Teachers Want to Improve Online Learning Skills, but Training Uneven

11 August 2020

The COVID-19 crisis caused public schools in the United States to shut their doors in March. But that did not mean the school year ended early. Instead, educators quickly developed, trained for and established emergency distance-teaching operations, many employing e-learning elements. Most school systems restarted operations within a few weeks and completed the year by late June.

But the change to virtual learning settings was difficult for many teachers and produced mixed results for students across the country.

Aimee Rodriguez Webb, a teacher in the state of Georgia, was among those who had a rough transition to online education. So, like many other teachers, she is working now to improve her e-teaching before the new school year opens in the fall.

Rodriguez Webb bought camera equipment and a large new writing board. She set up a room in her house for broadcasting lessons.

And, she recently started three weeks of training in online teaching along with other educators in the Cobb County School District.

As COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., distance learning efforts are being included in a growing number of plans for the coming school year. Many school systems are facing pressure to improve after the educational losses of last school year. But investment in training is uneven across school systems. Some have offered new guidance on distance teaching. But many educators feel unsupported.

Richard Ferdig is an education technology researcher at Kent State University in Ohio. He told the AP that wealthier areas have used the summer to train teachers both on technology and on how to get the best performance from students who are learning at least partly online. Teachers in those areas will do well, he said.

But, he worries about teachers in poorer areas.

"They've either been given nothing or they've been told, ‘Here's the tools we bought for you, with very little support," on how to use them, he said.

Linda Mullen is Communications Director for the Washington Education Association, a union of teachers in the northwestern state. It recently carried out an opinion study involving 1,500 of its members. Mullen said 79 percent of them said additional training is necessary if distance learning operations are required in the new school year. Another 23 percent reported they would need major career development or training.

In New York, recent public opinion studies show that parents grew increasingly dissatisfied with distance learning as the school year progressed last spring.

Dia Bryant is deputy director for The Education Trust-New York, which did the studies. "We kind of just threw them out there and gave them a Zoom link or gave them a Google Hangout or a Google Classroom," she said of the state's teachers.

She added: "We need better professional learning for them."

Some school systems are ending summer break for teachers earlier than usual so they can get more training in distance learning. Cobb County, Georgia, is among them.

A list of virtual classroom norms hangs on Aimee Rodriguez Webbwall in her virtual classroom for a Cobb County school, on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Marietta, Ga.
A list of virtual classroom norms hangs on Aimee Rodriguez Webbwall in her virtual classroom for a Cobb County school, on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Marietta, Ga.

Teacher Rodriguez Webb said the school system ordered teachers back to work two weeks earlier than in past years.

A statement from Cobb County Schools says the administration will make sure "teachers have the tools, resources, and training to help students succeed, no matter the classroom setting."

Keisha Redd-Hannans is head of Instructional Leadership for New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut. She said officials know that teachers were not prepared for the sudden changes in education this spring. Early on, she said, no one knew how much work to give students or how long they should spend on computers.

Redd-Hannans said the school system has agreed to pay a private company almost $270,000 for online training and support services.

Some parents have asked for schools to reopen fully. They argue that distance learning cannot equal the quality of an in-school experience.

Christina Higley, a mother of three in Webster, New York says education will suffer if teachers do their jobs online.

She added, "They can train them all that they want. They could give them the millions of dollars and tools ... for online learning. They could do six weeks of intense training. There is still going to be children who can't learn that way, and the teachers aren't going to be able to change that — no matter what they do from afar."

I'm Jonathan Evans. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Carolyn Thompson reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

virtual – adj. existing or occurring on computers or on the Internet

transition – n. a change from one state or condition to another