As another school year begins online for most students amidst the coronavirus pandemic, many schools are facing the same problems they had last spring. During the first week of classes, local schools and parents reported technical issues like audio or video problems, students unable to log in, possible hacking attacks, or communication difficulties between students and teachers.
One of the schools experiencing first-day problems was Sugar Creek Montessori in Fort Bend County, which also works with the Fort Bend ISD. "The audio was off," says Jolene Tollett, who runs the school. "I don't think they did a trial run with thousands of students online at the same time, and that can certainly mess up your technology."
Tollett says the issue was fixed by the second day, but it is an example of problems that can't be anticipated until school is actually in session. "When you put thousands of people on the system at the same time, that's what probably made the technology fail on that first day," she tells KTRH.
Technical and security issues aren't the only drawbacks to mass virtual learning. Since switching to online classes last spring at the start of the pandemic, the Houston ISD says teachers lost contact with more than 10,000 students and more than 38,000 others were not engaged with the online system.
Districts and communities have spent millions of dollars on equipment and technical upgrades to ensure all students have access to online learning, but that may not be enough. "Even if you distribute devices, that doesn't mean the student is going to be 100 percent engaged," says Ibrahim Firat, chief consultant with Firat Education. "Because there are other things going on at home, especially at homes where the parents are working or the students have to self-initiate a lot of the work."
For now, the state is allowing schools to remain fully online for at least four weeks into the school year. But ultimately, full virtual learning is likely unsustainable long-term. "If you ask me what is going to fix all of this, as most everybody believes, going back to school will solve a lot of this," says Firat. "But will that happen anytime soon? I'm not so sure."