By April Willis, originally published in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of Equity & Access
As the P-12 world continues to explore the viability of virtual instruction, one obstacle persists to create dissent among educators: equity.
The Argument: Virtual Learning Supports Equitable Education
On the one hand, a virtual classroom allows students to not be tethered to teachers only within their geographic region, increasing equitable access to high-quality instruction. This is especially helpful in providing equitable access to courses that may not otherwise be available to students in rural areas or in districts that may not offer certain electives, AP classes, or other unique coursework.
The Argument: Virtual Learning Impedes Equitable Education
On the other hand, issues of equity arise when discussing access to the equipment necessary to utilize a virtual environment. How can teachers expect to hold all students accountable for a lesson that occurred virtually when not all students had the same access to that lesson?
Considering Both Sides: Solving for Equitable Instruction
Until devices and internet access are available to all P-12 students, the equity concern will be relevant. However, it doesn’t mean we must halt all progress in the virtual arena. Rather, we should accommodate as many students as possible by offering alternatives to enhance their learning experience.
Here are some strategies for maximizing instructional equity for all learners:
1. Record all lessons: Since you are already on camera, 100% of teacher instructional time should be recorded and stored on a learning management system (LMS).
2. Have flexible deadlines: Offer windows for submission.
3. Allow a “menu of options” for assignment: Allow deliverables to be in the form of a handwritten paper, a typed paper, a video, an audio recording, a website, an online quiz, a poster, etc.
4. Post all resources on the LMS: Include homework assignments, resource documents, text readings, links, etc. on the LMS.
5. Encourage collaboration: Allow students to partner with one another and share access to resources (in a safe and supportive environment).
6. Maintain communication with families: Communication can include emailed newsletters, paper mailed updates, phone calls, web conferencing, and in-person meetings. Discover what they have access to and how you can support them.
Technology will continue to influence the world of education. As educators, we must prepare ourselves and our students on how to embrace those changes while not leaving anyone behind. Continue to seek innovative ways to mitigate issues of equity while enhancing the virtual educational experience for ALL students.
Dr. April Willis is Director of Business Operations & Development for the National Virtual Teacher Association. She authored their recently published book, Virtual Instruction Standards: Optimizing Teaching & Learning. April has a doctorate and three master’s degrees and has worked at the campus, district, and state levels of education. She holds certifications in the Superintendency, Principalship, and in eight teaching roles.