I’m not a formal educator, but I am a parent to a student who spent a good chunk of the last year learning from home. I also work in an industry that supports educators and administrators.
As I reflect on the past 18 months and my discussions with colleagues and partners across the U.S. and in Europe, I have identified a few truths and trends about education.
Educators are infinitely creative and adaptable. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close, teachers connected with students online, over the phone, and even dropped by students’ homes to deliver books and worksheets.
When schools reopened for in-person instruction and science said we should maintain physical distance from each other, improve ventilation systems, and wear masks, educators reimagined and reconfigured classrooms, opened windows and doors, and even met with students outside.
Teachers simultaneously taught in-person and remote learners, navigated hybrid schedules, and kept pace with near-constant changes in federal, state, and local safety guidelines.
Online learning is here to stay. In a 2020 Pearson survey, 88 percent of global respondents said they think online learning will be part of children’s educational experiences and the university experience moving forward.
This past school year, teachers and students participated in remote learning out of necessity. Others moved from one mode of teaching and learning to the other as local mandates or preferences dictated. Many schools adopted hybrid schedules that combined in-person and remote learning. Some students missed being in physical classrooms or struggled with remote learning for any number of reasons. Other students preferred learning online and performed better academically and emotionally away from the traditional classroom.
Expect remote and hybrid models of instruction and learning to continue, especially if there is a spike in communal illness or another public health threat during the academic year, and as a matter of personal preference for some students and teachers.
Assistive technology helps everyone and promotes engagement. Videoconferencing helped teachers and students connect when they could not meet in person last year. It also helped in-person learners and educators hear each other in large spaces without having to shout.
Assistive listening solutions featuring transceivers (combined transmitter-receiver) delivered audio directly to students in noisy classrooms and areas where ceiling speakers did not exist. They helped overcome the unique challenges face masks pose; specifically, muffled sound and concealed facial expressions. Being able to understand all that is said lets listeners focus and improves comprehension; they are not struggling to fill in missing words or guess what the speaker intended based on context. They can better engage with each other and the subject. Look for continued focus on assistive technologies that facilitate learning for everyone in classrooms and on campuses in the future.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) brings greater accessibility. While we all might do well to put our mobile devices away for a while and step out from behind screens, especially students and teachers who have been online for much of the past school year, expect smartphones and apps to continue to play important roles in learning. Phones enabled students and teachers to connect during the pandemic. Apps tracked students’ and teachers’ health and facilitated contactless payment in campus stores. In schools with audio-over-Wi-Fi systems, students and teachers were able to overcome challenges to hearing in classrooms, lecture halls, and any campus space within the Wi-Fi network by downloading a free app and streaming audio to their own familiar smartphones and smart devices. They could easily listen to campus audio sources through headphones, earbuds, or Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids, and there was no need to check out and return equipment or feel self-conscious about using an assistive device.
Again, everyone, not just people with hearing loss, benefited from clear audio. The proliferation of smartphones among educators and students–the number of smartphone users worldwide is expected to reach 4.3 billion by 2023–and increasing availability of Wi-Fi, coupled with near limitless apps that promote accessibility and safety and facilitate learning indicate the BYOD trend will only strengthen in education.
The pandemic has forced everyone to rethink traditional classrooms and school schedules, as well as how technologies are used. This past year has shown learning can happen online and in person, in a school auditorium and on a soccer field, synchronously and asynchronously. Similarly, portable assistive devices and smartphones can help everyone overcome challenges to hearing clearly so students comprehend more and are likely to perform better, no matter where or how learning takes place.
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