it all have approached it. It's been tough for working parents especially lower grades. Based on the stats it seems the young ones are safest in class as it relates to virus & they need the face-to-face most as previously stated but parents' safety concerns are certainly understandable. Obviously, there's plenty of downsides for education & all other facets of life with this Chinese Communist Party Virus & we should never forget it. Wasn't that long ago that school shootings & how to prevent them, student, & school safety & funding it were the biggest issues. Know a young lady working on her master's who says she prefers classroom interaction versus virtual. Up sides may be safer environment, much less travel, flexibility in studying times, etc.

dc

According to another article herein county tax revenue way up & highest ever for July. Wonder how it will be spent? Will education benefit?

dc

Something y'all might what to consider just for the sake of discussion are two very important issues among many in so-called "education". This country is in a dire situation. It's NOT between Trump & Biden. It IS between Civilization & Anarchy. This will affect "education" more than whether it's delivered face-to-face or virtually especially when it comes to young minds. Think about too under our far left "education" system teachings such as "critical race theory" & "white privilege". Don't know about you but unless I'm sitting in the classroom nowadays to know first-hand what these students are being exposed to I might could have a better handle on it all virtually.

dc

Excellent article in the news this morning by Nick Sandmann. Everyone should read it.

mpjeep

I read it, dc. He's spot on. Republicans are discriminated against more these days than black folks.

Sleepwalker

Dc. I’ve been tossed out of several schools in cc when my older children were coming up for just that reason. When a parent goes in and respectively asks about their childs curriculum and gets treated like a malcontent...of course it always escalated. All i ever wanted the schools to teach my children was the 3 r’s. I would handle history and the government stuff. Luckily I coached basketball with the dare officers on duty at the time. So it wasn’t so bad on me. The school admin on the other hand were terrible most of the time.

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