The Case for Online School

Linda Hughes, Ed.D.

In 2000, I was working on my Doctorate degree in education at the University of Georgia. One of my professors, Dr. Karen Watkins, told me I needed to take the classes that would teach me how to design, deliver, and assess online courses.

I said, “But I’m never going to teach online.”

I’ll never forget her response. She said, “Yes, you are. You just don’t know it yet.”

Here we are, twenty years later, with thousands of teachers stuck during a pandemic, forced to teach online without the necessary resources or training. I’m so glad I took Dr. Watkins’ advice. Having been trained and knowing how much work it takes with my own online teaching, I ache for our teachers who have been thrust into this situation.

Not that they can’t do it. They can. Educators are smart, resourceful, caring people. It isn’t that they can’t figure it out; it simply wasn’t necessary for them to have been thrown into this disaster without the tools they need.

After I became a college professor teaching courses to future teachers; face-to-face, hybrid, and online; I and many other education professors tried to convince the Georgia Department of Education that it was imperative for us to provide future teachers with the skills and resources to teach online. We argued that prolonged emergency situations call for online school: natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes that destroy towns; epidemics like the flu that close schools; snow and ice storms that cause “snow days”; tragic school shootings that traumatize children; and, yes, even pandemic, although we didn’t have a clear picture of what that might look like. (As it turns out, few people outside of the biomedical scientific research community could picture that, until now.)   

The state didn’t accept that proposal, twice. I was on two state communities with twenty to thirty other teacher education professors from universities around the state, where these proposals were made. Our committee’s task in each case was to determine what should be taught to future teachers. About half of the participants in each committee saw the value of teaching teachers how to teach online. The other half didn’t get it.

I assume that by now that many of us get it. Think horse and buggy v. automobiles. Telegrams v. telephones. TV rabbit ears v. cable. Whether you like it or not, whether you get it or not, online school is here to stay.

I know the critics’ arguments against online learning. They need to get over it.

What about kids who don’t have internet at home? We proposed local learning centers where that would be available. In fact, where I live, I can walk into any county library in the evening and see where that is already happening.

 What if the internet is down? Software programs on an iPad, provided by the school, would allow kids to continue to follow lessons.

Who knows who is doing the work online? We don’t know who’s doing the work anyway. I used to be in a workout class with a group of mothers who would compare the homework they’d done for their kids. That happened – a lot.

Isn’t face-to-face group work important for learning? Sure, it’s great. But when it isn’t possible, facetime works, too.

What do parents who work do with their children during the day if the kids are home? Parents, families, community centers, businesses, learning centers, and schools can figure that out. It won’t be easy, but can be done.

Aren’t teachers already overwhelmed? Isn’t this one thing too many? No, it is not. But many other things are. If teachers were relieved of all of the useless things they are required to do, like paperwork that takes away from teaching, they would then have time to consider their online coursework. Besides, I’m suggesting that they be given enough support and tools that this would not be an additional burden.

The bottom line for online school is that we should all take heed of what Dr. Karen Watkins, professor and associate department head in the College of Education at UGA, advocated twenty years ago. Online schooling is here to stay. Our college education programs for future teachers need to provide training and resources for teaching online, state education systems need to support that endeavor, and school systems need to get onboard to support their teachers.

Let’s not let the next crisis knock us off our feet like this one did. Let’s stand strong, ready for whatever comes our way. Because, as we’ve learned, anything can happen. We need to be as prepared as possible when it does. 

Dr. Linda Hughes was an associate professor of foundational teacher education courses for sixteen years, preparing college students for careers in education. She worked at Georgia Perimeter College (now part of GSU) and at Georgia Gwinnett College. Dr. Hughes has retired from the field of education and is a fulltime writer. When teaching, she created an online learning game that made her AI (Artificial Intelligence) Magazine’s 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year. Visit her at www.lindahughes.com