Drones Could Overcome Problems with K-12 Online Learning

By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt, PMP, CLTD
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University

During this pandemic, companies are doing their part to flatten the curve. Their work has allowed citizens to remain safely in their homes while also receiving critical resources to sustain a sense of normality in their lives.

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Drones have been utilized for a multitude of purposes from aerial photography to storm damage surveys to community protection. As an instructor who researches autonomous transportation mechanisms, I have realized that drones shed new light and promise as the next wave of technology in this field. But there is one potential use of drones that hasn’t been fully explored yet: K-12 online learning.

The Challenges of Distance Learning for K-12 Students 

Many school districts will soon decide on the type of learning environment best suited to address the needs of students for the Fall 2020 semester. While many brick-and-mortar post-secondary institutions are adopting a hybrid learning approach, K-12 educators have opted for full-time online learning. Distance learning is the best option to keep children socially distant from one another and reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it also presents some educational challenges. Many parents have quickly realized the importance of highly skilled educators and fear their child will be left behind if a new approach to distance learning is not implemented quickly. In addition, many of the normal resources in the school environment that place an emphasis on hands-on activities and social interaction are absent in the distance learning environment. Similarly, students utilizing public aid rely on school-provided meals to function effectively and sustain their mental health. Blogger Jeremy Morgan notes that online learning is also complicated by the fact that many households with K-12 students lack the internet service or computer equipment required to sustain a fruitful learning environment. Although some schools have created educational curriculum packets, developing these paper packets for every student is a very expensive, environmentally unfriendly. Morgan points out that this option could be alleviated with today’s advanced technologies. Furthermore, many parents work outside of the home. So if a child is under the supervision of a secondary family member or friend, there is a greater chance that a well-intentioned, yet ill-equipped adult will assist in that student’s online learning. As a result, some students are left to fend for themselves and have to become independent self-starters in the online learning environment. In addition, the mental strain of self-isolation is challenging for most people, but especially for children. Can we really expect children to sit in front of a computer for six hours a day and gain the same social, behavioral, and educational achievements as they would in the brick-and-mortar environment? Education that requires hands-on work, such as a music class, shop class or science lab, will be particularly challenging to successfully teach in the online environment.

Now Is the Time to Think Outside the Box with K-12 Online Learning

While the health safety concerns outweigh the challenges with K-12 distance learning, now is the perfect opportunity to think outside the box and develop new ways of teaching students. This is the time to develop new technologies for students at all levels from special education to advanced learning. Likewise, students can learn at their own pace and tailor the curriculum to their needs. For example, is it more productive to have one day a week devoted to mathematics, as opposed to 45 minutes a day working on math problems? Other questions to be considered include:
  • Is homework still needed if a student is directly engaged with an instructor for six hours a day?
  • Could quizzes and tests be graded instantaneously, providing prompt feedback to students and providing the instructor more time to focus on targeted learning activities?
  • Can technology remove the unconscious bias children face in the classroom?

The Advantages of Using Drones to Deliver Books

Coupling technology with available resources led to the development of school librarians developing a new way to deliver books to students. According to the Washington Post, drone-based book delivery is the newest concept in using available technology to help students get the educational resources they need. Using drones for book delivery has many positive attributes. Books are sanitized between shipments, which can decrease the rate of infectious disease transmission. Books are sorely needed for enhancing reading skills, reading comprehension and researching topics. Drone delivery levels the playing field and provides equal access to educational resources. Students in both urban and rural areas can benefit from drone technology,  provided that there is an acceptable landing pad for the books, which are delivered in protected drone delivery boxes. There is also a higher level of comfort using drones as opposed to other forms of autonomous travel, mainly because a human is driving the technology.

The Drawbacks of Drones

The Post notes that drones have been in the mainstream for a decade, and there are start-up drone companies dating back to 2013. But as with any technology, there are drawbacks:
  1. Qualified drone technicians are needed to keep up with the increasing demand.
  2. Drones can only travel a certain distance, which limits some residents outside of the delivery zone.
  3. Environmental weather factors — such as wind, temperature, precipitation, and humidity — can affect the shipping package as well as the contents.
  4. Some districts may not be able to afford the start-up costs associated with creating a drone delivery service.
  5. There are currently drone dead zones, such as near airports, where drones are prohibited from flying. This may pose challenges to students living in these areas.
  6. There are still regulatory challenges with drones. For example, while any U.S. citizen can purchase a drone, consumers must register their device via a national database.
  7. Last, but not least, the U.S. Congress passed a 2012 law requiring the FAA to issue rules for legalizing the commercial usage of drones in the United States by September of 2015.
As Morgan states, “Every school system is different, but they’re all facing the same problems right now.” While drone technology can greatly help educators, are we doing a disservice to tomorrow’s leaders by using drones just for educational purposes? Perhaps drone delivery could be expanded to delivering meals to youth of low socio-economic status or to provide hands-on technology to students. Similarly, drones could alleviate the burden faced by our postal system employees and oversee Just In Time deliveries for the last mile. Drones can ensure no student is left behind when it comes to having access to reading materials. While there are no guarantees, this new approach to delivering resources can not only flatten the curve, but also decrease the negative effects of K-12 distance learning by providing resources in a new and innovative way.

About the Author

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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