Experts look to make distance learning more effective

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many school districts, teachers, students and parents to take a crash course on distance learning as school close to prevent COVID-19 transmission and school scramble to find curriculum and computer equipment to keep students' education on track.

Some educators in the Bay Area have been doing online learning long before the pandemic, however, and are trying to help.

Stanford University's Stanford Online High School since 2006, teaches students from across the U.S. and 32 countries, through online classes.

"We have about 800 students and we are covering grades 7th through 12th," said Tomohiro Hoshi, Head of Stanford Online High School.

Hoshi and the faculty decided to post webinars on their website sharing tips to help educators transition to online classes.

Some of their tips to keep students engaged online include:

  1. Try to avoid long lectures
  2. Have students do group work and discussions in smaller breakout rooms
  3. Text chats can help students communicate with teacher and classmates
  4. Create opportunities for students to socialize

Hoshi says that student engagement, in many ways, might be even more important than virtual classroom content.

"We do student assemblies and speaker series," said Hoshi, "I have been recommending school administrators in particular to think about those aspects maybe first even, because connecting students is such an important thing."

Educators can also access a growing number of lessons and resources.

Zachary Pardos is an associate professor of education at U.C. Berkeley who has researched and written about online learning.

"The federal government has been funding a lot of these kind of efforts to cull together these freely usable resources, and is one example of a federally funded effort," said Pardos, who adds that the free materials database is organized by common core curriculum.

Pardos says other useful tools are adaptive apps.

"These kinds of programs can essentially personalize homework problems so it gives the right problem to students at the right time based on their background knowledge," said Pardos.

Pardos says he also comes to the virtual class early to talk informally with students and has students lead parts of the discussion, to foster communication.

"I allow students to propose a question of the day and that's how we start the day," said Pardos.

The California School Boards Association says they are hosting webinars to help teachers, but students will need internet access and computers and educators can't do it alone.

"We are calling on all our partners philanthropic, corporate and of course governmental," said Troy Flint, a California School Boards Association spokesman, "You already have a group of students who have had a diminished education for several months and we have to mitigate any more learning loss that would occur in these next several months."

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana.