Managing e-Learning | Part 2

Virtual learning and continuity of instruction (including during planned/unplanned school closures) has always been a topic close to my heart. When I wrote about it back in 2018 little did I know that just over a year later the entire world would be actively discussing it and engaging with various aspects of it. As schools and colleges around the world try to come to terms with this daily developing situation with Covid19 a lot of interesting perspectives are coming to the foreground. The bottomline seems to be this – blended learning will now be the de facto standard.

During these stressful times while it is important that short term plans be concrete, practical and reliable, my focus has been on discussions that provoke and urge us to go beyond the immediate. As much as it is critical that schools focus on the foreseeable future, the big message still remains that teaching and learning will (must) look and feel different once we resume campus based classes in time. My search for such readings led me down a research rabbit hole of sorts and I emerged with a few good recommendations. As a way to document my thoughts on some of the diverse reading I have been doing around this topic (and to finally start writing again!) this follow up is posted.

Changing nature of things

Yong Zhao, a professor at the University of Kansas, posted this piece – Tofu is not Cheese : Reimagine Education Without Schools During Covid19 – that touched upon a lot of interesting points. The takeaways for me were the following:

  • The crisis has created an opportunity for global competence to be addressed and taught. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and decision makers. This unique situation that the entire planet has been put into has allowed for us to recognize the interdependent and interconnected ways in which our lives exist. Recognizing and working towards a more well planned and vision based approach for all future decisions.
  • The culture of banning devices/technology/resources should transform into teachable moments that advocate for more competence and literacy of technology usage by allowing them. Else, online education is not possible.
  • Digital Competence needs to become a front burner item. Various organisations across the world are moving towards children (and adults) developing a critical and confident approach to using technology. Having a completely online learning environment, like the one Covid19 has presented, creates innovative spaces for related work to take place.

Another article that I found quite revealing is a collaborative piece put together by professors from different universities in the States. Titled – The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning – the article addresses lot of important factors that will go into re-imagining education technology post Covid19. The authors make a strong case for the crucial re-examination of how the term “online/virtual learning” is defined by different schools. Of course, context and setting matters for each school. This includes infrastructure, regional challenges, local realities etc. But it does not change the base point that a renewed attention needs to be given to the idea that “business as usual” can resume once schools re-open for classes.

Having worked in three very diverse international schools over the last two decades, I have been fortunate to have witnessed three different versions of online/continuity of learning. From the evolution of the idea (designed during a crisis much like the Covid19 situation) to a fully functional learning management system that had both time, space and funding behind it, I have seen a lot of factors go into every type of implementation. Some of the points made in this article made me reflect upon my own experiences which I wish to highlight below.

  • Terminology matters. Putting various different types of educational technology – mobile, blended, virtual, distance, distributed etc. – into one bracket creates a false sense of readiness when a real crisis emerges. So institutions need to carefully examine what brand of online learning is being used in their context.
  • One of the key factors that slots different types of online teaching and learning experiences is the timing. Purposefully built and carefully structured learning environments tend to switch to 100% online modes much quicker than those that were not. The piece refers to a book – Learning Online: What Research Tells Us about Whether, When and How. – which takes a closer and deeper look at the various individual components as dimensions and analyses different aspects – such as assignments, engagement, pacing, pedagogy – to examine features.
  • The critical role of social aspects of education – such as libraries, health services, counseling – are processes that have gone through various stages of evolution and improvement in a school. Hence, ensuring there is room for these spaces even within the online capacity is important. Without them online learning is merely content delivery.
  • Faculty and staff need to have higher levels of digital competence – despite the varied nature of it – prior to moving to a completely remote teaching/learning mode. People used to getting individual tech help for a wide range of issues would need to have effective training and ongoing PD available at all times to continue doing the same when designing their own courses for a completely online environment.

The final piece I wish to document here is this editorial piece from The World Bank. Christobal Cobo, a Senior Education Specialist, and Inaki Sanchez, an analyst with World Bank’s global ed tech team, underline the digital divides that have only become more prominent because of Covid19 and some successful examples of scaling up teaching and learning during these times. This piece resonated with me for two important reasons:

  1. Lack of digital equity for teaching and learning is a critical issue that continues to challenge schools around the world. Communities that have addressed this challenge – at various levels – hold key elements of planning and implementation even for systems with lesser digital gaps.
  2. The difference between schools that are content suppliers and those that maximize learning opportunities is an important one. Again, like in an earlier example, well planned approaches to ensure there is a cohesive structure to teaching and learning is also part of the scaling process.

In this piece they focus on three important factors that can impact how scalable online education can be.

  • Crowdsourced content, curation and classification.
  • Scalability of education materials through different kinds of media.
  • Flexible digital pedagogies.

Governing bodies in Central and South America have teamed up with academic institutions to help expand the reach of educational content to every part of their region. By creating a balance between content, channels of access and support structures. scalable and future focused Ed Tech solutions can be designed.

Other suggested reading

These are a few more articles I found with interesting perspectives (specially the one from Italy) that look at how things have changed and can change going forward into a post Covid19 world of education.