With students going back to school this fall and the world seemingly looking to return to "normal," one question continues to loom: What will the school year look like this year?
With so much uncertainty since 2020, the field of education has been working to accommodate these unpredictable changes. Regardless of the challenges posed by the pandemic, one silver lining of our "new normal" is the rise and development of so many EdTech (educational technology) products made readily available in an increasingly digitalized world.
Back to School Concerns
Students in Chicago's Public Schools (CPS) were welcomed back to the classroom on Monday, August 30th, for full-time, in-person learning, joining school districts across the nation and worldwide to confront a new academic year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the optimism of this academic year, the dangers of a COVID-19 resurgence from the Delta variant continue to loom over the world. Just two days ago (September 14th, 2021), a CPS Southwest side charter school is reverting to remote learning for two weeks after finding three confirmed COVID-19 cases in three different classrooms. Across the Pacific in Fujian province, China, an outbreak of the Delta variant in Xiamen that began in a primary school continues to grow. In response, the city has locked down areas of higher virus risk, such as schools, which now have to return to online learning.
Educators will continue to face COVID-19 and the Delta variant challenges for this academic year, primarily because schools are a hotbed for COVID-19 and other viruses to spread.
With the pandemic's unpredictability, many students and educators will continue to need and utilize remote solutions. Virtual classrooms that consist of video conferencing and collaboration software can help students keep up with their educational progress. Since the pandemic, Virtual classroom platforms have made many strides to include valuable functions, such as:
Ad Hoc messaging
Whiteboard functions to write notes
Breakout rooms to facilitate group discussions
Document collaboration for group projects
Polling and surveys
Real-time presentation annotations
Playing videos during class
Virtual Classrooms and their multiple functions have provided many benefits to students and teachers alike. For one, both students and teachers have the freedom to study and complete their coursework anytime, anywhere. Second, taking tests or completing other tasks online can provide immediate feedback, thus saving time. One of the most impactful benefits, however, is the sharpening of digital skills for students. Learning to navigate sophisticated online learning technology can familiarize students with other advanced technologies that will be helpful in our ever-so-digitalizing world.
In addition to their benefits, these various EdTech remote solutions promote educational equality by allocating educational resources, regardless of location. Without these geographic limitations, real-time meetings, document collaboration, and learning management can all be accomplished anywhere in the world. This accessibility creates the potential to connect students and educators beyond borders.
Among the rise of new EdTech platforms prompted by the pandemic, one classroom framework that will revolutionize the global education system is the Online-Merge-Offline (OMO) classroom. With this classroom set-up, remote teachers can engage with a classroom of students through video conferencing, whiteboard, and presentation technology. Essentially, students can interact in a physical class (offline) and interact with their teacher remotely (online).
A significant advantage of an OMO classroom is that it can essentially outsource teachers and different academic subjects. In August of this year, HiLink teamed up with SAGE China to provide a customized version of HiLink's online platform to support its 2021 youth entrepreneurship virtual competition.
The winner of this year's competition was ScoreTrack, whose members designed an app that helps to revitalize youth athletics by making sports affordable and accessible. What was truly impressive was that the three founders of this App are only in high school! As a partner of SAGE, HiLink had the opportunity to interview the young entrepreneurs of ScoreTrack. When asked about their development process, one of the members stated that "unfortunately, there aren't any active entrepreneurship courses or classes [at our school]. I think all of us are mostly self-taught, or we mostly just ran with it and relied on each of us and our skills to see us through this venture."
For many high schools, there are multiple barriers to implementing entrepreneurship courses or any unique subject. Barriers can range from budget limitations, difficulty finding educators to commit to a full-time, in-person position, or not enough students are interested in a niche academic subject. However, with the rise of OMO classrooms, this platform can easily fix a lack of course diversity. OMO classrooms allow schools to access more convenient, affordable, and niché course subjects, as long as the instructor has access to the internet.
Entrepreneurship is just one of many elective subjects that would benefit from more OMO classroom platforms. One example of the success of OMO technology in supporting a niche educational field was earlier this year when DuShang Art School and Hilink partnered up to utilize Hilink's OMO solution. With HiLink's online platform, students at DuShang Art School, one of the most prominent art institutions in Northern China, connected with internationally renowned art instructors through the live-streaming feature, all without the need to apply for a visa!
The Future of Education
Ultimately, whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic improves or worsens, there is one guarantee: the utility and use of new EdTech are not going anywhere anytime soon, with hybrid learning models becoming more and more popular. The benefits of remote education solutions go way beyond the safety measures of any pandemic. Anyone, whether a CPS student from Chicago's southwest side, a primary school student in Xiamen, or an art student from DuShang Art School, could potentially have the same educational opportunities through virtual learning.
Of course, limitations may exist, namely access to quality internet and technology, but with the right tools and wireless network infrastructure, HiLink's video conferencing and collaboration platform can provide access to education and engaging learning experiences for students across the globe. Additionally, learning management technology will vie very important in the future. To answer this demand, administrator solutions include scheduled classes being automatically synced to personal calendars, class attendance and performance reports being automatically synced to data analytics reports, and more!