"You cannot create experience. You must undergo it."
– Albert Camus, Carnets
Valuable learning experiences are based on difficult challenges and even failures. When a campus must close, whether to avoid spreading illnesses or due to weather events, institutions and individuals will be tested in their resilience, patience, and creativity to overcome.
Yet these crises are also times to learn and grow. I’ve been astonished at how much creative work, sharing, and support the education community has generated during the last few weeks, especially the wisdom shared by those who have lived through campus closures before.
In this third post on teaching continuity plans, I'm sharing three key ideas that can help an institution learn their way forward, AFTER a crisis.
Evaluate in Order to Improve
Right now most educational institutions facing campus closures are focused on helping their teachers, staff, and students adapt to remote teaching and learning. This is the critical task. But how will you know if your efforts worked? As an administrator, what does a successful response to closure look like? As a teacher, how will you know if your students gained as much this semester as in others?
While I can’t define success for your institution, I can suggest some evidence that may help you examine the effectiveness of your planning:
Survey of stakeholders: Students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents - How did they perceive your institution’s response? What gaps or holes might they identify?
Technology usage data: How many teachers and students were using technology before and during the campus closure? Were some departments better at shifting to online than others? Did any courses or fall through the cracks? Were any students neglected? Usage data can help you figure this out.
Technology fail-points: Were there enough devices for students to use? Were there login or access issues? Did you need to add more software licenses? Did systems slow down or crash? If so, why, and how well did technology providers respond?
Student ratings of instruction: Many colleges and universities survey students each semester on their experience in their courses. During a crisis this feedback can be particularly valuable (if sometimes painful) in improving your future response.
Knowing what worked and what didn't will help you reflect and improve your planning and execution in the event of a future campus closure.
Offer Ongoing Workshops on Teaching Continuity
Whereas many institutions have in-depth workshops or series on blended and online teaching, few offer regular, just-in-time training for faculty who will need to shift to online in an emergency. This kind of training shouldn't just be available during a crisis; it should be a staple of professional development in order to maintain awareness and help more teachers be better prepared.
The content of this workshop should be simple and efficient, focusing the knowledge and abilities that they need to teach remotely in a pinch. For example:
1. The importance of simple, regular communication
2. Orienting students to the online environment
3. Sharing essential files and materials
4. Teaching via video conferences
5. Facilitating online discussions
6. Accepting assignments online
7. Getting technical help as needed
From here, faculty should be directed to start preparing in advance, creating course web sites that support their face-to-face students and anticipate a crisis. And they should be encouraged to go beyond the bare necessities of remote teaching and toward topics like finding and using open educational resources and effective practices in blended and online learning.
Inspire Faculty to Continue to Develop Toward Blended and Online
In a crisis it may be all we can do to get teachers up and running online. We may need to accept that teachers are replicating existing classroom practices as best they can, as quickly as possible. This may be sufficient to finish out a semester, but it does not represent the best of online education.
As we help our teachers adapt to remote teaching we should leverage those connections to inspire them to continue to learn about online education and to improve their course web sites and practices. For example, we can show them how:
– Well-organized course web sites help students even after face-to-face classes resume
– Well-designed content and materials that are easy to navigate support learning and limit extraneous cognitive load
– Active learning is superior, and how even simple tools like self-check quizzes can add repeatable active learning
– Online discussions increase student participation and equity, build a class community, and even enable peer-to-peer support.
Many of us who are tasked with helping teachers respond to a crisis are passionate about blended and online learning. Let's use that passion to put great online learning in the spotlight. Contrast effective online courses to the more frustrating teaching and learning experiences that may result from hastily adapting. This is a great opportunity to inspire faculty to continue to learn and develop.
"Little by little does the trick."
A crisis like COVID-19 may drive all our teachers toward online teaching for the first time, but we can't expect a single event to transform the culture of our institutions. That must happen little by little, with patience and persistence, and an openness to learning and improving from each experience. As you develop and execute your teaching continuity plan, I hope that you’ll also share what you've learned with the wider educational community. It’s the results of these necessary if uncomfortable experiments with remote teaching that will help us all prepare better for the next crisis. In doing so, we can improve the art and craft of teaching with technology, however it may happen.