We’ve heard a lot about the role of technology in pandemic education, and for good reason: Digital solutions enabled school communities to maintain learning through uncertainty and interruption none of us could have imagined.
However, the triumphs of edtech have been paired with critical challenges. Since the pandemic closed schools in March 2020, school districts have invested in getting students access to computing devices and the internet.
Technology-hesitant teachers became technology-proficient as they learned to navigate remote teaching and learning in impromptu virtual classrooms. Still, with all of the progress we made in digital learning, the interruption of the face-to-face social aspects of the classroom experience resulted in the students finishing the 2020-2021 school year four to five months behind in reading and math on average, according to a recent study from McKinsey & Company.
We’re starting to see the promise of digital learning take hold; teachers can use software to differentiate and personalize instruction. But we can’t stop here. Over the last 18 months, “technology” has been a synonym for “virtual,” where many kids felt isolated, sitting behind a device and craving connection with their peers and teachers.
We now have the opportunity to take what we have learned and use it to usher in a new era of education — one that is powered to a meaningful degree by technology yet centered on human connection, and one where we reject the false choice between engaging software and an incredible teacher. As we return to school this fall, we can blend the best of technology with the best of the classroom experience.
HMH recently shared results of our annual Educator Confidence Report, and the findings provide critical insights into the characteristics that should define the post-pandemic classroom.
Over 1,200 front-line educators from across the U.S. responded, and while optimism has fallen (only 38% of educators reported a somewhat positive or positive view of the state of their profession), confidence in the mastery and benefit of learning technologies is on the rise.
We’re moving from digital promise to digital proof.
Despite a tumultuous year, teachers’ current views on technology provide a bright spot, paving the way for more purposeful use of digital solutions.
Educator confidence in using edtech is at an all-time high since we began this survey seven years ago, with 66% of teachers very or extremely confident in their abilities. Many credit their experience of being thrown into the deep end in March 2020. Today, a nearly unanimous 95% of teachers have experienced the benefits of edtech, and 77% believe tech will help them be more effective teachers post-pandemic.
Of critical importance is the type of benefit teachers are experiencing. 81% report at least one of the following top three benefits, all of which are highly student-centric: improved student engagement; differentiated, individualized instruction; and flexible access to instructional content.
Despite technology playing a larger and more effective role, educators report that there are still critical barriers to access and efficacy that must be addressed, including lack of devices and internet access. 57% of educators also indicated that lack of student engagement with tech is a major barrier. More than half told us that the lack of time to plan for integrating digital resources into instruction was a top challenge.
Students’ emotional well-being is educators’ top concern
We all recognize that at the center of teaching and learning is the strong connection built and nurtured between teacher and student, which serves as the foundation for academic and social-emotional growth and drives engagement. We cannot let technology that breaks that connection and isolates students obscure that critical relationship, and data from this year’s survey is an important harbinger.
Among educators, 58% are concerned that students will demonstrate increased social-emotional needs after the pandemic, and social-emotional needs broadly remained the top concern this year (ahead of teachers’ own salaries and concerns about students falling behind). In addition, 82% of educators believe a well-crafted, fully integrated social-emotional learning (SEL) program will have an impact.
Ultimately, to begin to recover and transition into our “post-pandemic instructional model,” we can benefit from a best-of-both-worlds approach that fuses the power of technology with the tried-and-true social gathering of the classroom — “high-tech” working in a mutually reinforcing way with “high-touch.”
Educators’ unique experiences shed light on what the classroom of the future will look like
Technology alone will not usher in education’s new era. It is critical that we leverage digital solutions with a community-oriented, connected and human mindset.
At HMH, we strive for an edtech ecosystem that drives engagement, not isolation; for solutions that offer actionable data and insights that allow teachers to differentiate instruction, not simply “a page under glass”; for innovations that do not add to educators’ full plates, but rather extend their capabilities and give them time to focus on the social-emotional needs of their students.
We heard loud and clear that educators believe in the potential of technology to accomplish these goals — 82% of educators believe customized learning for every student will transform learning and teaching in the future, and 75% believe technology solutions that connect instruction and assessment on one platform will be essential to this transformation.
Edtech’s potential has been unlocked at an exponential rate over the past year, but the future of the classroom is not merely high-tech. It is high-touch, too.
When we asked educators what they are most looking forward to post-pandemic, the answer was clear — being together with their student community: 80% cited interacting face-to-face with students, 74% said more student engagement and 63% noted student collaboration opportunities.
The passionate discussion around in-person versus digital learning is too often shortsighted in its creation of a strict binary — digital or analog. But our greatest success will come from embracing the fact that these are not opposing forces; they are complementary force multipliers.
We’ve lost a great deal over the last year, but we’ve also gained important ground — and we can continue that momentum. As a society, we will continue to assess the health risks before us and navigate an increasingly hybrid world that includes our workplaces, neighborhoods and, of course, our schools.
I believe that as we do ultimately return to our school buildings, we’ll be ready to usher in a new era of learning, one powered by tech and innovation but forever defined by the community of teachers and students at its heart.