Posted by Bobby Schnabel on Aug 06, 2020

As we prepare for a new school year, it is worthwhile asking: what aspects of our more-virtual world are likely to endure beyond the pandemic, and how do we prepare our students for this new world?  In this brief post, I am going to speculate a little on the first question — what will remain (fully or in part) virtual?  

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With a suddenness hardly anyone would have thought possible, our worlds all went virtual somewhere around March of this year. As I write this, they have mainly remained that way, but we are looking at some key aspects returning to a physical/virtual mix within weeks.  Most prominent (and with plenty of controversy) is education ranging from primary school through universities.

As we prepare for a new school year, it is worthwhile asking: what aspects of our more-virtual world are likely to endure beyond the pandemic, and how do we prepare our students for this new world? In this brief post, I am going to speculate a little on the first question – what will remain (fully or in part) virtual?  I’ll also make some brief comments on the second question – how we prepare our students – but leave that mainly for people with more expertise.

What is perhaps most clear and important is that many industries have found that they can function quite effectively with their employees being remote and are saying that they are unlikely to go all the way back.  As an example, I’ve heard comments from several managers in the tech industry that they find their companies are working (nearly) as well with everyone remote as when everyone was together physically.  And there are some major advantages to remote work: much less corporate expenditure on expensive commercial real estate, more employee free time and higher productivity due to eliminating commutes, and increased ability to hire people who aren’t able to live in a particular location. It’s unlikely that many companies will stay fully remote, but even adopting work schedules that mix in-person and remote work for many employees produces the advantages just mentioned.

We also have found in these last few months that many functions for which so many people have been traveling for so long (on airplanes, trains and cars) – sales and marketing, professional society or chapter meetings (with CSTA chapters an excellent example), job recruiting events – can proceed quite well and in fact with certain advantages in a virtual space. Just like the employment situations mentioned above, we will almost certainly see the in-person versions return, but likely, with much more of a mix of in-person and virtual.

Perhaps most interesting for this audience is education.  Education – especially at the primary and secondary level – still is seen as being far preferable in person, and for good reason.  But even there, will we see some blend – e.g. more tendency to go virtual when there is adverse weather, or to allow greater use of existing physical plants when otherwise we would need to build new schools?  Time will tell, but we’ve opened Pandora’s box and also have had to quickly improve our tools for and expertise in virtual education, so online has become more of an option.

What does this mean for the education that we provide our students?  Most over-simplistically, that it will behoove us to provide them with experience in making effective use of virtual environments, for small group work, for larger group experiences, and for accessing educational materials.  This will help prepare them for many occupations, and to take advantage of online higher education that will be increasingly important in lifelong education. Perhaps the biggest guarantee, however, is that if someone looks at this post a year from now, the evolution will be clearer, and a revision will be needed!

Bobby Schnabel
Board Appointed Representative