It’s Not About Online Learning: A Reflection on the “New Normal” in Education (Part 2)

*This is the second part of a reflective article on the new normal in education. Read Part 1.

5. Sound pedagogy drives the use of online tools and resources.

OECD’s study on the use of technology tools in learning can be a starting point in the discussion on the effective use of online tools in remote or distance learning. The influential study found out that, even with the use of tech tools in learning, students did not necessarily learn better. In fact, the study pointed out how tech tools were not used effectively because the teachers were not trained to properly and meaningfully integrate the tech tools in 21st century pedagogy. With these results from the study, schools should ensure that teachers do not simply transfer or translate what they do inside the classroom into their online “classroom.” There are certain dynamics that work well in face-to-face instruction but do not in online learning. For example, the classic example of long lectures or teacher-driven discussions that usually happen in the classroom may not translate well in online learning. Students may wander off from or lose their focus on the lesson especially since there are other competing sources of attention in their devices. 

In the new normal, teachers should transform how they teach online, especially since online tools and resources present numerous affordances that teachers and students can take advantage of. Teachers can curate the best online learning resources about their topics and create learning playlists or menus that can make the learning process a personal journey for every student. Teachers should avoid being a content dumper, but instead be a master curator of resources that enable engaging and deeper learning. Moreover, teachers should design effective synchronous and asynchronous learning activities that enable sustained engagement, self-regulation, voice, and choice in students. To be able to do these, teachers should always remember that sound pedagogy should drive the use of tech and not the other way around. Avoid jumping into the bandwagon. Instead, start first with a solid understanding of 21st-century pedagogy. 

6. Review purpose of assessments and grades in times of emergencies.

At this point of the pandemic, assessments and grades continue to be controversial topics among school leaders and other members of the school community. The questions generally revolve around the relevance and implications of assessing and grading students while the global crisis continues to put security, safety, and health of everyone, especially, the students, in danger. Transitioning to remote learning also made it more challenging for teachers to gauge the students’ understanding of their lessons. What kind of assessments can be properly and meaningfully used in online learning? For younger students, how much parent involvement is allowable to ensure that students can independently demonstrate mastery of learning? What kind of formative feedback can be best given to students who are learning at home?

For the new normal in education, assessments and grades should be reviewed and reimagined so that they continue to be relevant to students. Schools should deeply think about their purposes and priorities in designing assessments or grading students. Beyond making students accountable for their own learning, educators should also bear in mind that in times of emergency remote learning, the higher call probably is to continue encouraging and supporting student learning. One way of doing this is to continuously give students feedback on their learning which can help them reflect on their strengths and find ways to improve themselves further. Eventually, teacher’s feedback serves as verification until students finally “get the lesson.”

Educators agree that grades should reflect what students have learned and can do. However, at this time of the new normal, grades can also cause frustration and anxiety, especially in students whose academic performance may have “suffered” due to factors that are out of their control. Hence, educators are called to practice flexibility in allowing students who are deeply and validly affected by the pandemic to finish their requirements when they are ready and capable of doing so. Educators can also focus more on mastery of learning and adopt grades that demonstrate or indicate mastery of knowledge and skills, or lack thereof. Schools can also be clearer in their criteria of mastery of learning while still maintaining their standards. Teachers can then help students achieve these criteria by constantly giving them feedback. In the end, grades may still be given, but with much fairness, compassion, and flexibility.

7. Forge stronger school community and external partnerships.

The pandemic has highlighted the big gap among schools in terms of equity, access, and support for teachers, students, and education, in general. Some schools quickly responded to the school closures because they had better access to digital technologies and more teachers who are trained and equipped with the skills needed in teaching with technology. On the other hand, some schools dabbled with problems related with access and readiness. Parents also were not spared in this pandemic as they became teachers overnight and had to understand the modules or online learning activities that teachers have created for their children. In reality, not all parents were ready for this new set-up and a lot of them were overwhelmed by the things that they have to do with their children.

In the new normal, there should be a stronger home and school partnership that can facilitate better and more consistent communication and collaboration between teachers and parents. Communication of learning goals, expectations, and feedback can help sustain the needed collaborative relationship between the parents, and the teacher. To do this, the school can create opportunities that can teach parents how to navigate the online learning environment, guide their children as they learn online, and even, nourish their children’s curiosity at home. This idea on partnership can still be further expanded to include the local community, especially the local government units. In the new normal, sustainable and supportive external partnerships with local government units, non-government organizations, and other institutions that can help in enabling a responsive education continuity program should be explored. As schools explore these possibilities for partnership, school leaders and administrators should always keep in mind the need to maintain and guard their institution’s integrity and independence from any self-serving motives that can interfere with the school’s vision and goals. 

8. Privacy, safety, security, and digital well-being are top priorities. 

When schools transitioned to remote learning, a big number of technological and education enterprises took steps to help connect teachers and students. The surge in the use of video-conferencing platforms and learning management systems showed us how educators have found these tools to be quick solutions in addressing the learning gap that the pandemic has caused. On the other hand, since online learning requires students to be on the Internet for a period of time, these long exposures had become opportunities for digital threats, such as cyberbullying and Zoom-bombing, to happen. 

In the new normal, as students get exposed more often to the Internet, teachers should always consider student’s privacy, safety, security, and digital well-being as top priorities for a successful remote or online learning. Schools should adopt a more holistic approach to digital well-being of students. Students and all members of the school community must be trained to safeguard their personal information online. Teachers and parents are called to work hand in hand to keep online learning environments safe and conducive to learning. Schools are called to empower their IT department or staff, who have the responsibility to guard the school community from harmful digital threats and issues. 

9. Flexibility, adaptability, and empathy are essential skills in navigating uncertain times.

As we navigate the intersections of the physical and digital spheres in our lives, the new normal is calling us to develop essential skills that can help us to adapt and thrive in an uncertain future. One thing that the pandemic has taught and reminded us is to have the skills of flexibility, adaptability, and empathy to face the unknown. These skills are not learned and mastered instantly. They are developed over time through our life experiences. These are invaluable skills that we can add in our personal toolkits in facing life’s challenges and thriving in an uncertain future. In the end, regardless of what mode of work or learning we are called to do or be part of, the skills of flexibility, adaptability, and empathy can surely help us to make sense of and adjust well to the immediate call of the times without burning ourselves out or losing our sanity over things. 

For our students, giving them more opportunity to practice and develop these skills is one way of preparing them for life beyond the physical or virtual walls of the classroom. Growth mindset, appreciation of mistakes, and being resilient are important life lessons that we can impart to our students at this of the pandemic. Teaching them to empathize with other people and challenging them to help the other members of the society can make the new normal more bearable, especially for those who are in the margin of the society. 

Conclusion:

The new normal of the society is anything but ordinary. Our attention right now is on online learning as a means to deliver instruction to students who are at home. It is not necessarily bad to push for online learning in the new normal in education. It actually helps the education system to adopt effective and efficient platforms and systems that can unburden teachers from much of their clerical work so that they can focus on the essential aspects of teaching such as supporting and building relationships with students. However, as we embark on this journey toward embracing online learning, the school leaders and decision-makers should not forget the students and families whom the current problems on equitable access and lack of enough funding may put at a disadvantage. Every child has the right to high-quality education. Our decision to move online should not make high-quality education a privilege for those students who can access the Internet. As educators, our role is to break down walls or barriers that prevent students from accessing and enjoying high-quality education. So, in this new normal, let us always uphold the right to high-quality education by providing multiple pathways to learning that can accommodate every student.

More importantly, the new normal in education is calling us once more to review and meet other essential conditions that need to be met before diving into teaching and learning. Let us not forget “Maslow before Bloom,” which remains to be an important prerequisite if we want to have impactful learning in students, even in times of emergencies. Education is not the work of teachers alone. Collaboration and partnership play crucial roles in sustaining learning at this time of the pandemic. Teachers, parents, school leaders, and external partners have to work together to address the many challenging issues of remote learning. In the end, collaboration makes life’s challenges not necessarily easier but more bearable. 

How about you? What’s your re-imagination of the new normal in education?