The speed at which the Covid 19 Pandemic has transformed our everyday lives is perhaps one of the most overwhelming outcomes of this global event.
In a matter of months, economies have been devastated, health systems challenged beyond measure, our lifestyles have become unrecognisably different and technology has become a focal point. We rely upon our internet connection as we seek to communicate, gather information and alerts, conduct employment, educate students, purchase groceries, consult with doctors, distract ourselves…
Meanwhile, our phone has become not only our source of connection and communication, it has also become a tool of surveillance, as our Bluetooth communicates potential encounters with the virus and Safe Entry programs record our personal details each time we enter a park or a shop where more than a few are gathered.
Enter into Google ‘Covid has …’ and this is what appears:
For school educators, Covid-19 has changed something profoundly intertwined with their identity – it has taken away the physical classroom, and face to face teaching.
This has never happened before on such a global scale. While home based learning is certainly nothing new, and online or remote learning happens in a variety of settings, to have whole nations close schools simultaneously is one for the record books. It is clear that on a global scale, this is not something that has been previously planned for, as the inequalities described here make clear.
There are other reasons why using the past months as a measure of the success of online learning would be invalid. Although learning happened via online channels, the speed at which the move into the online space took place meant that curricula and for the most part, pedagogy, remained very similar if not the same as in face to face learning.
This is not a criticism; as someone who has taught in and developed online courses, I could see the differences between the teaching I engaged in when I was working with a curriculum that was designed for online learning, and one which had been written for the face to face classroom. I found it challenging to implement innovative digital pedagogies, even though I have done so before, because my students were not prepared for this type of learning, and there was not enough time to build the culture and capabilities needed to successfully engage with this.
My experience is underlined by this statement by Jesse Stommel, who asks us to:
Stop conflating on-ground and online learning models, which require different pedagogies, administration, economies, curricula, and communities (2020).
This does not mean that I relied completely on traditional methods of teaching; however as someone who has been on ‘both sides of the fence’, I could clearly see the difference between a carefully designed online learning course which was then taught alongside the development of mindsets and skills needed to engage, and the rapid flip from face to face to remote teaching and learning.
Now that we are returning to the classroom, albeit slowly and in a ‘socially distanced’ manner, do we simply close this chapter as a stressful period of our lives and pick up from where we left off?
Or …do we take from this experience not only what we have learnt from a technical perspective, but also…Do we use our Covid experience as a starting point to re-imagine what teaching and learning could be like with a different approach - one that embraces the flexibility that technology offers? Click To Tweet
My background and passion is in helping teachers learn more about how to connect with others to enhance their professional learning and to access collegial support and advice. Therefore, my suggestions are framed by this perspective. It is my belief that when educators feel confident and comfortable in engaging in their own learning using digital tools and in digital environments, this will have a flow on effect to their pedagogical practices and mindsets toward using digital tools and digital environments within the classroom.
Encourage teachers to continue connecting with colleagues using the channels established during this time.
In the first month or so of the pandemic, a veritable flood of digital sharing took place. Facebook groups sprang out of nowhere to receive thousands of contributions each day, and educators began sharing compilations of tools and resources, as well as strategies to teach with these. Pinterest boards multiplied, and Twitter lit up with teachers contributing and sharing.While the pace may have slowed down, maintaining this culture of sharing and exchange is an important step towards the development of personal learning networks for teachers. In times of change, having a network to challenge and encourage which is there 24/7 is a powerful support.
Continue to support and engage with online webinars and conferences
Remote learning has presented a steep learning curve for almost all teachers, and the professional learning that is usually provided face to face has not been possible. Webinars and online conferences have stepped in to fill a need, and have proven that while there is a place for face to face learning, online provision enables many more teachers to access opportunities which were previously out of reach due to timing, geography and other factors. In fact, there is growing discussion about the different ways that professional learning online may be enhanced by using a variety of digital tools – read my colleague Alastair Creelman’s observations about new ways to imagine the traditional conference.
a) Encourage the construction of useful digital resources
Teaching is hard and time-consuming, however with digital curation tools such as ELink or Wakelet, presentation tools such as Padlet, Sway and Piktochart, and design tools such as Canva, it is very possible to create engaging, interactive and yes, re-usable resources for learning. Let’s move away from the PowerPoint slideshow and YouTube video, and take time to imagine new ways of creating content for and even with students.
b) Share these resources openly with networks
An understanding of Creative Commons licencing means that educators can share the resources that they have developed with others, receiving attribution for their work, and also contributing to a pool of resources which could grow if more teachers began embracing an open education approach to the designing and sharing of resources. Every resource needs to be tailored for a specific learning context, however having a starting point in the form of a resource generously shared by another is something that every teacher knows makes their job easier. Giving and receiving on a much larger scale could happen – for the benefit of teachers and their students.
These are just a few points to get the ball rolling. Every day I see educators sharing and inspiring others with their creativity and capacity for innovation. After months of uncertainty and challenge, let’s take advantage of this time to re-imagine how we support the learning of educators.