Online learning during covid-19 - how to keep kids engaged.

Is this Pandemic a Portal?


There we have it. Summer has wrapped up and we’re back in the thralls of it all, just like that. As we take back to the classrooms in whatever format we’re allowed, we must take a deeper look at what to expect, what can be done now, and what’s on the other side.  

So, what can we expect? Continued uncertainty, disruption, and an exhaustive onslaught of new EdTech options. While this at first paints a frightening picture, there’s more to it. A colleague of mine recently shared the following quote from Arundhati Roy’s, “The Pandemic is a Portal”:  

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” – Arundhati Roy 2020

What struck me about this quote and article is twofold. One, we must acknowledge and name what wasn’t working for us and our learners. If we avoid that uncomfortable step, we’re naturally doomed to repeat. The other result of this approach allows and invites us to let go and start fresh. When exploring how to supplement education during this new school year here are some questions to stick against whatever technology or program you’re considering:

Does the platform or engagement promote communication between educator, student, and family?  Social interactions have been frayed and we must offer ways to connect within the community regularly.  

What makes this technology, workshop, or class engaging?  With remote learning, we can expect less supervision for our students, thus engaging and relevant material will have to be the driver.

What are the feedback loops for our learners?  Technology can often streamline assessment, but there can be a catch. With auto populated forms / grades, there can be less reflection and agency around students’ work.  

How does the learning environment address Socio Emotional Learning?  Especially critical in a time of crisis, it is imperative to address the needs of the whole learner. With instruction potentially behind a screen, what activities are embedded to build on relationship skills and responsible decision making?

TLDR;  As we’re now equipped to ask these questions of ourselves and those in the expansive pipeline of forming educational opportunities for our learners, we can see the other side of the portal. What does it look like? Well, that’s up to us.


John Balash was instrumental in Digital Dragon’s launch in 2013 as its first Curriculum Director and is now back in the fold as a consultant on all the latest and greatest in tech education.This is John’s latest contribution to a monthly blog series we’ve launched, Tech News from the Frontier. John is the Director of Educational Engagement at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. John has worked on educationally-focused initiatives with clients ranging from D.A.R.P.A. to Disney. Working from both sides of the desk, you can find John in classrooms and conferences around the world exploring new uses for technologies in learning environments.