Let me preface this post by saying, my heart hurts for those who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. This post is in no way meant to trivialize very serious ways in which people have been impacted by this pandemic, instead, it is meant to brighten some of the darkness – at least in terms of education.
When someone asks me what I am going to school for and my response is, “Educational Technology,” I am often met with raised brows and a polite smile of vague understanding – particularly for those outside of the educational sphere. I consider myself fairly skilled in reading the confusion and quickly follow up with, “I am going to school to learn how to teach instructors how to teach by using technology in a meaningful way.” This statement usually yields a more favorable response and nod, but I do not believe most see this as an important or valuable field of study.
The past week and a half I have heard the following statement over and over again from various faculty and administration regarding moving face-to-face classes to an online format: “We’re in crisis mode.”
But are we? Is changing the mode in which course content is delivered really a crisis? It doesn’t have to be. For me, instead of a crisis, I see this as a learning opportunity for the entire education community.
Why do people shun or approach online education? Here are some common complaints I have seen floating around my social media and the internet as a whole for the last several years and my responses:
- Online classes are lower quality than face-to-face
- How does one determine or measure ‘quality’ of teaching and learning in various modalities? Can you use the same measurement for all modalities? Or, is this just an opinion based on fear of change and general distrust of technology?
- Faculty who were hard to connect with in face-to-face classes are difficult to connect with in online courses. Students who submitted work late and have overall issues in interacting with course content in face-to-face classes have the same issues in online classes. There are some foundational and core aspects of people that we just can’t change regardless of modality, and we need to come to terms with that and stop blaming technology and educational environments.
- Discussion is not as rich / very disjointed in online classes
- What makes in-class discussion more enriching and engaging? Can those aspects not be implemented through synchronous chat sessions? What are faculty doing as facilitators to encourage engagement?
- All the work of face-to-face without any of the “fun”
- What aspects of teaching face-to-face do you enjoy? Are there any tools you can find that can help in creating similar aspects in your online class? Technology is not magic – it is only as good as the person using it – how are you using the available technology? Keep in mind that students will feed off of your attitude towards technology and if you are pessimistic and uninspired – the students are more likely to disengage.
- This class/program can’t be moved online.
- Why not? Technology is constantly evolving and new applications and software are being created and adapted everyday. Have you done research in terms of digital tools that can be used in your area of expertise? As we are finding with this pandemic, yes, in fact all programs can be moved online if it needs to be. Never say never!
And yet, here we are, as everyone is forced to flip on a dime and move their face-to-face courses to an online format with very limited time and resources. As this has been happening, I have found more and more faculty and administrators reaching out to me on social media, asking for advice or assistance with tools such as Zoom, Teams, WebEx, etc. I find this to be an exciting time despite the overwhelming feelings of dread and anxiety related to the pandemic in general.
I, and I know many others, have finally been able to offer a helping hand to a plethora of individuals (faculty, students, administration) and guide them in adopting new educational technology to keep their classes afloat. Has it been easy? No. Have there been issues along the way? Absolutely. However, despite any technological issues, we are managing to stay afloat through brainstorming and finding innovative ways to provide students with quality education.
What I am seeing on social media has been so wonderful in terms of response to this situation within education. I am seeing educators come together to work creatively to respond to needs (using educational technology) in a way I had never seen before. I have instructors using Facebook Live to read children stories to comfort and bring joy to their students. Teachers are using Zoom to see their students, regardless of age, so that they still maintain those very important relationships with one another. I see Facebook groups (specifically Pandemic Pedagogy) sprouting up as a safe-space for educators and instructional designers to confide in one another through laughter and camaraderie. I am now seeing memes and funny tweets and tiktoks about Zoom and other tools, that until recently, had rarely been mentioned on a wide-scale.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rodgers
I am sure we are all familiar with the Fred Rodgers quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” In this situation, I look at advocates of educational technology who have long been adopting and researching educational technology as the helpers – at least in education.
I think when this is all over, we will have a ‘new normal’ in education. I think the general population, and more specifically, the education community will have a very different view of educational technology and online learning as a whole – and I am hoping that it is a shift for the better.
I don’t think I will need to justify my career or education again, once this is all over – and I must admit that is a good feeling. Despite all of the horribleness related to this pandemic, I have managed to find a bright spot that has proven to me that educational technology does matter and that my career field does add value – as an instructional designer, educator, and general IT nerd, I have value in this time of need.