Online school alternatives keeping students safe while learning

National Online Learning Day on September 15th recognizes the potential of online learning and honors students.

Virtual learning has become an essential part of school instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Fort Payne and DeKalb County schools have offered online curriculums with the start of the 2020-21 school year. This presents challenges in rural communities.

Fort Payne Superintendent Jim Cunningham recently told the Fort Payne Board of Education that about 25% of the fall enrollment in city schools is virtual. In the spring, city schools switched from in-person to online instruction with relative ease when the coronavirus emerged as an abrupt public health threat. Cunningham said past investments in technology infrastructure were intended to limit disruptions to instruction posed by seasonal flu outbreaks, which typically cause periods of absenteeism, as well as emergencies like tornado damage in the community. For students who lack internet access at home, city school buses have added WiFi. To learn more, call (256) 845-0915 or visit www.fpcsk12.com.

DeKalb Virtual Academy (DVA) is an online instructional opportunity for students in grades K-12. DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Jason Barnett said DVA is a rigorous program in which most learning takes place at home. For additional information, call (256) 638-6921 or visit www.dekalbk12.org.

Northeast Alabama Community College has also increased its online offerings to limit the number of students on campus this fall. NACC President David Campbell said this excludes some courses for which online delivery of instruction isn’t practical. To learn more, call (256) 638-4418 or visit https://www.nacc.edu/.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently announced $100 million in CARES Act funding for a public-private partnership to increase access to the internet for students K-12 attending school who may need internet service for distance learning. Vouchers from companies like Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Rainsville will help cover equipment and service costs for high speed internet service through Dec. 31. Eligible households began receiving a voucher letter from ABC for Students in the mail in late August. For more information, call 1-888-212-4998 or visit abcstudents.org.

One advantage of online learning is that it offers valuable resources to parents like the ability to check in with teachers and assist their child remotely.

Proponents of online technology say it makes education more manageable and convenient. Every day, students earn high school diplomas, certificates, college degrees and credits online. Online Learning Day brings national recognition to these students as it continues to grow and provide new resources and support to students.

Online learning does present challenges, however. For one thing, students and teachers find themselves learning new approaches, activities and tech tools that may be brand new to them.

There’s also the risk that lack of direct in-person instruction can turn students into passive observers rather than active participants, according to teacher Karen Quevillion, writing on the blog for the online assessment platform Tophat.com.

“Online lectures are completely different than face-to-face learning environments. Unfortunately, all too often, online courses are still imagined (and even designed) as in-class courses without the in-class part, with an archive of PowerPoint presentations and a list of recommended readings. [Students] might pass assessments and complete learning activities, but they aren’t planning on using their new knowledge to make connections with previous material or real-world examples,” Quevillion said.

She said it can be difficult for instructors to teach online when they struggle to gauge how students are comprehending course content. Greater interaction and reinforcing students’ understanding of topics is needed.

Despite its shortcomings, the power of technology has knocked down barriers and built bridges in education. With online learning, adult students can balance working with furthering their knowledge, and today’s youth can receive an individualized education and learning environment.

The observance of National Online Learning Day every September 15 is about students learning, educators teaching, and family members supporting this delivery system of education. Organizers of the observance encourage the posting of selfies and other photos on social media using the hashtag #OnlineLearningDay, along with stating something that online learning has taught you to do. The national observance was created in July of 2016 with the goal of cultivating blended and online learning and recognizing students.

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