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4 Things That Need to Happen in 2021 to
Fix the Distance Learning Crisis

Where do we begin when discussing the current state of education? Schools quickly pivoted to remote learning in some form due to the pandemic, yet the quality of this education is questionable. Students feel overwhelmed and depleted, with some learning in parking lots connected to Wi-Fi buses or crashing with relatives to get online. Educators are pouring themselves out into their jobs, trying to find ways to make lessons more interactive to reach desired results. Parents have had to take the reins at home with little to no time to prepare, some even skipping the school year altogether. Even for colleges and universities, which have long offered some type of online learning experience, the abrupt and complete shift to virtual learning has been hard to deal with.

Here are four things that need to happen in 2021 (and beyond) to solve the crisis we’re currently seeing in education:

1. Give teachers more autonomy for digitizing and personalizing lessons

Remote learning isn’t about simply remote enabling a classroom. Teachers must address differentiation – tailoring instruction to meet the individual needs of students – while ensuring that classes are well prepared for standardized state tests. With learning happening from anywhere, teachers now must think about the children who are surrounded by chaos at home. Those who are babysitting siblings while trying to learn at the same time, some who may encounter sudden Internet glitches,and others who do not have any school supplies to work with (the pandemic has further exposed many longstanding inequities.)

What’s needed: an all-in-one, cloud-based communication solution that provides full collaboration functionality (calls, meeting, messaging, file-sharing, screen-sharing, recording) with reliable system performance (not accounting for spotty network connectivity depending on the user’s location) to help educators teach, engage and adapt to changing situations. This might mean teachers create a video of themselves ahead of time that walks students through a difficult task so that they can spend more time with children on an individual basis. Or, deciding that at-home worksheets aren’t cutting it and quickly switching to screen share to read and explain content. This solution also needs to be device and network agnostic, meaning all of this can take place anywhere, anytime on any device via a simple browser extension like Chrome or Firefox. These kinds of solutions exist and are already being used by schools across the globe (like Chicago-based St. John’s Lutheran School, which is using Avaya Spaces).

2. Streamline communications with an all-in-one UCaaS application

Not only do educators need a solution that allows them to work on their terms, but one that consolidates communications to make work easier. They should be able to call, chat, and initiate or join video conferences from any device – desktop, tablet, mobile phone – with access to all files like PowerPoint lessons, recordings of lessons, and assignments in one secure place with easy access as needed.

This way, a teacher can call a parent with the click of a button on any device to discuss why the student logged in late to class five times in a row. The teacher could easily escalate the call to a video conferencing session where they can show the parent the attendance log via screen share. They could share a parental consent form via persistent chat, meaning the conversation history will be preserved if the parent can’t open the file right away. This should all be happening from one interface that’s easy to use.

3. Reprioritize teachers as humans first

The pandemic introduced new stressors, demands, and mental health concerns for already overwhelmed teachers (the hashtag #teachersarehumans was circulating well before the viral outbreak.) This is a complicated issue that warrants its conversation, but must be noted as we look to a future of better educational experiences.

Educators during COVID have the nearly impossible job of caring for someone else’s child – in fact, hundreds over the course of each day – while also caring for their own families at home. Many are parents with young children who are wholly dependent on them to navigate remote instructions that their teachers are giving them. The pandemic has also added the illusion of teachers being present and available 24×7. Educators are receiving emails in the middle of the night about coursework and assignments, as well as from parents and administrators reaching out after their work hours. Many teachers also feel that district administration is putting unreasonable expectations on them related to grading and “teaching for the test,” especially during a time when the normal standards no longer apply. There’s no easy answer here. It will require a collective shift in mindset among lawmakers and parents, as well as creating awareness among students about who their teachers are outside of the classroom.

4. Introduce new levels of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make online learning easier and more engaging

There are easy, low-risk applications of AI that schools can embrace to improve the online learning experience while doors remain closed. Remember that child I mentioned earlier who’s surrounded by chaos at home? This could be dogs barking or dishes clanking as lunch is being made. There are AI-enabled communication solutions that can intelligently detect speech and separate it from all background noise so what users hear is speech alone. When that student wants to speak up or ask a question, they can do so regardless of how loud their environment is. Meanwhile, the recording of the lesson will remain crystal clear for the teacher who archives it for future reference.

Another neat feature schools would benefit from is AI-infused presentation. For large scale events, perfect for classrooms with dozens of students, AI-infused presentation allows educators to create more engaging virtual experiences by overlaying themselves on top of the presented material. Hand gestures and facial expressions become more pronounced and effective, and teachers can better grab the attention of their students and keep them engaged. Non-active speakers become transparent to avoid blocking the presentation (those who are muted will not appear in this presentation mode). How about the teacher who is being contacted 24×7? With a few simple rules in place, AI can answer frequently asked questions such as, where do I find the study guide for the test on Friday.

No amount of technology will ever replace the human experience, but with Avaya Spaces we can still create online learning experiences that matter.

This article was written by Jenifer Bond, the Area Sales Leader, US SLED (State, local and education government agencies) at Avaya.