As we reach the more positive landmark statistics around Covid 19 - with higher percentages of the UK population vaccinated and daily lower infection and hospital admissions, we must now begin the painful process of reflection and retrospection. Every single UK sector has, in one way or another, felt the impact of the repeated lockdowns, the social distancing, the working from home and the fear of spreading Covid 19. In one sense, the pandemic has been a rallying cry and a testament to the strength and diligence of the population. On the other, a true test of our mettle, patience and flexibility beyond anything we might have experienced before.
Educational institutions across the UK - from pre-school and nurseries to further education colleges and universities have had to change how they operate at a core level. Classic didactic notions of face to face teaching, classroom learning, group working, one to ones and beyond have had to adapt to a new landscape - and quickly. This has struck at the heart of classic learning theory - and brought about a new age of Connectivism. Curriculum has been re-engineered on the fly to account for new modes of learning and technological flexible pedagogies. The very essence of teaching and learning has changed - quite possibly forever.
As dramatic as this realignment sounds, there are some that would argue this change is well overdue and indeed nothing new. From fully online to blended learning; flipped classroom to mobile learning, the technological thematics and conversations have been around a while - often emerging in the embedded tropes of new innovation strategies or new curriculum methodologies.
Covid, however, quickly became the catalyst for fast, immediate and in some instances uncomfortable educational reform. It was the unfortunate accelerant in a chain reaction of events that would mean students of all ages and teachers of all experience would go from the familiar realms of travelling to a building, classrooms with whiteboards, group seminars, handouts and lectures to the somewhat less familiar home teaching, home studying, online lesson delivery, online calendars, inboxes, notifications and live webinars.
Education technology was immediately thrown to the learning forefront as almost overnight the flexibility, reliability, scalability and usability of virtual learning environments and learning platforms was tested like never before. Adoption needed to be swift and simple, teaching and learning tools needed to be fast and flexible. Above all, the wholesale change of delivery for students and teachers needed to be facilitated and supported by technology, not become an unscalable technological wire fence. It raised new ethical questions around access to computers, broadband connectivity; technology and social mobility had become mutually comparable - with the voice of educational technology suddenly taken off mute.
Virtual learning environments - providing a Covid safe robust vessel for the influx of online passengers - were now mass facilitating the adaptation and delivery of content in new ways. The ubiquitous mechanisms of content creation across mobile and computer devices saw video recordings evolve into video assignments, screen recorded walk-throughs and formative and summative video assessment. Presentations were now online or in the cloud; live whiteboards and online discussion led seminar debates. Word docs and PDFs became cloud based annotated assignment submissions from any device, collaborative documents could be shared and worked on across any distance and devices, shared group spaces gifted pedagogical content ownership to students and multiple live webinar options and recording tools meant revision, development and learning practices became as accessible and consumable as Netflix.
It is a new and powerful landscape for education - building on the technological frontiers presented by Covid. Teachers and lecturers - alert to the changing demands of curriculum and the widening requirements of the Covid aware, Instagram hungry, TikTok generation have adapted readily. It doesn’t come easy to everyone - however, the pandemic has forced us to take a long hard look at both ourselves and those around us. We are more aware than ever of our own potential personal impact on those around us and the mental health of others.
Covid 19 has forced us to rethink and reimagine our ideas around communication, learning, adaptation, accessibility and the role of technology. Amongst the frustration, anger and heartbreak brought about by the pandemic, it has also ensured we embraced the hope of new possibilities, adopted new flexible pedagogies and remained diligent and unthwarted in the face of extreme difficulty. As the infection rates drop further, and more and more people are vaccinated - the fog will gradually lift on the technological learning landscape we have created in the wake of Covid. It will reveal a compelling new technological education space where the cloud based virtual learning environments robustly stood their ground during the unprecedented educational challenges, remained online and available when things got tough and allowed the confidence for teachers and learners to embrace new ways of learning.