What Will K-12 Back To School Look Like Come Fall?

By: Danielle Chazen
K-12 Online Learning

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The end of summer is fast approaching, and government and school leaders are crafting plans for what back to school will look like in 2020. While many K-12 students are slated to return to school in August and early September, the situation will likely vary from region to region and even school to school.

It’s also quite likely that decisions made now will shift based on the current health status of each state come mid-August, as well as the risks presented to each community by placing their students back in physical classroom environments. As of now, virtual learning will still be made available for K-12 students at the schools which choose to hold their classes in-person. However, many government leaders and education experts fear that online learning is a much less attractive option for those in younger grades.

Aside from what school districts and administrators plan to offer, there is also concern among parents who do not want to place their K-12 students in harm’s way. One point is clear — education must continue and students must be provided with every opportunity to excel academically and continue their studies even throughout these more trying times.

Looking at Michigan and Arizona as examples

A survey conducted with more than 500 K-12 parents as respondents in West Michigan saw some interesting findings:

  • 84.7% would send students back to full-time traditional schooling; provided health and safety guidelines were followed.
  • 57.2% would prefer students have part-time traditional schooling, with face-to-face instruction on a rotating basis; some students would be at school, while others would work at home.
  • 73.5% would prefer students distance learn, which is a combination of online and paper packets completed at home.

There is no clear-cut answer for how schools should be approaching online vs. in-person education in the fall. It’s likely a decision that each community, school and parent will have to make with the health statistics and information they have on hand, as close to the start dates as possible.

Yet there are also financial considerations and repercussions at play for how K-12 schools approach this decision making process and what they choose to offer come fall.

Schools such as those in Arizona will be able to offer online learning once the school year starts, and without the normal approval they would need from the State Board of Education. However, in order to qualify for the full funding these schools receive for each student, and to get grant money that Governor Doug Ducey is making available to schools to assist with funding gaps, schools will also have to provide in-person education five days a week.

If schools opt for online-only education, they’ll see a funding cut. Schools that run as Arizona Online Instruction programs receive 95% of the funding for full-time online students as they do for in-person students.

An executive order that Ducey issued on June 24 stipulates that Arizona schools must be physically open for at least as many days per week as they were during the last school year in order to qualify for  federally funded “enrollment stability grants” grants to account for the COVID-19 crisis.

Regardless of the state or decisions made, there will still be a significant amount of students learning online.

Preparing for continued K-12 online learning

Whether it’s a hybrid model, fearful parents or students who are high risk, the number of K-12 students being taught via web conferencing will be substantial. As a result, K-12 curriculum coordinators and special education coordinators, particularly those on the city or county system or district level, will have to make decisions on how to best engage these students.

After months of online learning, it’s become clear that ‘digital fatigue’ is a very real issue. Instructors need to ensure they continue to provide teaching methods that work for students, hold K-12 students accountable who may be turning off their video cams and understand how best to conduct tests via online platforms.

It’s also important to note that many teachers themselves are also experiencing the video fatigue which comes from providing online learning.

Effective engagement tools for online learning

K-12 students, and particularly students in the 7th grade or higher, can greatly benefit from tools designed to drive video engagement. For example, Verbit’s Live Room tool is helping teachers engage learners in a way that they cannot online otherwise. It’s designed to help those teaching via Zoom and other web conferencing platforms.

The beauty of Live Room for teachers is that: 

  • Teachers are free to present new content or review content previously covered without having to create listening guides or notes pages for their students because of the transcript the tool provides. This interactive transcript serves in many ways as lecture notes.
  • Teachers are given peace of mind that their students have the captioned video and transcript in the event that they miss class or the live session. Teachers then don’t have to worry about how to make up the meeting for a student.
  • Teachers can trust that their students have searchable transcripts as study aids to help reference specific parts of classes easily when they prepare for tests. 

Live Room helps students by providing them with: 

  • The freedom to better participate in live classes by being able to fully listen and engage without having to worry about taking notes.
  • Captions which can help students with hearing impairments or simply provide an additional visual aid to those learning remotely who may have missed what the teacher said. 
  • Interactive transcripts that allow for annotation with note taking capabilities and the ability to mark questions and answers throughout. 
  • Searchable transcripts that allow them to easily find keywords or concepts to help them study for exams.

It’s still unclear what the majority of K-12 schools will be able to offer students and parents come fall. Regions will likely vary and parents may be forced to make the best decision for their child if presented with multiple options. However, all can rest assured that technologies will continue to evolve to improve the student experience and remote learning.

During the pandemic, as well as after it, students will continue to be provided with more personalized options and methods to learn. New tools will continue to be released to allow them to consume course content more effectively and shift their attention away from mundane tasks to help them better focus and retain information.