Sitting in my house, at my computer working on the management of my now online high school Living Environment course, I can’t help but reflect on how I ended up here. Most of us are still reeling about this global disaster which seemed to develop in hyper-speed over the past six months. The COVID-19 pandemic first showed up in the United States at the end of January, and now, 3 months later it is in every state. With school closures across the country, people are understandably worried about what will happen as the school year comes to a close. How will students complete their courses so they can move on next year?
This is an unprecedented situation. The last time there was a global pandemic, the world wasn’t quite as well…. global; people were more spread out and didn’t travel across the Earth with the ease of an airplane ticket. Yet, as smartphones have become ubiquitous in our society, it’s amazing how unprepared we are to teach and learn remotely. As anyone who has completed a degree online, just because you can do the work while wearing your pajamas, doesn’t make it easy. In fact, when comparing degrees I’ve gotten in a traditional format versus degrees I’ve earned online, the online programs are typically harder since body language can’t be used to convey understanding. And that doesn’t even bring in the teachers’ knowledge or ability to use the software to design and manage their courses online so that students can learn at a distance.
As an Ed-Tech specialist, I typically make use of a variety of digital resources in creating learning experiences for my students. I like to view myself as a facilitator, as someone who designs the learning experiences for my students and then helps guide them through the resources to learn the content. With information so easily accessible via smartphones and the internet, our role as content delivery vehicles is changing. Not that we should start educating students by plugging them into a computer with no personal element much like how the Vulcan’s of Star Trek are educated. But education should be keeping up with society’s technological innovations.
And I can’t help but think that this remote learning experience will change our educational system going forward. How could it not?
That might be a silver-lining on this whole experience. Not that this once in a century event will happen again, but because of how much it could add to the experience of learning. The more that we use research and technology to increase quality of life, the longer and healthier we live so why wouldn’t we do the same for education? Why wouldn’t educators use new research and technology to increase the quality of the learning experiences in education?
That is not to say that worksheets should be replaced with pdf scans of worksheets. Substitution is the lowest level of the SAMR framework for integrating educational technology which is followed by addition, modification and then redefinition. Immersive learning redefines teaching and learning which is the highest level of that same framework. Immersive learning can be used to teach the abstract and the impossible. With virtual reality, I can teach sharks in marine biology by virtually bringing my students face to face with a virtual shark. Digital resources can also be used to personalize learning experiences for students or adapt to their needs. For example, Inq-ITS virtual labs utilizes adaptive learning to teach science concepts while reinforcing NGSS cross-cutting concepts and the Claims Evidence Reasoning framework. The teacher’s dashboard keeps track of each student, in real-time, what they are understanding and what they need help with.
However digital the learning becomes or no matter the distance involved, education needs the human element. That much is for sure. No matter what digital resource is being used, learning doesn’t happen without feedback and transfer. Someone has to look at student results to guide their path through the curriculum. Someone needs to know the resources available and in which situation students need to use them. Someone needs to know the individual students, how they learn, how to relate the information to them, engage them in learning and help keep them motivated.
I can’t help but wonder what the future of education will look like after this COVID-19 ordeal but I am hoping that we learn the assembly-line method of teaching students doesn’t work in today’s world, that teachers should be teaching students to think and not memorize content that can be looked up in seconds using a smartphone, and to not be afraid of using technology to personalize learning experiences for our students.