Ancient literature from Homer’s Iliad to the Old Testament seem to associate disease with the idea that man is being punished for his sins. The current pandemic is being considered the greatest disruptor in recent times and each day the world wakes to news detailing the economic and political aftermath as science continues in its efforts to predict the genetic makeup of this new pathogen. However, while our favourite bookstore or restaurant got eulogies and airlines received bailouts, the education sector slowly witnessed a tectonic shift. The year 2020 has impacted students across all ages. Educators teaching 5-year-olds remain wary of the impact that swiping iPads instead of manipulating Play-Doh will have on fine motor skills. Colleges, in the meanwhile, struggle to ensure that admission criteria are able to effectively reflect how students have handled the limitations imposed by the pandemic.
However, the past months have also reaffirmed that in every adversity lies great opportunity. Schools rose to the challenge of ensuring continuity in education. Embedding technology in the learning experience became the norm rather than the best practice. Online education has begun to change learning in many positive ways. The teacher as the ‘CEO’ or Chief Engagement Officer’ has been nudged even further to rethink pedagogy, collaboration and assessment to ensure that every learner remains engaged. Moving away from worksheet driven lessons which encouraged the helicopter teacher to micromanage every decision of the learner, the virtual world is pushing every educator towards good teaching; helping students learn how to learn (explicit teaching of ATL skills) has become a key driver. Designing lessons that take the student away from screen time while simultaneously building stamina for independent learning and assessing for skills rather than content (open book examinations coupled with viva voce opportunities) have all been positive outcomes that must not be lost even when the inevitable return to the classroom happens.
As is often said in the world of business, customer perception is your reality. To understand the impact of remote learning on our learners, the IB students were given an opportunity to participate in a brief survey. It has been reassuring that while many students believe the learning experience remains the same as face to face, some students have validated that the online learning experience has actually offered positives.
- 88.7% of the respondents believe that teaching strategies have changed to accommodate the virtual learning environment
- 75.8% of the students feel they are more attentive in an online platform
- 50% of the students feel the online experience is the same as teaching. 14.5% feel this is better than face to face learning as they don’t get distracted by what their classmates may be doing
- 56.5% feel they connect with their classmates the same as school. 8.1% feel more connected now than before as they are comfortable chatting online with more people
- 51.6% feel that they connect the same with their teacher in terms of 1:1 interactions after lessons for a brief discussion. 33.9% felt they connect more often now as it is easier to actually find the time to meet with them
- 93.5% have accessed lesson recordings and find this beneficial to resolve any pending questions that remain in the mind
Specific aspects of online learning that our students enjoy include:
- Using the whiteboard feature with the teacher.
- Conducting and playing games for learning in class (Kahoot&Padlet being popular choices)
- Interacting and discussing topics together where everyone is free to speak (somehow feels less judgmental)
- Connections with classmates, a bit of levity and discussions
- Cold calling by the teacher encourages concentration
- Unique activities eg using body language to convey the name of a city/book to appreciate the difference between effectiveness of body language and language in TOK, or watching a live experiment demonstrated by the teacher to show hydrophobicity of a substance and describe cell membrane in Biology
- The chat!
The impact of online learning on student participation remains a mixed bag with 45.2% of the respondents believing they participate more but 54.8% who feel participation has not necessarily increased. It may be noted that this however, does not mean participation has decreased.
Interestingly, 66.7% of the students felt that assessments have become more challenging. Further study is required to understand if the focus on skills has led to this belief.
To summarise, the new learning environment has clearly resulted in many positives. The benefits often associated with disruptive innovation have manifested in the world of education as well. Educational institutes strategise to increase accessibility to education and to create processes which measure what truly matters rather than simple test scores. As educators we recognise that it is possible to maintain a ‘social distance’ that enables learners to build independence while we remain at arm’s reach for help as required.
The impact of online learning on the mental wellbeing of young learners is also important to evaluate closely. Of course the approaches to support students have also needed to adapt accordingly.
Ancient literature is being proven wrong. Rather than a punishment or a simple blip in an otherwise smooth and established pathway, disease has shown us the human potential to flip to a more positive, a more sustainable way of teaching and learning.