Remote or distance learning has been a part of the education landscape for years. Indeed, online education could be called one of the early successes of the internet itself. Millions of people who previously found it difficult to continue their education - due to prohibitive cost or location, for starters - suddenly had at their disposal many new options. The distance learning industry continues to grow, as established institutions broaden their programs with online-only curriculum and new schools specialize in this form of education.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the world's response to it, however, have brought a new challenge to educators worldwide. After a sudden shift to online-only teaching, many institutions have adopted a new form of education, often referred to as hybrid learning. Some schools call this "flexible learning" or even "hy-flex"; to clarify for the purposes of this article, therefore, we refer to "hybrid learning" as the scenario in which part of a class's students are physically present while the rest participate remotely.
This form of education breeds an entirely new set of challenges, different from the online-only scenario:
- The digital-first solutions employed when all students are participating remotely cannot be used in the hybrid scenario, as they would require double-work from educators. One can only imagine how inefficient (and unappealing) a lesson would be for in-person participants watching a teacher writing everything on her laptop only.
- As a subpoint, it's worth noting that the digital-first solutions adopted so broadly at the start of the pandemic bred many challenges of their own: social and mental health issues, student disengagement and apathy, and lower information retention all stemmed from changing a previously human-rich experience into one consisting of screens, digital files, and the occasional talking head.
- Some schools attempted to have educators lead traditional classes while relying on video conferencing to engage those connecting remotely. Not surprisingly, remote students in this scenario often fell behind those who were physically present, as they could not interact with their teacher or complained about illegibility of content on classroom boards.
- The luckiest students were those who matriculated at schools affluent enough to purchase complex, specialized hardware. Digital boards, touchscreens, or tracking cameras helped engage remote students while minimally affecting in-class teaching habits. The problem? These solutions are cost-prohibitive for the vast majority of schools worldwide. And, of course, when teachers were unable to reach their classrooms (whether due to personal challenges or global ones), those investments proved worthless.
Luckily, the private sector has begun responding to this challenge, offering new hybrid learning solutions. Here at FPWD we're proud to contribute to this response with our own offering: ShareTheBoard.
Our application addresses all of the shortcomings listed above:
- Educators can do what they do best, using the tools they're accustomed to using. Whether they prefer blackboards, whiteboards, or flipcharts, ShareTheBoard is able to ensure greater legibility of content for remote users - without requiring them to develop new skills or teaching habits.
- Moreover, remote students are able to save teachers' board contents with one click and even contribute to those boards when called upon.
- Perhaps greatest of all, they're able to participate in an environment that more closely resembles the human-rich interaction of in-person learning. They can see their teacher's body language and maintain eye contact, rather than focusing on digital files or avatars.
- As a software solution, ShareTheBoard can be easily deployed and scaled, across any number of schools. It is categorically more cost-efficient than hardware solutions and, of course, entirely mobile. So even if educators can't make it to work, they can still engage all of their students in a familiar, effective manner.
And this last point is, perhaps, most crucial. For long after the current crisis subsides, schools will still benefit greatly from an app for hybrid learning. For one, more stringent health-related controls may even permanently impose a hybrid learning model: greater globalization and freer exchange of goods and services (coupled with a few other factors) may continue to breed viral pandemics. Even without a clear viral threat, schools may simply look upon the hybrid model as a way of reducing health risks. Next, there will always be individual reasons - both for students and teachers - to prevent in-person participation. Mundane scenarios like car trouble or scheduling conflicts may be more likely than global threats. Finally, the availability of hybrid teaching solutions may in itself promote their adoption, as both students and educators may be expected to reasonably participate, even when life gets in the way.
All of those lead one to believe that - for better or worse - hybrid learning may simply be the new normal. However the situation evolves, at FPWD we believe that technology should do the heavy lifting - not people. Solutions which force us to change what works, to replace human-rich interactions with digital-first experiences, or which are only available to the most affluent sections of society are no solutions at all. We believe that ShareTheBoard is a small contribution toward maintaining the humanity and familiarity of education for students and teachers - whether during global crises or personal challenges.
If your school is evaluating hybrid learning solutions, please consider ShareTheBoard. We would be happy to provide a personalized demonstration of our app and answer any questions you may have. We're also proud to offer discounts to educators and students using our application.