Virtual Learning

How Children, Parents, and Teachers are Adapting to a Virtual Learning Environment

Jessica Singer

On March 31st, the province announced that Ontario schools and childcare centres will be closed until May 4th to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

It’s crucial to self-isolate to help flatten the pandemic curve; yet, distance and virtual learning may present challenges to teachers, parents, and students alike.

STEM Camp is Ontario’s largest educational summer camp that encourages kids to get involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a fun and accessible way.

The camp recently sent out a survey to around 30,000 Ontario families to discover how virtual learning has been received in the province thus far.

The survey results indicate that an overwhelming number of parents prefer in classroom learning to that of a virtual learning environment. In fact, 59% of parents indicated they believe their children are getting less work done at home, while 65% indicated they were not receiving any type of virtual learning through their schools at the time.

“During the first few weeks of this pandemic, the public education system was not really prepared to roll with a lot of in-home learning,” explained CEO and Founder of STEM Camp Kevin Cougler.

“The other thing that’s of note is, let’s call it this new appreciation that parents have of teachers...There’s a lot of pressure on teachers these days, and I think that parents are, for a large part, starting to realize this.”

Virtual learning has changed the roles of both parents and teachers.

Many parents are taking care of their families, transitioning to an online work environment, and worrying about their own health and safety. Now, they have to help educate their children or ensure their children are paying attention to the lessons being shared over a screen.

At the same time, educators are trying to find new ways of teaching their students. Sometimes 20-30 students are joining a virtual session, so it’s increasingly difficult for teachers to ensure every student is paying attention, engaged, and understanding the lessons.

“We’re asking somebody who’s been to teacher’s college to all of the sudden pivot from how they’ve been taught to deliver an educational curriculum and say now instead of doing that, you’re going to do that online...And that’s completely different,” Cougler clarified.

Canadian’s are hopeful that the pandemic will soon subside so children and teachers can reunite in the classroom. Yet, children may be missing out on crucial skill development during their time away from the classroom.

A large part of a child’s learning experience comes from social interaction. Teachers are instructing students on how to make friends, how to be kind to one another, and how to take regular bathroom breaks. Children may face difficulties learning these important social skills if they don’t have the chance to interact with other kids in person.

“Learning how to be a good member of society starts in the home,” said Cougler.

“And then by extension it naturally goes to the school because that’s the next place where they have the most access to your son or daughter.”

Transitioning to a virtual learning environment can affect the learning processes of all students; however, the difficulties students face when learning from home differ with age.  

Cougler is the former Executive Director of Canadian charity, Partners In Research, where he implemented the first Canadian virtual learning experience between secondary school students and researchers and scientists across Canada. There, he discovered that the difficulties students face when learning online are age-dependent.

“A Grade 12 student could sit and listen to a biologist or researcher for likely 50 minutes, an hour long...and they would be just fine.”

“[However], the five- and six-year olds turned off in about two minutes.”

Cougler suggests that parents and teachers alike should stay high-energy and engaged while their children are learning from home. If you are excited to talk about math, science, or English with your child, they will get excited as well.

Cougler also suggests that parents be patient and spend time with their child after the online lesson is completed to ensure they understand class material.

While schools have closed their doors to help curb the COVID-19 outbreak, summer camps like STEM Camp may face the same reality. To prepare for a potentially virtual summer, STEM Camp is testing out a pilot project, ‘Virtual STEM Camp’ with over 75 families.

The camp is offering tons of online activities to help children stay educated, engaged, and active. Some of these activities include contests, ice-breaker games, and scavenger hunts.

For instance, students can learn how to re-grow fruits and veggies from their kitchen by examining a head of lettuce from their fridge. Online instructors can also teach children about the different elements found on Earth by getting them to examine dirt in their backyard. There are plenty of fun and creative activities for children that will get them away from their computers, and interested in learning about their surroundings.

While this is a strange and unprecedented time for all, it’s important to stay positive, confident, and creative when adapting to a new learning environment.