Emergency Remote Teaching Is Not The Same As E-Learning Innovation by Calvin Eaton


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Emergency Remote Teaching Is Not The Same As E-Learning Innovation

As an a educator long before the COVID-19 pandemic I have been a strong supporter and advocate for the incorporation of technology innovation, e-learning, and remote learning into the traditional American K-12 model of classroom instruction. Earlier this week social media went into an uproar when Governor Cuomo in one of his daily addresses suggested that remote learning could become a permanent part of life for New York students, even after the coronavirus pandemic ends. According to an article featured on Syracuse.com Cuomo was quoted as saying:

“The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in New York City. “Why? With all the technology you have?”

Given Andrew Cuomo’s shady past and present of defunding New York’s states most impoverished districts, supporting and doubling down on common core curriculum and focusing on state testing at the expense of student centered instruction the uproar wasn’t surprising. Cuomo in true Cuomo fashion forgot to “read the room” when he made his statements and if there was anyone less trustworthy to ensure that education technology, and funding was equitably distributed to every student in every school it would be him. The digital divide couldn’t have been highlighted more than it has been during this pandemic and the communities that have been most impacted by the closure of schools are those that are the most rural and that support students and families with the lowest incomes. In my frequent visits to urban and rural classrooms throughout Nashville and New York over the last decade, I have longed been stunned at how disparate schools are when it comes to technology as an asset to classroom instruction. The spectrum of poor to great is just too wide with some schools lacking a stable internet connection to classrooms with technology specialists assigned to every grade level. Still as a content creator and educator I couldn’t help but be inclined to put the messenger aside and analyze the themes elucidated within Cuomo’s message.

The questions that are being posed to be considered by the state mirror many that I too have been asking for almost a decade. It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for the Department of Education to seriously and intentionally ask the following questions:

  • How can schools use technology to provide more opportunities to students no matter where they are?
  • How can technology help provide shared education among schools and colleges?
  • How can technology reduce educational inequality, including for students learning English as a new language?
  • How can schools use technology to meet the needs of students with disabilities?
  • How can the state provide teachers more tools to use technology?
  • How can technology provide greater access to high quality education no matter where students live?
  • How can schools use classroom technology to recreate larger class or lecture hall environments, given ongoing social distancing rules?
Intentional Instructional Design

As I shared in a spirited discussion on Facebook, I think it is important to not conflate “emergency remote teaching” with thoughtful, accessible, and complimentary e-learning and distance learning innovation and instruction.

The adhoc and ill-directed homeschooling that families have been thrust into since the pandemic is not the type of “best practice” e-learning and distance learning setup that I am envisioning. Distance and e-learning innovation in the K-12 classroom are genuine discussions that we can and should be having. E-learning and distance learning within classrooms should also not come at the expense of classroom teachers, instructors and technology specialists. In fact, it should be the very opposite of that.


However, before we can have salient conversations around e-learning, distance learning and technologically advanced classrooms there has to be a conversation about more federal and state funding for low income schools and more equitable funding. Then and only then can we be in a place to have legitimate conversations about technology and e-learning innovation in public education. Additionally, rank and file teachers, students and parents have to have a seat at the table.

If we learn anything from this pandemic most important is that we cannot simply revert to the way we used to operate. Not as schools, not as people, not as a society. The one size fits all (who are able-bodied) approach that is so integral to K-12 education in the U.S has never worked for all students. The standard 6+ hour school day has never been best for every student. More funding should be given for true technology innovation that might incorporate distance learning where it fits and works. This technology should be accessible for all K-12 classrooms, all students and all families. These conversations are very necessary now more than ever as we continue to advance as a global and technology based society and culture. If the Governor and organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are truly being genuine in being truly inclusive in how they approach these conversations they would do well to start these after the pandemic is better managed and not a moment before.

During these uncertain times a 540Monthly Membership ensures that 540WMain is able to create multi-media content, virtual classes, and educational programming rooted in and taught from a social justice and anti-racism perspective. If you love 540WMain consider becoming a 540Monthly member for a little as $3/month. 



  1. Remote learning discloses digital divide in lower-income communities, The Blade

  2. Don’t Call This ‘Homeschooling’ , Life Hacker 

  3. Is going to school in person obsolete? Cuomo wonders why ‘old model’ persists

  4. As Cuomo ponders deep spending cuts, schools start to scramble, Buffalo News 

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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