The 2020 Pandemic and the Future of Remote Learning

Here we are together, enduring the pandemic of 2020. We exist in a no-man’s land, a wilderness, as we wait expectantly for the conclusion of the stay-at-home orders, and when life will return to normal, with shopping, eating at restaurants, youth soccer games, and school back in session on campus. This reminds me of the Israelites wandering in the Sinai Desert, attempting to reach their destination of the Promised Land. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called the wilderness environment for Israel “liminal space.” It is a place that is neither here nor there. It is not the starting point, nor the destination, but the space between. The wilderness was crucial for the Israelites, not because nothing happened there, but because really important things did. It was not simply a journey of transition from slavery to freedom, but an experience of transformation, that changed the people for generations to come (Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, p. 42). We are journeying through our own “liminal space” as well, as many aspects of our lives will be transformed as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Remember Restaurants?

It is already being noted by educational leaders that schooling will be transformed due to the worldwide pandemic. There is a new reality that much of school can be conducted from locations other than from a desk in a classroom at a certain time of day. Even a couple of months ago, few people could have believed that so much learning could be accomplished remotely. For certain, it requires the right arrangement of computers, online learning platforms, high-speed internet capability, and so on. But if you compare these costs with the price tag of a brand new brick-and-mortar public school, these seem to be solvable problems.

It has been nearly 7 years since I wrote an article entitled, “Online Schooling: The Educational Wave of the 21st Century.” In 2013, I helped spearhead a bill in the State of Washington, which would allow private schools to offer online education in the same manner as public schools did. The Department of Education had originally rejected our application to add an online option at my current school, Renton Christian. I learned a lot as a nearby state representative sponsored a bill for us, and The Freedom Foundation provided the legal team needed in order to push this effort forward. One of the most enjoyable experiences for me was to testify before the Education Committee of Washington state, in order to persuade them as to the value and necessity of online schooling for private schools. Washington is an extremely liberal state and has maintained a reputation for making things difficult for private schools, as they did with us. The Freedom Foundation produced a video that narrates much of that legal process. In 2013, it was still quite novel for high school students to be educated with only their computer or IPad, and interfacing with a teacher far away. For the most part, students and parents assumed school could only be accomplished one way, with a live teacher in a classroom full of students. Times are changing.

Allowing Private Schools in Washington to Offer Online High School (2013)

Several universities have established already expansive online arms of their academics. For example, Grand Canyon University has about 20,000 students on campus, with an additional 70,000 online. Liberty University, enrolls 15,000 students on campus, while boasting 94,000 online students! And these are pre-pandemic numbers. Those are just a few examples of many.

When my family moved to San Diego from Seattle in 2017, my wife continued to work remotely in Human Resources for Microsoft. There seemed to be a mixed reaction as to whether that would be effective, but now she looks like a pioneer. This summer I will take an online master’s course in order to renew my superintendent certificate. Next fall, I will teach an online college course, “Theology and History Since the Reformation.“ Remote learning is becoming “normal,” more mainstream. Employers and school leaders should embrace this trend and determine the best ways to integrate the benefits remote learning provides, so that our employees, and/or students have increased opportunities for professional development and education.

Our wandering in the pandemic wilderness, living in this ”liminal space,” will end eventually. Be assured, we will not return to where we started, but hopefully to something better than we experienced in the past. These are exciting times!

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