Initially, the switch to virtual learning was understandably shoddy. Having to make such a drastic switch midway through the semester only spells out terror. But these challenging circumstances have presented an opportunity to expand the offerings and utilizations of online learning across the board, which increases access to varying instructional methods.
One such example is the UC system’s online high school program, UC Scout, which touts itself as a “well-honed reservoir of online learning,” offering free virtual courses to students and teachers. An increase in demand because of the coronavirus pandemic has doubled enrollment this last year, as students and parents seek alternatives for quality education — a quality that must be maintained thoroughly, even once students return to the traditional classroom setting.
As education professionals prepare for a possible expansion of virtual classroom time and hope for in-person classes come fall, we have to remember the advancements in online education that have been made during this pandemic. Many UC Berkeley classes are not videotaped, and while most classes can adapt to accommodate students with disabilities, the work that campus is putting in to expand the tools for virtual education should not end here. These offerings should be maintained regularly, giving access to education to those who cannot learn in a traditional setting. Digital learning can help facilitate a new dialogue on how to provide pace and structure to a course and ensure that all students have the same opportunity to succeed.
Part of improving virtual education means expanding online platform offerings. Currently, UC Scout offers courses that satisfy A-G high school requirements as well as select Advanced Placement courses, but the program does not offer elective courses such as music or home economics. High school marks a pivotal time in a student’s academic career, and without these courses, many students will be missing out on educational experiences that may be vital to their futures. Students who choose virtual education are just as worthy of a quality instructional platform as those who choose to learn in a traditional classroom setting.
That’s not to say that technologically dependent education is a perfect solution to achieving equality. For many others, the digital switch has halted their education, as students who do not have reliable access to technology and the internet were not able to follow their peers into the virtual classroom. School districts and state legislatures should understand this drawback in the shift to virtual learning and should be providing the necessary resources. The College Board and Khan Academy announced that they would provide free full-length practice tests and learning tools online, and the Berkeley Unified School District has already provided 2,500 Chromebooks to students.
Because COVID-19 has spurred virtual learning into a gripping reality for many students and instructors, online learning programs must be developed into viable options for students for as long as necessary and after.