Community Resilience Amidst COVID-19: Virtual Learning Platforms
by Tory Igoe and Cliff Robinson, Global Resilience Institute
The impact of COVID-19 can be felt in every facet of modern society. From sky high unemployment, to the practice of social distancing, to daily operations undergoing a complete digital transformation, nothing is left untouched. As the world continues to adjust to a new normal, virtual learning environments are becoming a key area of debate. Whether it is in elementary, middle, high school, or college, teachers are trying to find new ways to reach their students while covering the content needed to propel them to the next level of their academic career. As virtual learning environments were already supplemental in education, platforms like Blackboard, Zoom, Google Classroom, etc. quickly became the only logical remedy for ensuring the school year continues with minimal disruption.
Online coursework — if the necessary equipment is readily available — allows for anyplace with WiFi to become a learning environment. Despite the ease of access, adapting to virtual learning is not without its flaws. Professors may require software that they have never used before, but circumstance necessitates adjustment. Teachers, in an effort to improve learning outcomes for their students, have embraced a variety of methods for teaching online. From recording lectures, to posting powerpoints and notes, virtual learning environments offer a solid mechanism for ensuring that learning carries on. In spite of the recent ingenuity, online learning platforms can prove challenging for students. Whether it’s having access to a computer and steady WiFi, or the ability to remain engaged outside the classroom, many areas of concern must be addressed before dubbing the U.S. educational system ‘resilient’ in any capacity.
Regarding higher education in the U.S., there’s a myriad of reasons as to why students live on campus outside the stereotypical ‘college experience.’ Many of these students are homeless, have rough unstable lives, and suffer through auxiliary stressors that inevitably erode one’s ability to learn in that environment. These concerns are highlighted in the Eighth Broadband Progress Report that demonstrated how approximately 19 million Americans — or 6% of the population — lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. In rural areas, nearly a quarter of the population — 14.5 million people — lack access to this service. There are many reasons this number is so high. The standard market value for broadband internet is between $35 and $60 today. This cost is inordinate to the household income of countless Americans. If virtual learning wants to remain a primary resource for educational institutions, ensuring everyone has access to the internet is essential.
There is no perfect way to transition from an in-person classroom experience to online coursework. However, virtual learning environments offer a long-term solution to avoiding disruptions throughout the school year. As a majority of students were able to continue their education amidst the pandemic, closing the digital divide must become a priority to lay the groundwork of a resilient educational system. One day COVID-19 will no longer impact our day-to-day lives, but the cracks in the U.S.’ basic educational structure must be addressed.