Governments around the world have temporarily shut down schools and universities to contain the spread of COVID-19. In an unprecedented turn, our educational institutions saw the need to bring out their crisis management experts – yet no one could have predicted the scale and impact of this pandemic.
In these challenging times, we are presented with tools, resources, and tips online and offline. But how do we find those that work?
UNICEF estimates that some of the world’s 1.5 billion students, which includes primary, secondary and tertiary students, will not go to school physically. Given the current state of our classrooms and learning establishments, social distancing as part of the “new normal” makes it almost impossible to follow.
The in-person schooling experience is irreplaceable but school systems can still engage students in meaningful and productive ways online. Digital technologies offer a variety of capabilities for remote learning.
Unfortunately, there is a considerable disparity in universal access to high-speed broadband or electronic devices necessary to deploy online learning, the most critical being the teacher’s ability to provide distance learning.
If there is one lesson that educators need to learn from COVID-19, that crisis always offers opportunities. The structures that we have been operating with before the coronavirus era has begun to show immense gaps. For lecturers, the lack of professional development and training resources have resulted in inefficient work, which has added to the pressure of coping with the disease in the first place.
How can educators take advantage of online learning? In 2008, two authors coined the term Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCs to illustrate the theory of connectivity knowledge. They wanted to explore how interactions between a wide variety of participants can be made possible by online tools to improve and contribute to a more productive learning environment than the traditional setup.
“Teacher professional development represents a conundrum that perfectly encapsulates the systematic problem with education that we have as a society,” said Dr. Justin Marquis, Ph.D., Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Gonzaga University. “We expect teachers to not only be well trained initially, but to also be responsible for continually renewing their knowledge and skills.”
As if it wasn’t already a burden, teachers now need to acknowledge their skills gap in working remotely from students. Fortunately, this gives them more time to consider their careers and how to upskill using available online tools. Marquis cites several factors that make MOOCs a perfect option for ongoing teacher professional development.
- Free – Unless it’s a privately held institution, it’s well-known that the government budget for the educational system is lacking. Administrators and school boards should maximize low-cost options for professional development with a wide array of choices.
- Flexible – Online education provides flexibility in time and location. Since most teachers work long days at school that leaves little time to rest, taking courses to fit their schedule is now possible through on-demand learning.
- Adaptable – Most education technology platforms are based on US and UK models, making them world-class. Teachers can choose which philosophies to adapt to their individual needs, as well as comparing content across different universities.
- Teachable – Teachers who are motivated to keep their professional credentials active understand how learning works. MOOCs are suited for educators who are qualified to adjust the content and the process to meet their needs.
Teach Better By Learning
In a Harvard Business Review study, 52% of the Coursera course completers surveyed reported they took the course to improve their current job or to find a new job. Instead of educational benefits, MOOCs appear to be more effective in delivering courses that aid in career development. Other platforms like Udemy, Udacity, and Khan Academy also provide useful resources for professional improvement.
Before COVID-19, administrators evaluated teachers based on their classroom management techniques and lecture style. School administrators focused on improving physical facilities and upgrading to the latest technology software. Now that almost everything has moved online, how do we measure effectiveness in teaching?
Parents who used to think that homeschooling was ineffective are now experiencing some aspects of it as they assume a teacher support role in the home. After weeks or months of isolation, a lot of us will have experienced losing family and friends to the virus, opportunities to gather and socialize, as well as some resources and health caused by stress.
It’s become clear that teachers offer more than delivering lessons in the classroom. At a crisis where many young people struggle to stay well and remain focused, being a source of encouragement and motivation is needed in coping. Teachers who apply what they learn about themselves and through professional development become better educators, and therefore pillars of support.