Sanako is a Finnish Educational Tech company helping schools and language teachers to improve language teaching efficiency and results.
COVID-19 has profoundly transformed education systems internationally. The massive use of distance learning has redefined the time and mode of teaching, marking an evolution in teaching practices and methodologies that schools will have to deal with for a long time to come. However, the shift towards remote learning has not been seamless. On the contrary, the sudden need for remote learning solutions has revealed a deep digital divide even in developed countries. Remote learning is an established reality, but it can and must be improved precisely because of this.
2020 was a crucial year for educational institutions, forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to rethink procedures, dismantle paradigms, and search for new online teaching tools to ensure continuity of education for students under lockdown.
Pending the full development of the vaccination campaigns that began in winter 2020 in several states, remote learning is still a structural component of the post-COVID-19 education world. And it will likely continue to maintain its importance in the years to come.
What are the challenges in remote learning?
At the outbreak of the pandemic, schools encountered numerous technical difficulties in setting up online teaching pathways, which impacted the learning outcomes of students and particularly disadvantaged students.
The pandemic deprived schools of an essential element for the preparation of distance learning pathways, namely time. Creating a remote learning environment requires precise planning in terms of objectives and resources and specific practice on the part of teachers.
Now that the most acute emergency phase is passing, schools need to reflect on the shortcomings of the solutions adopted so far and on how to intervene so that students and teachers can work within effective remote learning frameworks. From this point of view, the first step to be taken is to identify the detrimental factors to distance learning.
One of the significant risk factors stems from disparities in students' learning opportunities within a fully online educational environment. These disparities arise from a gap in resources and knowledge that can create an unbalanced playing field among students. Not all students, in fact, necessarily have access to the devices needed to follow distance learning lessons or sufficient training to use them properly.
As noted in a survey by the RAND Corporation, one of the most pressing challenges concerning distance learning stems from "concerns related to communication with students and student participation, including difficulty reaching all students, concerns about students' work completion, and challenges with holding students accountable for schoolwork".
Digital disparities contribute to a lower level of engagement in-class activities and homework completion. If educational institutions do not properly address these disparities, there is a real risk that the number of students left behind in distance education will increase. Therefore, the digital divide is a strong discriminating element that educators should be well aware of when considering remote learning approaches.
Another composite set of challenges emerges from the management of the distance classroom. This includes the difficulties encountered by teachers in scheduling class activities and processing lessons and interacting with students.
It is also necessary to rethink the type of activities proposed to students to avoid a drop in their level of involvement due to the absence of physical interaction with the rest of the class. From this point of view, digital resources offer numerous opportunities to diversify and enrich the content of lessons and teaching activities when teaching remotely.
However, experimenting with new didactic approaches focused on the direct participation of students is not easy, especially for those school environments linked to traditional educational models based on the frontal lesson method.
How to overcome the challenges of remote learning with educational technology?
The need to communicate at a distance -- with the consequent multiplication of communication channels including email, instant messaging, online whiteboards, etc. -- can complicate the planning and execution of teaching activities. In language learning, Edtech platforms provide a valuable aid in creating a teaching and learning environment that makes the transition from face-to-face to online teaching easier.
In the case of Sanako's educational technology products, our solutions stand out precisely because they provide a distance learning platform for students and an instructional classroom management tool for teachers. This is the case especially with Sanako Connect - our virtual classroom solution. In particular, we can identify three main areas in which Connect offers solutions to empower distance learning paths and reduce the impact of the aforementioned challenges.
1. Ease of access:
Connect is a cloud-based software specifically designed for hybrid learning. This means that Connect allows you to integrate and deliver online the same language learning activities that students would do in the physical classroom.
Connect is a user-friendly software designed to maximize the opportunities arising from distance learning and thus create learning paths that are as accessible as possible to all learners. As a cloud-based software Connect can be used on any device and students can also access it from their personal devices, regardless of the operating systems they use.
This means that the impact of Connect on the IT infrastructure available to the school and individual pupils is meager. This is an important principle in mitigating the effects of the digital divide in implementing distance education.
2. Learners engagement:
Supporting the learner in their learning journey is part of the mission of all Sanako products, and Connect is no exception. Using Connect, the learner is directly involved in activities designed to train all core language skills.
Students can work individually or in groups, practicing conversation or role-play games. The exercises are therefore always set in a participatory context, in which students work with each other or with the teacher, who always has the opportunity to talk to the class, give feedback and monitor the progress of the activities.
Consequently, even in a virtual classroom environment, Sanako Connect allows the relational element that characterizes face-to-face activities to be maintained, thus reducing the risk that students, hiding behind the monitor, become distracted or feel excluded, thus losing interest in the lesson.
3. Classroom management:
Enhancing the teacher's role within the virtual classroom is another key objective of Sanako Connect. Managing communication and interaction with students remotely is not easy, and for teachers who are less familiar with online delivery tools, it can be tiring and dispersive.
Concerning the management of teaching activities, Connect's features allow for the quick distribution of teaching material across different groups of students. Once the teacher has prepared the lesson, simply share a link for students to access. There is no need for credentials or personal data entry. In this way, speed of delivery is combined with the protection of teacher and pupil privacy.
Connect also offers teachers an environment to experiment with different approaches to distance learning, using different types of content. Teachers can choose and create the content (videos, theses, presentations, etc.) that they consider most suitable for their lesson and attach it to their online lesson plan. As a result, Connect adapts to the teachers' needs (and not vice versa), through a high degree of customization of the teaching approach and material.
In the table below, we summarize the Connect features that are most likely to reduce learning disparities in online teaching and, therefore, help schools deliver better, more equal, remote instruction.
A teacher-led online language learning environment
Reduces resources to be invested in IT infrastructures; supports the reduction of the digital divide by making Connect compatible with any operating systems
Creates a proper online learning path alternative to the classroom, in which student participation is the key element; helps keeping students engaged during a lesson; reduces the risk of isolating students with more difficulty or less motivation
High level of user-friendliness and customization
Allows for teachers to create and share exercises; speak to the class or specific groups; share webcam and screen all using a single platform