Distance Education in the Time of Quarantine


Many people have fought the concept of distance education, while others embrace the mainstreaming of distance education options.  The fact of the matter is that, during this time of Coronavirus quarantine, distance education seems to be the only viable option right now.

I’ve had a hand in distance education since almost the beginning of my career (and the beginning of online education, for that matter).  I was the Director of Student Services for Saybrook University, a graduate school in California that specializes in distance education, for four years where I oversaw all aspects of the student service life-cycle from orientation through graduation.  As a higher education consultant, I assisted campus-based universities with bringing existing programs into an online environment.  I’ve supervised the enrollment management (recruitment, retention, and student services) for online degree programs.  As a mother, I enrolled my two daughters in Laurel Springs School, an online school with students throughout the U.S. and over 60 different countries, while we moved to the other side of the globe and spent much of our time traveling for two years.

Distance education usually refers to programs supervised by schools but delivered to any location, while home school can refer to education supervised by parents, schools, or a combination of both.  Countless parents have been home schooling their children using a variety of methods for many generations, and they no doubt would have an abundance of helpful tips on overseeing your child’s education from home.  (I encourage homeschooling parents to please comment below and add tips and advice for parents struggling with the transition of overseeing their child’s education from home for the first time.)

Distance education administered by schools tends to fall into three main categories (or combinations of these three methods):

  1. Paper-based format:  Assignments can be provided through the mail, email, or downloaded and printed online.  This format seems to work well for elementary school students.  They can complete their assignments and activities and either mail them in or take a picture and provide it as an email attachment to the teacher.  Often times, parents are provided with a learning guide to help supplement paper-based teaching.
  2. Online teaching in a real time format:  This method of conference video-call teaching requires students and teachers to be in similar time zones, and it’s what many traditional schools have implemented during this quarantine, using tools like Zoom and Google Chat.
  3. Online learning in an independent format:  This is when teachers have their curriculum, lessons, slides, videos, assignments, and other teaching tools accessible in an online “classroom” link, often laid out in a step-by-step linear format.  Students access each lesson and assignment according to a more flexible schedule, although due dates for assignments can still be set.  This format allows for students to work independently across various time zones and schedules.  It allows some flexibility, but it still requires students to adhere to a routine for completing work in a timely manner.  This format requires the most preparation and development by the school.  It’s the format used by most schools and degree programs that specialize in online education.

I could go on at length about the tools and methods for successfully delivering each of these three categories, but I don’t want to make this post overly long.  However, please feel free to post questions if you have any.

I was impressed with how St. John’s School, the school my daughters currently attend in Guam, almost instantaneously transitioned to distance education during this quarantine.  They already used Google Classroom for many of their assignments, so they just began holding live sessions lead by teachers on Google Chat.  Granted, it’s not as robust as their last school, Laurel Springs School, which specializes in online education.  Sadly, we’re still paying the same high tuition even though we have less services now.  This quarter, one daughter was supposed to be taking swimming while the other was to take pottery.  One daughter is missing her soccer season and prom, while the other will almost certainly miss her 8th grade graduation.  No student club meetings or additional services are being hosted online.  Still, I’ve been pleased with the fact that they’re being taught their main academic subjects without interruption, which is more than most schools in Guam can claim.

It will be interesting to see how this quarantine changes the landscape of education.  Will more traditional programs supplement with online learning tools?  Will universities begin to offer more online degree programs?  Will more parents be open to distance education for their children?  Will teachers be able to “work from home” by teaching classes online for specified periods of time?

While there are certainly pros and cons to all methods of education, we’re all now getting a taste of distance education, for better or worse.  Please let me know what you like and dislike about distance education.

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