Teaching in the Covid society: a Lesson in Charting the New Normal

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About the Author: Genevieve Simiyu is Chief Operations Officer at Chalkboard Education. An expert in education management and distance learning, she oversees several distance training programmes cumulating dozens of thousands of learners across Africa.

elcome to the class of 2020! If, like us, you are worried to see your school closed by the Covid crisis, by the end of this session you will have:

  1. Realised we are all in this together, and will not only survive but also thrive through this ;
  2. An introduction to migrating from traditional learning environments to virtual environments.

The current global mood (those of you who thought you could skip class by muting words, have a seat) has changed the fabric of human society. There is unprecedented disruption in every aspect of life as we know it. In a matter of weeks we no longer worship like we used to, shop like we used to, eat out as we used to, travel like we used to, nor celebrate like we used to.

Education has not been spared either, with schools and universities staring at the challenge of maintaining continuity in teaching and learning while bracing for prolonged school closures.

Overwhelmingly, the temptation for many educators has been to reach for the simplest solution and conduct classes using web conferencing tools to remotely connect students and teachers. The assumed benefit to this approach is completing the school year without extensive interruptions. Students win, teachers win, schools win. Easy as boiling an egg.

However, the truth is that our knee jerk reactions are setting a precedence for the new normal. As we transition from reaction to proactivity, we need to acknowledge that creating effective remote learning solutions is not as simple as it might first appear. Migration to a remote learning environment is not only a technical issue, but also a pedagogical and instructional one.

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Photo by NESA by Makers

Migration to a remote learning environment is not only a technical issue, but also a pedagogical and instructional one.

For many instructors, technology is misrepresented as “the solution”. However, Technology only serves as a means of delivery. Therefore, transplanting technology without careful consideration is not the best solution for students and teachers in the long term. .

A successful effort to move school outside of traditional brick and mortar structures requires cross-collaboration amongst instructional, content, and technology teams to craft a holistic solution.

The pedagogical transformation requires mobilisation across the nation. Here are a few key considerations.

Teacher Readiness and Preparation

Our teachers were schooled in the art of face to face delivery and that’s what they know best. However, conducting classes in a virtual environment introduces new unknowns, such as when and how to use video conferencing, share learning material, respond to students’ questions, and so much more.

Teachers who have never taught in a virtual environment would need to start from a set of new basics, learning not just the tools but also how to manage an online classroom. This training will, by necessity, take place in a very compressed timeframe.

Another factor to consider; which methods and times are suitable for classroom sessions? The desire, of course, is to follow the most familiar model, which is to conduct classes synchronously with all students in virtual attendance. However, owing to the varied and unpredictable nature of each student’s household realities, instructors may eventually conclude that an asynchronous approach yields better results.

As we beat a hasty retreat to the security of our homes, we realize that we are merging our careers with our status in society leading to us performing various roles concurrently; spouse, parent and now teacher. This new reality makes flexibility in schedules equally important for teachers as it will be for students.

Flexibility will need to be incorporated into pedagogy so that teachers can teach and manage the “disruption” in their households.

Student Readiness

We assume that students are tech-savvy by virtue of being the internet generation, but that may not be the case when it comes to learning online. Some students have limited or no experience with blended and/or online learning, they will not be prepared to be successful in a fully online school experience.

Online learning presents its own unique set of challenges. Distractions are rife on digital devices, from all notification overload to the siren call of social media and gaming or entertainment apps on mobile devices. But distractions also come from the student’s environment, depending on their ability to isolate into a quiet place to study from, their free time at home, or lack thereof. Success in online instruction will require a student to be very structured, maintain high levels of self-motivation and high standards of self-discipline.

While online learning may be transitioned into by the more mature, senior high school students, you can only imagine the challenges of delivering K12 instruction online. Certain considerations and approaches will have to be made for these children who have shorter attention spans and/ are new to the concept of formal education.

Learners with special needs for accessibility (such as hearing and visual impairments) need to be carefully considered as technology takes its place in teaching and learning. An additional effort will be required to accommodate students with different learning styles or learning disabilities.

There is a high likelihood that alternative methodologies that provide better student support would be required to augment existing solutions. The role guardians play in instruction would be increased and potentially redefined beyond current expectations.

Role of Information Technology Teams

Prior to evacuating off-site and into an online environment, schools and stakeholders need to clearly define the role of information technology in the process. IT staff members may not be trained teachers, and they will need to work closely with the teaching staff of their institutions.

It is essential that digital technology does not dictate instruction and pedagogy. IT serves as a tool for operational and technical support to an instructional and pedagogical decision.

Large technology mobilization efforts must consider systems, devices, and network access to make this approach equitable and successful for all.

Students and educators need a device (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) in their households with which to access the virtual environment. Institutions would need to assess if they or their solution provider would be able to provide support for students and teachers who do not have access to connected devices.

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Photo by NESA by Makers

Most importantly, organizations that do not possess in-house IT staff are advised to lean on the technical expertise of their chosen service provider. Here are a few aspects institutions must validate with their service provider :

Network Access & Internet Connectivity

The success of education in a virtual environment is often heavily dependent on the ability of Telcos to handle the increased network load. Mobile network coverage also plays a critical role in determining the success of virtual environments.

The connected experience can be extremely frustrating if systems are slow and unresponsive due to bandwidth or equipment challenges. This is one of the biggest roadblocks encountered when rapidly ramping up virtual alternatives.

Softwares must also be designed to function seamlessly on students’ actual devices: not all learners have the latest smartphone, some have to share their tablet or computer, some may have a good smartphone but not a lot of data. These situations must be covered by the service provider.

Some online learning platforms like Chalkboard Education are designed from the ground up to not require a sustained connection or an expensive smartphone to function.

Privacy, Data, and Safety

A quick and emphatic mention must be made of privacy and security. The sanctity of student’s data must not be taken lightly under any circumstances and measures should be put in place to protect it, especially considering how a lot of the users of these learning systems will be minors. This includes communications and content encryption, data protection against theft or fraud, prevention against phishing, and full compliance.

These measures should not be done merely out of a fear of legal consequences, but also out of the ethical centre and adherence to an educator’s core mission i.e: creating a safe and enabling environment for the development and nurturing of a child’s mind.

Technical Support

Last, but undoubtedly not least, all the stakeholders need to plan for providing instructional and technical support to teachers, guardians and students.

Students and teachers need to know how they will get additional support for instructional needs and technology challenges. Ideally, this would be a toll-free call and support center staffed by instructional support and IT staff speaking students and families’ primary language.

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The Chalkboard Education mobile application, 2019.

conclusion, moving education outside of traditional physical classrooms is a necessary response which requires thought, coordination, and careful decision-making.

It’s a brave new normal. The best solutions will require a paradigm shift across the kaleidoscope of new challenges.

We are already seeing great wins and heartwarming stories of educational success across the world. From posts on successful online dissertations to adorable kindergarten home education videos, there is light shining bright in the middle of what looked like a dark endless tunnel.

And as we learn and adapt with bold steps into the future, one thing is for sure, the internet connects us all and it will continue to school us.

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To support schools during the Covid crisis, Chalkboard Education is offering its dashboard and application for free to schools in Ghana. T&Cs apply. For enquiries, contact us by email at hello@chalkboard.education

Educational technology in Africa and emerging markets https://www.chalkboard.education/

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