Challenges will test students, teachers and parents as they pivot to remote learning

Brian Cooper

Remote learning will present significant challenges for educators, students and parents when schools reopen next month, a panel of Duke University experts said Wednesday.

Out of concern for the health and safety of students and staff, dozens of school districts have decided to only offer remote instruction in the fall.

“Remote learning really is like playing a different game,” said Brian Cooper, director of educational innovation and online learning at Duke’s Talent Identification Program. “Students, teachers, parents, they have to figure out how to do these familiar things but in a different way. How do I submit an assignment? How do I deliver instruction? How do I ask a question?”

Cooper said it’s important for teachers to allow students to practice online learning so they can adjust more quickly to a new way of receiving instruction.

“Instead of jumping right into some of the content, you very well may spend a few days or a week practicing how to submit an assignment,” Cooper said. “How to ask a question. How to send an email.”

The challenges public schools will face when they pivot to remote learning are well documented.

Kenneth Dodge

Some families won’t have broadband access, internet subscription service or electronic devices needed to participate in remote learning.  Without those tools, it will be impossible for students to join online classes and to complete assignments.

“There are about 51 million children in K-12 schools in America,” said Kenneth Dodge, a professor of public policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “About 8.6 million children, K-12 age, do not have the necessary equipment at home to participate in online learning. That’s about one-in-six children in America.”

The move to remote learning will be especially tough on low-income families, Dodge added

“There are great disparities as you would expect.,” he said. “Almost one-in-three low-income students in America will not be able to participate adequately in remote education unless we do something, because they do not have access. That’s compared to only about 7.5 percent of middle-income students.”

In North Carolina, a recent report from Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group titled “Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning,” found that 30% of North Carolina’s students in grades K-12 don’t have adequate access to the internet.

That means approximately 469,000 of the states nearly 1.5 million students don’t have adequate access to the internet. Another 355,000 – 23% — of the state’s public school students don’t have adequate electronic devices needed for remote learning.

Leslie Babinski

Families with young children will be particularly challenged by remote learning, said Leslie Babinski, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy and an associate research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke.

“This is really an unprecedented time when we’re asking parents to step up and serve as facilitators or teachers for their children’s education,” Babinski said. “It really highlights the importance of public education in keeping our economy running.”

Babinski said school districts and families learned a lot about remote learning in the spring, but still face hurdles moving forward.

“If you think about how this is going to work, especially for the young elementary students and their parents, some of whom are working outside the home, and some of whom are working at home but need to concentrate on their own work.”

Babinski also noted that older children in families of English learners may be distract from school work during remote learning because of familial responsibilities.

“The older siblings really do take on a lot of responsibility in terms of translating for parents as they acquire English,” Babinski said. “They’re serving in adult roles earlier than children from English-speaking families. We heard from teachers that some kindergarten and first-grade students were getting support from their siblings who were as young as second-graders.”


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