We Distance-Learned for a Whole Semester – What Did it Teach Us?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the United States, it forced millions of students into online distance learning, leading to teachers and schools across the nation rapidly learning new technologies, teaching strategies, and methods of engagement. A recent article from Inside Higher Ed from author Doug Lederman asks a crucial question: now that the spring of distance learning is behind us, what did we learn?
Preliminary results that we can permanently switch to online learning aren’t great, with opinions from the educational community as a whole largely pointing to it being a disappointing semester for everyone. There are other factors at play here, considering the steep initial learning curve and the persistent environmental stress and trauma that students and teachers may have been experiencing through this time. However, we can still learn a great deal about education from this mass, impromptu social experiment. Lederman poses that there are things that we can know now as well as questions that we should be asking in order to gain the most knowledge we can from the situation at hand.
A crucial takeaway, Lederman stresses, online learning is, typically, very different from the “emergency remote instruction” that occurred here. Online learning involves a specific schedule and lesson plans tailored to the medium – an agreement on all parties ahead of time that they understand the set-up of the virtual classroom and know what to expect from it. For physical classrooms that were forced to transition online, many of these key components were compromised.
One researcher, Jillian Kinzie of Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, expresses that, high schoolers, this period has the potential to generate more autonomy and self-assessment. Kinzie also suggests that colleges could ask students what they learned about themselves through this time to assess what they can bring to higher education. This could be a more honest way to evaluate a student than looking strictly at grades, which could have been affected drastically this semester based upon external circumstances, resources available, and privilege.
Other researchers are diving into different questions. Ben Motz of Indiana University is leading a “mega-study” on COVID-19 and education that takes a particular interest in faculty interactions with technology. Natasha Jankowski, who is the executive director for the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, is more interested in the drastic questions of inequality and access that were raised throughout online distance learning, how those were handled, and how instructors can do better in the future.
This period was one of change for our classrooms, but it can also be used to create an even better classroom in the fall when many students are expected to be able to return to the classroom.
Read the full article here.