By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Parents of school-aged children across our region are currently facing the reality their children may spend at least part of this school year learning remotely.
Over 2,400 students in Johnson City Schools are signed up for the system’s virtual learning program, and with the number of COVID-19 cases in Washington County on the rise, decisions have already been made to delay the return of in-person learning at University School and in the Washington County School System (see story on Page 3).
This means teachers, students, parents and administrators are currently working feverishly to be sure they’re ready to meet the challenge of educating students virtually.
Dr. Jason Horne has been at the forefront of online education for the better part of the past decade. Horne, a graduate of Daniel Boone High School and ETSU, designed Tennessee’s first online high school back in 2012 and served as the school’s principal for a number of years before accepting the position of secondary supervisor in the Campbell County School System.
Horne said the technology to deliver public education online has existed for several years, but it took an event like the coronavirus pandemic for virtual learning to become more accepted as a mainstream option. He likened it to the rapid evolution in airport security following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Airport security was a thing long before 9-11,” Horne said. “But after 9-11, security became what it is today. You’ve got whole industries that developed around just that kind of security.
“I feel like this has been another curb jump for our society. There are a lot of things we have the technology to do remotely that maybe we should be doing remotely. I’m not saying all education should be done remotely, but I think that option definitely can be there and should be there to the extent that we can afford to do it.”
Presently, a group of teachers in Johnson City are being designated as virtual instructors and will each be tasked with teaching a class of students remotely. Teachers currently assigned to classrooms in the city are also preparing for the possibility they’ll have to offer instruction, assign work and administer tests and quizzes online, a scenario that is already a reality for teachers in Washington County and at University School. According to Horne, who was in charge of hiring and overseeing faculty at his virtual school, the attributes that make a teacher effective in the classroom tend to translate to online instruction.
“What I found is that if you’re a good classroom teacher, you can be a good online teacher,” he said. “The same things apply. Work ethic, organization, caring about kids, building relationships and knowing your content – those are really important.”
In order to have a successful experience while learning virtually, Horne said it is important for students and parents to realize there are some pros and cons to online education. On the plus side, the schedule is a little more flexible, and some of the distractions students have at school will be absent when they are learning at home.
But on the other hand, Horne said it is easier for a student to fall behind when he or she isn’t physically in a classroom. Without face-to-face access to a teacher, Horne said it can be tempting for students to procrastinate or fail to ask questions about a concept they don’t understand.
“Most people are unsuccessful online because they get overwhelmed, they get behind and they stop working,” Horne said. “That’s what sabotages most students – procrastination, avoidance, getting stuck on something, being too afraid to ask a question or not knowing how to look it up yourself to get the answer. That’s what happens.
“But if students will take that chance of reaching out to their teacher, staying in touch and communicating, then they’re going to be successful.”