Back
The District

How Distance Learning Proved These Four Edtech Myths Wrong

The Newsela Team
May 18, 2020

As we’ve all struggled with the tide of difficult news these past few months, finding a silver lining has never felt so important. Whether it’s a neighbor who offers impromptu cello concerts from her front porch, or the “car parades” staged by teachers hoping to inspire their students, good news reminds us that there are bright spots to be found even in challenging circumstances. 

When it comes to education and the news from schools around the country, the challenges of distance learning are certainly front and center. But while adapting to this new environment has highlighted many issues, there is good news we can recognize as well—especially when we look at what education technology has been able to achieve. 

Below, we explore four common myths about edtech that are being proved wrong by our current moment, and how we can build on these bright spots going forward.

Myth #1: It’s impossible to bridge the digital divide.

Before the global pandemic, progress toward bridging the digital divide seemed to have stalled, with the Pew Research Center reporting a fluctuating 65 percent to 73 percent of Americans having internet access at home between 2012 and 2019. For schools and teachers, this meant acknowledging that at least a quarter of the students were without broadband internet service at home—a statistic that seemed unlikely to change.

With the advent of school closures in March, however, the need for all students to access online resources and connect virtually with teachers became more urgent. Schools around the country rallied to get students the devices and connectivity they needed, from maps outlining public WiFi to partnerships with telecommunications companies to establish easy-to-access hotspots (even reports of school buses being repurposed as mobile hotspots!). The upside? The role schools can play in bridging the digital divide seems more promising than ever before.

Myth #2: Edtech doesn’t serve populations like English Language Learners and Special Education students well.

When edtech emerged on the scene, there was a mixed response from many teachers on the support provided for English Language Learner (ELL) and special education students. This skepticism wasn’t unfounded—many early iterations of the tools weren’t built with options for ELLs, or had resources geared toward the elementary grades rather than special education students. 

Since then, however, many tools and platforms have added robust ELL-friendly supports to their core products. This includes making content available at lower reading levels to scaffold content for students who are still developing English language skills, or the ability to switch between languages to scaffold. There’s certainly still work to be done, but distance learning has highlighted where support has grown and how schools can continue to push for it.

Myth #3: Tools are either for enrichment or remediation.

Before the pandemic, edtech was often viewed as existing on the sidelines of the classroom. Tools were perceived primarily as a supplement to core materials when needed, or as a resource for students who needed help catching up. 

With the sudden shift to distance learning, edtech tools and platforms transformed overnight from sidelined teammate to star player. And while no one would argue that distance learning should be the status quo, there’s a new appreciation for the role tools can play in supporting core learning anywhere and enabling schools to be more flexible. 

Myth #4: Differentiating is a teacher’s responsibility—and they can handle it on their own.

Differentiation—tailoring teaching and materials to meet each student’s needs—has long rested on the shoulders of teachers. But while many do a more than impressive job, the challenge of differentiating instruction continues to grow—especially now, with the curveball distance learning has thrown to teachers everywhere.

Meaningful differentiation is going to be more important than ever as the year continues, whether teaching remotely or assessing the potential “COVID slide” when we’re back at school. As edtech solutions have shown during this time, the burden doesn’t have to rest with teachers—there are tools that offer support for differentiating content across levels, helping to meet students wherever they’re at.

Looking ahead, the role of edtech in classrooms—whether virtual or in-person—will continue to evolve. Not all tools are created equal, and as schools assess their current and future resources they should look for platforms that can evolve with them. That might mean seeking out tools that can be used in both physical and virtual settings, or prioritizing easy-to-use resources that teachers already know. Schools should also consider how they can breathe new life into existing core materials, while ensuring that software and paper-based content is accessible to English Language Learners and students with disabilities. 

There will be many challenges to juggle this school year and next. But there are bright spots as well—and pausing to recognize them helps us all move forward a little bit more easily. 

The Latest from @Newsela

Visit our virtual ☕ Teachers Lounge to exchange teaching strategies with other educators and discuss the most pressing challenges you’re facing this fall. https://t.co/w8w5zWHZkj https://t.co/U1lPoQf7ct
September 29, 2020, 8:03 PM
In the ocean's depths, it might take more than a little light to illuminate some of the planet's darkest fish. A newfound mechanism called "ultrablack skin" can soak up almost all light that hits it, which makes these deep sea fish nearly invisible. https://t.co/bn2Elhrlq9 https://t.co/xe9OZfya4R
September 29, 2020, 3:29 PM
Should Supreme Court justices serve lifelong or limited terms? Some argue that life terms give too much power, others counter that they protect justices from political pressures. Students can consider their own perspective on the issue using this set: https://t.co/NsBk4PzoTF https://t.co/avuMlhUWt8
September 29, 2020, 1:45 AM
The very first woman to serve on the Supreme Court was appointed just 37 years ago, in 1981. Here is an overview of some of the remarkable women who have left their mark on our country's highest court, despite the many obstacles they faced. https://t.co/9pcPIJxVPb https://t.co/EgNHQHWbdP
September 28, 2020, 11:30 PM
Racist housing policies are creating some oppressively hot neighborhoods, with temperatures more than 10 degrees hotter than the cooler areas. This article explores how this stark difference resulted from 100 years of exclusionary city planning decisions. https://t.co/lhV9owbqfd https://t.co/LolIlC8N8i
September 28, 2020, 9:34 PM
The justices on the Supreme Court decide what the Constitution says is legal. They are kind of like the referees for the country.  Help students understand why it is important who gets to serve on the Supreme Court using this resource: https://t.co/xjqaJ6wF54 https://t.co/QdH0HGxwE3
September 28, 2020, 9:27 PM
Our Election 2020 Student Poll shows that race in America is the most important issue for students in the 2020 election. Find out how other issues, like COVID-19, stacked up: https://t.co/aUATJp1geh https://t.co/T5nQCCkC8A
September 28, 2020, 8:07 PM
Recently, a committee called to "remove, relocate or contextualize" the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. What are historians saying about the decision? Are those who study our founders and their monuments similarly outraged? Let's explore: https://t.co/hjPU2NfJQK https://t.co/zcb5aB7zzo
September 28, 2020, 7:04 PM
Ready to teach the election? Our free Election 2020 content includes tips for addressing complex election-related topics and guiding meaningful classroom discussions. https://t.co/KaimJO4TRD https://t.co/L3WFRXsw0f
September 28, 2020, 5:06 PM
Shadia and Imran Nakueira opened their ice cream business, Sikia Cafe, with one thing in mind: They wanted to work alongside people with disabilities. Read the inspiring story of how it's breaking the stigma and highlighting the skills of deaf people: https://t.co/xljVXN8xYZ https://t.co/7T6QQTLUBA
September 28, 2020, 3:04 PM
With no sign that concerts will return any time soon, the music business faces an unsteady future due to the pandemic. Read this Q&A with Louis York, a songwriting duo based in Nashville, on how music can be a "lifesaving tool" during times of distress. https://t.co/acBY5A6cmy https://t.co/ANaElyoBF9
September 28, 2020, 2:17 PM
The best lessons—at home or at school—start with the best content. This school year, access to high-quality instructional content can make all the difference. https://t.co/i7enF9qALO https://t.co/ciyRoueCOA
September 28, 2020, 1:11 PM
A strange chemical discovered in the clouds of Venus is defying explanation for scientists. Could it be a sign of life? Here's what researchers are saying: https://t.co/Bxi0agsNRO https://t.co/ogqiAj0pKE
September 27, 2020, 11:42 PM
For some bottlenose dolphins, finding a meal may be all about who you know. Recent studies highlight the importance of social networks, suggesting that dolphins rely on learning from their peers more than anything else. https://t.co/I8xviMgHBq https://t.co/T9x1rzR3j8
September 27, 2020, 8:05 PM
Why does "Avatar: The Last Airbender" still have such a strong appeal among millions? After all, it was released more than 15 years ago. This article uncovers five likely reasons for the show's loyal fanbase 👉 https://t.co/YoYnjrrDxQ https://t.co/i29JzxDVFY
September 27, 2020, 7:05 PM
As the 2020 presidential election nears, knowing where a candidate stands on key policy issues is paramount. This collection helps students familiarize themselves with policy issues like the environment, pandemics, race, education, and more. https://t.co/kzskB5UhWO https://t.co/8lmsacOjI2
September 27, 2020, 5:09 PM
Newsela student polls are now open! Engage future voters at all grade levels with a mock election to gauge their opinion on the most-discussed election issues. https://t.co/kb5CeNbf8O https://t.co/sbQcdopHQC
September 27, 2020, 2:28 PM
Join us for a teacher event about solving tricky distance learning challenges. You'll hear from other teachers and education experts as they share solutions backed by cutting-edge research. RSVP: https://t.co/hAQXYMnNMQ https://t.co/GMfZzRPS1P
September 27, 2020, 1:20 PM
Finding a healthy balance of screen time can be challenging in this season of distance learning. Yet right now, screens are the only safe way for many young people to learn or socialize. How should kids and teens navigate this dilemma? Let's explore: https://t.co/pyIyT3E94R https://t.co/oP1I8wWkoj
September 26, 2020, 11:39 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales