Published on April 23, 2020, LinkedIn
As educators, parents, and students have scrambled over the past couple of months to figure out how to move school online quickly and at scale, I can’t help but be reminded of a pivotal scene in the movie Apollo 13. After having to abandon their trip to the moon due to an explosion, the three astronauts suddenly find themselves struggling for oxygen in their emergency home in a lunar module designed to support only two people. Faced with quickly rising carbon dioxide levels, engineers in Houston dealing with this totally unexpected crisis suddenly have to design a makeshift air filter using only materials that the astronauts can access and assemble in space. As the mission commander says, “I suggest you gentleman figure out how to put a square peg in a round hole…rapidly.”
That’s in essence what schools around the world have been trying to do these past weeks thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the very rapid transition from school buildings and classrooms to Zoom rooms and Google Docs over a period of just days has posed what may be the most complex problem-solving moment ever in education. As UC Berkeley historian Elena Conis said in a recent article in The Atlantic, “There is no precedent for a life-interrupting disaster of this scale in America’s current educational and professional structures.”
Thirty days or so in, the outcomes are mixed. Some schools where students have laptops and bandwidth have weathered the shift fairly well. Others where many students have little or no technology or access have been forced to close up shop for the rest of the year citing the unfairness of being able to meet some but not all of their students’ needs. Some have tried to totally replicate school online, complete with time schedules and having students wear their school uniforms to virtual “class.” Others have taken a more student-centered approach, relaxing curriculum standards and even eliminating grading. For most, school is “open” online, but it’s a far cry from the school that was open down the block.
To hear traditional and social media tell it, the “transformation” of schools is now finally, definitely, without a doubt, unquestionably, most certainly on the horizon. The crisis, experts say, will lay waste to much of “school” as we know it. Education will become more equitable, more “blended” with technology,…