Back to school in-person has brought joy to parents and students alike, who are sick of dealing with Zoom calls, educational games, online homework, and all the tech bugs that came with education jamming in web browser tabs.
However, when children returned to the classroom, they discovered that many of these digital tools would not go away.
Even when the students are together face-to-face, the teacher can start a lesson in Google Classroom or Canvas, which is then divided into half a dozen other websites for math quizzes, science videos, or reading. For middle and high school students, different teachers may have different curricula, adding to the confusion.
Sometimes students forget to submit their work or leave the site before completing an educational game, parents and teachers say. Other times systems don’t communicate with each other, causing tasks to be flagged as missing. Many students no longer submit paper assignments at all, and are instead expected to make digital copies. Online teacher grade books don’t always sync up with digital classes, leaving students and parents anxious about failing grades and unsure of work received.
With some districts returning to remote education due to an increase in Covid-19 cases, and with many other students in quarantine, digital classrooms have proven to be an ongoing necessity. Education experts say that digital classrooms are here to stay and that we all need to get used to it. I have some tips on how to manage this, below.
Bethany Dasco’s ninth-grade daughter struggled shooting art projects with her Chromebook camera. Sometimes, she either handed them over late, for partial credit, or didn’t give them at all.
“They are expected to be able to log in, figure out what to do and do it,” Ms Dasco said. “These are kids, and they don’t have the maturity to look at this big system and figure out how to break it down.”
Reliance on technology has prompted some parents to buy their children’s phones sooner than they would like. The difficulty of taking pictures of schoolwork on a Chromebook is one reason Ms. Dasco, a graphic designer in Northeast Washington, recently bought a phone for her daughter.
Share your thoughts
How does your family manage digital classrooms? Join the conversation below.
“Teachers cite the same challenges — it’s not just parents and students,” said Heather Dodd, a former teacher turned educational training consultant and co-author of Classroom Management in the Digital Age.
She said she expects digital classrooms to become more streamlined and easier to use. Until then, many parents complain that technical issues get in the way of learning and wonder: What’s so bad about paper and pencil, anyway?
Michelle McNally was an eighth grader who struggled to keep track of each teacher’s way of showing that work was done. Some of his professors request snapshots of physical labor; Others check students’ computers to see that work is complete.
“Is the goal of learning the system or the goal of learning the content?” said Ms. McNally, executive director of digital marketing for Indianapolis.
Jessica Ortiz, of Vermillion, Ohio, said one of her sixth-graders’ teachers sends an email to parents each week letting them know what students should be working on, while sending out the latest updates through an app. Some do not communicate with parents at all.
Ms Ortiz said she has little knowledge of how her sixth grader, Isabella, is performing in school now that she has done all of her work in class with a laptop. Ms. Ortiz said that when she used to bring graded papers home, she could see what kinds of math problems were causing her problems and would print out the worksheets to help reinforce those skills.
Some of her daughter’s scores aren’t updated online often, so it’s not clear to her if a zero on an assignment means her daughter has missed answers, or she hasn’t submitted them, or she hasn’t been graded yet.
“She’s kind of alone now,” Ms. Ortiz said.
what you can do
Parents can help manage children’s digital tasks by following some organizational tips.
Develop a work tracking system. Ask your children how they like to organize their tasks. If they don’t know, try experimenting. Do they prefer note-taking apps and timers instead of paper notes? Some schools offer students a calendar to note down their homework assignments each day. If your school doesn’t, create your own. You can also sit down with your child and make a paper or electronic list of sites where each teacher posts assignments. See my previous column on digital to-do lists, reminders, and calendar apps.
The science of self-advocacy. Parents say kids often don’t speak up when they have a technical problem. They can use some encouragement to ask for help or email the teacher. “Instead of assuming your child knows how to ask their teacher for something, play a few scenarios with your child,” said Ms. Dodd.
You have backup plans. Ms Dodd said it was helpful to remind children why they shouldn’t wait until the last minute to turn in work, and to prepare them for this scenario. What if the internet in your home is down on the night the assignment is due? Is there another place they can go to access the Internet? What happens if they leave their laptop at school? Do they know how to log in from another device?
For tips on saving passwords, bookmarking your students’ most frequently used websites and using virtual assistants, see my column on making remote school easier. If a lack of motivation is a factor, you’ve written about ways to motivate your teen.
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