Distance Learning: A Working Parent’s Point-of-View

On March 13, 2020, my elementary school aged children got off the bus for Spring Break, handed me their backpacks, and said rather casually “Our iPads are in there in case the virus comes and we don’t go back to school.” I glanced mutely at my husband. He shrugged at me, and the kids tramped into the kitchen to eat a snack.

Over the next few weeks, we entered into a strange new routine of work, social distancing, and remote learning. I don’t for a moment dare call it home schooling, because for us at least, the district has maintained control of the curriculum and has provided the instruction daily. At most, we are checking that all of the assignments were completed and that they don’t forget to join their scheduled instruction time via Zoom. The solution has not been perfect. We have not been perfect. More than once I have been happily working away thinking my child was cozily ensconced in a lesson only to receive an email from the teacher asking where she was. All of the calendar reminders and Alexa announcements in the world are sometimes no match for a child intent on whatever it is that she’s doing that is NOT school work.

I’ve spoken with a number of parents during the last few weeks and have seen this massive shift to distance learning from two perspectives. In the fall of 2019, I joined Vyopta as a Marketing Manager in charge of Brand and Awareness. I had probably been on 5 video calls in my entire career prior to joining the collaboration performance management company. I quickly ramped up on the world of UC and saw first-hand how video collaboration could bring colleagues together from around the world. Fast forward to March and my kids were in almost as many video calls as I was.

Each district has been different, of course. For us, we were incredibly lucky that the district is a 1:1 iPad district. Each student has their own device and uses it regularly in the course of completing assignments and practicing concepts. While initially wary of my students spending so much time online, the daily meetings with teachers and students has been a great way for them to have some social interaction outside of the four of us who have been self-isolating together. In addition to using the time for instruction, the students often had guest speakers in their meetings – specials teachers they no longer see daily, the principal, the school counselor.

We are still awaiting word of what school will look like for us in the fall. But in the spring, it looked like this:

  • 2 – 30 minute Zoom calls a day Monday – Thursday
  • 2-3 hours worth of assignments Monday – Thursday
  • Friday – teacher office hours and homework catch up

It was a far cry from the Monday – Friday 7:40 am – 3:50 pm schedule they were keeping in person, but it was infinitely do-able due to the technology investments that had already been made.

While the shift to this type of learning was fairly seamless for us, there are definitely some questions the district probably has to answer if they continue with this route in fall. For one, are children meeting the instructional minimum minutes required by the states? Are they compliant with attendance requirements? What about testing for proficiency? There is definitely a vastly different outlook to take between putting emergency measures into place over the course of a week and thoughtfully rolling out a distance learning plan long-term.

Not to mention, what does safe reentry look like anyway? Have you ever tried to keep a group of 6 year olds separated for any extended period of time?

As we roll into summer with more questions than answers, we’ll see what the fall brings. But undoubtedly, districts and universities across the country will be using this summer break to strengthen distance learning offerings and prepare for the possibility that education will continue remotely in some areas, and they will need better visibility in order to meet compliance reporting requirements and to optimize the delivery of instruction.

As part of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Vyopta is currently offering a free trial to help IT teams support massive expansion in distance learning.

Angela Shori is a business writer and technology marketer with over 20 years of experience. She holds an M. A. in Advertising from the University of Texas and writes about unified communications, cloud technology, innovation, and the future of work -- sometimes through the lens of Star Wars. You can find her online at LinkedIn and Twitter.