GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on education has prompted concern and debate among educators, students and parents as school districts nationwide wrestle over whether to reopen in the coming weeks and how to safely do so.
For more than 15 years, two University of Florida Health experts, Lindsay A. Thompson, M.D., and Erik W. Black, Ph.D., have done research related to virtual schooling and children’s health. In a new commentary in JAMA Pediatrics, they detail how virtual schooling may provide a viable means of teaching students who have special health care needs necessitating frequent absences from school.
Black, an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, and Thompson, a pediatrics professor and medical director of the UF Pediatric Research Hub, explain their research findings and address broader issues facing educators and parents.
To read their JAMA Pediatrics commentary, click here.
Question: For parents who are considering online education for their children, you make some thoughtful points about a child’s strengths and needs. Are some of those considerations more important than others?
Black’s answer: Every child is unique, so it is difficult to identify a universal characteristic that is more important than another. It is also important to remember that children are resilient. Regardless of how a child attends school this fall, it will be a different experience and this will likely impact achievement as it is traditionally measured. It is crucial that we prevent students from falling behind, but it is also critical to protect teachers, support staff, students and families. Learning does not start or stop inside the four walls of a classroom. In order to address the challenges associated with the pandemic, it is time to think more globally about learning and to plan for targeted interventions once the pandemic is over that will provide support to those who have fallen behind.
Parents should know that a student’s online learning experience is a function of six factors:
- The student (motivation, self-efficacy, age, technological ability, etc.)
- The teacher (experience, etc.)
- The curriculum and content (e.g., is it designed in a manner that is conducive to the learner?)
- The technology (e.g., do students and teachers have the technological support to be successful?)
- The interaction among the curriculum, students and teacher. Even while teaching the same content, the type of instruction teachers use varies based upon the students in the classroom.
- The environment. External factors such as the learning environment, access to basic needs and student stress factors also play a role.
Question: For many students, parents and educators, last spring was an abrupt introduction to online learning and teaching. In your experience, what kind of valuable lessons emerged from that?
Black’s answer: The distance learning many students experienced during the spring was implemented very quickly. Schools were placed in the extremely challenging situation of shifting their instructional medium over a matter of days. Some activities that are suitable for traditional learning environments are not feasible online, and some activities that are possible online cannot be facilitated face-to-face. Unfortunately, the majority of our teacher education programs do not adequately prepare future teachers to teach online.
Question: What other advice do you have for parents who are trying to choose the school option that is most appropriate for their child or children?
Black’s answer: We encourage parents to ask about outcomes, request to speak with online teachers and, if possible, with parents of online students. Ask about how the school is funded. The pandemic presents an extremely complex educational challenge, but it also represents an opportunity to explore how our schools can better address the varied needs of students. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for children and families. Each child and family is unique. We outline some questions that parents/guardians may want to discuss with their school administrators. There is no one right answer during this pandemic and we encourage fluid and flexible decisions for each child.