personified lock (unlocked) fighting personified corona virus

The Two Pandemics, Part 2, Open Vs. COVID in Education

Several years ago I had a fellowship from the Shuttleworth Foundation, an organization that supports people who are using ‘open’ to improve the world. With COVID19, I think we are seeing now more than ever that opening up information is one of the keys to a concerted and effective response. Over 6 million people world-wide have contracted the virus and in the US alone, over 100,000 have died. Those numbers are staggering in their human cost, and at the very least, we need to make sure that the learning from those cases can ensure effective preventions and treatments are discovered quickly and and shared widely. 

One area I am a part of that showcases the power of open during the pandemic is the tremendous outpouring of support from open education organizations, many of whom already had high quality, free, open-source materials ready for faculty to use in their transition to online teaching due to the need for social distancing. Many of these organizations beefed up their free and open offerings to make them even more full service and continue to do that over the summer so that faculty have even better options for the Fall.  

Help for Moving Learning Online: These links showcase some of the options for moving education online.

  • OpenStax Allies offer free access to learning tech amidst COVID-19 : Thirty different offerings, from clicker services to homework systems to courseware, that cover basic college subjects. 
  • Webinar Series: Effective Online Instruction. The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) series covers moving a course online, facilitating online discussions, creating and engaging students in readings and microlectures.
  • Remote learning with Khan Academy during school closures This is a great one stop page for getting started or continuing with Khan Academy at any age. It has lots of how-to’s for parents and teachers and has daily plans for covering school subjects. 
  • Free Resources for Schools During COVID-19 Outbreak (Updated in June) This list of free content, services, classes, lectures, and tools contains hundreds of listings that regularly updates to stay up to date. The printable format button in the upper right will get you to a full list that is easy to scroll through. 
  • Remote Learning, EdTech & COVID-19 This is the World Bank’s collection of relevant blog posts and resource listings prepared by the World Bank’s ed-tech team. I was intrigued by Bad practices in mobile learning that compiles a top-9, with a bonus 10th left blank for future mistakes. Although it is from 2014 and likely needs updating, it includes one of my favorite anti-patterns, “don’t spend time with your target user groups – assume you understand their needs.”

But what about disabilities? Learning how to serve students with disabilities well during a transition to online learning is considerably more challenging, but getting more material online itself can be useful.

  • Remote learning shift leaves students with disabilities behind : Gives a succinct summary of types of disabilities, supports that are needed during in-person teaching, and the effects of the shift online on those supports, showcasing voices of college students.  
  • Helping special needs students with remote learning : This article focuses on K12 students, the requirements that schools must continue to meet during a school closure where instruction is being provided to the general population, how to continue IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings virtually, and tips for parents with the general theme ‘provide structure with lots of patience‘.
  • ECAR Study of the Technology Needs of Students with Disabilities, 2020 This report collected 2000 open-ended responses from students with disabilities in 2019 pre-COVID19 to understand what they most want from their faculty: make all material available online, well-organized in the LMS (learning management system), with multiple methods of presentation (text, audio, visual, lecture), and make sure assistive technology (captions and speech to text) will work. All of these recommendations will improve access for students with disabilities and make learning better for all students as a side-effect, because these are Universal Designs for Learning.

The Digital Divide: It is critical that we address the racial and socioeconomic divide in education that is further exacerbated by the rush to online. 

  • The COVID-igital Divide African Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19, more likely to have lost jobs, twice as likely to be attending higher-ed institutions at risk of closing due to financial pressures, and more likely to be among the 20% of students without needed tech for online learning.  Estimates show African American students maybe 10 months behind, compared to 7 months for white students. 
  • Houston-area schools lose contact with thousands of students during pandemic shutdown In the early days of the pandemic shutdowns districts that were reporting metrics lost track of up to 30% of their students. Most have gotten that down to less than 10%, but that is still a lot of students displaced and missing their education. Texas City and Friendswood were able to do better and contacted all but 1.3% and 2 students respectively. 
  • ‘The need is real’: Houston-area schools scramble for hotspots so students don’t fall behind Even when districts can contact their students, many students lack access to wireless internet and are either having to use paper packets delivered or picked up weekly, or parents’ cell phones. Districts have funds to purchase hotspots, but with a district like HISD needing more than 100,000 devices, the supply just isn’t available. 
  • Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions Using a variety of research methods (data from past disruptions, data from online apps before and after the shutdowns by zipcode) researchers estimate that rural and low-income students could be very far behind when schools reopen.  

I am interested in who is figuring out how to ensure equitable access to education during the COVID19 pandemic for already underserved students. What are they doing? Which things are working?  What are the highest priority needs? How can open education providers do the most good? Where should open educational providers be partnering with other organizations and providers? 

As we transition to online learning for the foreseeable future, I’m excited about the potential technology has to make learning safe and accessible during a worldwide crisis. At the same time, it is important to be aware and intentional about building tools that help all students equitably. The last thing we want in a crisis is to exacerbate the divides that already exist in education. Instead, let’s imagine a future where technology bridges those gaps, and actively work to build resources for students who might otherwise be left behind.