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Thoughts, Reflections and Challenges on the Shift to E-Learning

April 14, 2020 - 4 minute read

Man Writing and Studying

Saying that the COVID-19 pandemic is rattling the world to its core would be an understatement. The faces of death and desperation that are unfurling in the media, the health and economic statistics that keep exacerbating, and the images of havoc ravaging global communities are a significant threat to people's mental health. While complying with social distancing rules, and staying at home, I have strived to keep the distress at bay using a few practices. One practice is reflecting and researching current essential issues, such as the way the virus is impacting education. Some of these reminiscences focused, in particular, on the shifting skills and roles of teachers during the pandemic, as well as, some instructional considerations that need to be implemented in the sudden shift to online learning.

Adapting to Stay Current
Teachers around the world, at the K-12 level and beyond, are now required to deliver lessons to their students online rather than face-to-face. There is one essential skill that has been catapulted to the forefront, which teachers now need to demonstrate, and which students need to acquire as the wave of technological innovation continues to sweep over education: the art of adaptability. As teachers adapt, their roles are expected to shift significantly to facilitating ubiquitous learning face-to-face, online, or in a hybrid model. The world is on the cusp of the fifth industrial revolution, the era of Artificial Intelligence, which will offer the current Generation Z students’ jobs of which they have, to date, never heard. According to Dell Technologies, 85% of the jobs in 2030 have not been invented yet. Students thus also need to adapt to thrive in their future roles, constantly reskilling as technology moves forward inexorably.

Addressing Equity
Although the online environment is distinctively different from the time-tested classroom setting and requires adaptability, there are some instructional considerations such as equity factors that transcend the context and deserve as much attention in the traditional or online classroom. The increasing use of educational technologies has been criticized as a threat to equity as students who do not have access to the appropriate technological tools, software, or the internet are at a disadvantage. However, there are small steps that a teacher can take to address some of these concerns; adjust the online course to take up less bandwidth (e.g., leave videos off during synchronous sessions, which can be occasionally switched on when needed) choose free and accessible Apps, and technological tools (e.g. moviemaker instead of Adobe premiere for simple video creation), support students who lack technological skills through step-by-step guides. Teachers, however, need adequate infrastructural, emotional, and instructional support to be able to implement appropriate strategies. Training on educational technology is critical to building teacher capacity and should be on-going.

Addressing Student Engagement
Another factor that is important to consider in an online learning environment is student engagement. I do not aim to provide a comprehensive list of all the ways in which a learner can be emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally engaged. However, a few key elements of student engagement jump to mind. The most obvious one is interactivity. In games, this takes the shape of a system of rewards and feedback that manages the learner’s emotions from moment to moment. Maybe educational projects in an online environment can be broken down into small chunks, and a point or other reward system integrated to recognize when project milestones are reached. However, this system is primarily based on extrinsic motivation. Activities and projects selected should align with the interests of the students to nurture intrinsic motivation.

Be Personal and Novel
The second element of student engagement is the ease of use. A teacher has an excellent worksheet for her elementary school students, which requires students to "draw." A few questions that warrant some thought here: how are the students expected to draw? Do they have the technological know-how to be able to draw digitally? Keeping ease of use in mind in designing or revising learning materials for online application can preclude an avalanche of follow-up questions from students. The third element I would like to talk about is narrative. I read a lot of peer-reviewed journal articles, scholarly reports, and books related to my areas of interest. However, nothing draws me in more than a piece of writing that is shaped in a narrative format, with a story that captivates the attention. As I read the book “Educated” by Tara Westover, I was reminded of how much I liked a good story. Using stories to teach concepts is both instructive and fun. A fourth element that comes to mind is novelty. Humans are naturally drawn to new things. Why not harness some of the distinctive features of an online environment to introduce some new learning activities?

These are extraordinary times, and the expectations of and pressures placed on teachers are monumental. Maintaining student learning is a collective responsibility; thus, as teachers navigate these unchartered territories, they need the support of school leadership, parents, and researchers in providing an engaging learning experience to all students. The road ahead is tortuous but as we adapt, the journey will also be rewarding.

Isma Seetal, Ed.D., has worked as a Chemistry teacher and school principal in Mauritius, her home country, for many years. She received her Master’s in Educational Technologies from the University of Mauritius and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Concordia University Irvine. She worked on the Concordia campus as a graduate assistant during her doctoral program. She is interested in a range of research areas in education, particularly in education reform, equity leadership and technologies.

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