May 28, 2022

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Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator: 5 Pandemic Learning Gains

If you follow the fear-mongering mainstream media, you’d think today’s youth is doomed as a result of the “learning loss” caused by the emergency remote learning students were involved in during the pandemic. Innovative educators (and their students) understand this is untrue. There is not one moment in time when any particular subject or topic needs to be learned. As adults many of us know we remember and use very little of what we learned in our K-12 education. Talk to students pre-pandemic and they’ll tell you school often felt boring, irrelevant, and disconnected from the real-world where they can learn anything, anytime, anywhere using technology that traditionally was not available (even banned) in many schools pre-pandemic. 

Instead of focusing only on loss, let’s talk about the tremendous learning gains caused by the pivot to remote learning. Because of the pivot students and staff were catapulted into the future in many school districts. As a result our students will now be more prepared than they ever would have been, had education not been disrupted. Here are five pandemic learning gains.

Students and adults know that access to technology is crucial for preparing students for success in the world. Pre-pandemic there was an enormous digital divide. Schools were spending wasting money on things like textbooks, paper, pencils, erasers, ink, etc. All this when Chromebooks were available for around $200 (or $50 – $75 a year per student). The pivot to a more powerful learning tool is not only better for students, but also more cost effective. The pandemic helped us get more devices than ever in students’ hands. Not only is this access great for all students, but it is especially important for so many students with disabilities or who speak other languages. That is because the devices provide digital accessibility and translation.  

The pandemic no longer allowed elected officials to ignore the digital divide. All citizens need access to the internet to function in modern society. In cities across the nation and globe, the pandemic caused elected officials to work with tech companies, phone companies, and more to determine ways every family could have access to the internet.  

Access to Learning Content 

The pandemic resulted in school districts adopting learning management systems and platforms like Google Classroom. Finally, content was put in an easily accessible place for all students and families. This means if a student needs to go back to refer to content, it’s there. If a parent wants to know what a child is working on, it’s there. If a student is transferred to a school mid-year, they still have easy access to learning materials.  

Access to Authentic Platforms 

Pre-pandemic a unit might culminate in students presenting something to the class and a grade by the teacher. A moment in time, often lost and forgotten. The pandemic provided schools access to limitless platforms that allowed teachers and their students to do work in modern ways. For example, students might all put their projects on Flipgrid and then watch and comment on one-another’s work. Families then could also get a glimpse into the work of their children by viewing a grid. Some students were able, for the first time, to create authentic digital portfolios using tools like Seasaw or Wix for Education 

Access to Each Other & The World 

Video conferencing was something novel pre-pandemic, but now Zooming is a verb and everyone knows how to connect via video. Video conferencing flattens conversation inviting voices traditionally ignored, to have a seat at the virtual table. Features like the ability to use chat helped more introverted or shy students to share ideas. Captioning helped students with disabilities or who spoke other languages access what was being said more easily. Many teachers realized how easy it was to bring authors, guests, and experts into their virtual classrooms.  

As society makes its way back-to-school, let us not be so quick to go back-to-normal. Normal was a digital divide. Normal was outdated textbooks and tests. Normal did not support students with disabilities or who spoke other languages. Normal did not untap the reality that technology helped serve many of our underserved and often unnoticed (or less noticed) students. Innovative educators, leaders, and elected officials must understand that the pandemic catapulted education into the future. Now we must determine how we will harness the lessons learned to ensure we build upon those gains.