Schools, colleges, and universities all over the globe have been operating remotely for more than six months, and it is very likely that this session will end without students returning to their classrooms. We do not know how the course will be finished, and this is what is currently focusing the international educational debate.
Indeed, most of the educational conversation during the pandemic revolves around how to evaluate the 2019-20 academic year. Both in specialized and general media. For instance, the question of whether students should have an automatic promotion (which is not the same as a blanket pass) has been much discussed. And there is no doubt that these kinds of questions are important and urgent to solve. An example is online UCAT course, folks pursuing such studies globally, especially the ones just has passed their secondary or high school.
However, the government believes that they must distinguish between what is urgent and what is necessary: sometimes solving emergencies prevents us from thinking about what is necessary. And, if it is true that solving the end of the course is urgent, what is necessary in education is to focus on improving the teaching and learning processes. We must extract lessons from the confinement situation that we are experiencing, in order to apply them.
In relation to this, people can draw some conclusions from their experiences in 2020. All the actors (administration, teachers, students and families) are trying to do their part. But it must be recognized that the system was not prepared; consequently, we are making mistakes.
There are obvious issues, such as the fact that there is a digital divide and a social and educational divide, which are worsening with the pandemic:
Digital divide: How can we conceive that all students have computers if not even teachers have them? We have already covered this issue here, and we have even launched a short recipe for digitizing education.
Social and educational gap: Students already had differences between the most advanced and the laggards, and those differences are going to get bigger with this crisis. That is why we have asked for a great educational reinforcement plan for next year.
After insisting on these questions, today we will focus on some methodological and pedagogical aspects that we can learn from this experience.
One of the most common blunders in the incorporation of technology in education is to repeat traditional methodologies and uses, but with updated means. Where before there were live masterclasses from teachers to students, now there is the same but by videoconference or canned in YouTube videos. Where before there were books on paper, now there are books on screen. And where there used to be photocopied, now there are virtual classrooms like “modern reprographics.”
Let’s focus on this last point. This is something that is being seen a lot, especially in some “innovative” centers that did not use textbooks. How are they working now? Let’s see a very common process these days:
Is this an optimal teaching and learning process? Not really. In many cases, the situation is even worse, with teachers and students communicating through emails at their discretion.
Many members of the educational community are discovering digital education these days. They hang by force. And many are using it in the manner described, but little by little they are seeing that it is not the most convenient. And those who are aware of this “wake up” to other uses and more optimized forms.
We have already said before that the mere inclusion of technology in the classroom does not imply a methodological change, nor an improvement in itself. It will depend on exactly what software is used and how it is used. And that’s where the improvement is.
A positive aspect of the reality of the distance school that we are experiencing is that, in general, the sector is more receptive to understand the added value that some digital resources represent. Because not everything is the same.
In this sense, it is very pertinent and interesting to read an article that has been published these days by Stanford University (USA) and that is available here in PDF. In it, it is analyzed how the inclusion of digital education initially implies an educational improvement due to its novelty, which increases the motivation of students. But once the novelty has passed, the improvement diminishes. This is something that those of us who are dedicated to educational innovation with digital media know.
Improving student motivation is often one of the main traditional arguments to defend the inclusion of technology in the classroom. However, this effect soon fades, and it is necessary to distinguish between the different uses of technology in education.
Therefore, the main conclusion of the aforementioned Stanford article is that the best way to optimize teaching and learning processes is with a mixed-use of traditional and digital methods. During the coronavirus, we are only able to use remote methods. But we are going to learn a lot from the experience, and we must keep the best.
Once we can return to certain normality when that occurs, we will be facing a better education than before the coronavirus, because we will be left with the best of both worlds: the traditional and the digital. Let’s take advantage of the experience to learn and improve.