Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash
One day life will return to normal. Life will be more lived and less masked. God, I can’t wait.
It would be a generational tragedy if teaching and learning resumed to normal without meaningfully integrating important lessons from the pandemic. Teaching, learning, community, technology, parent involvement, child development, and our curriculum all faced (and face) unprecedented and severe challenges. As the waves of covid crashed over us, what did we learn? What should be our next normal?
Digital learning is different from traditional learning. It is intended as a broad, encompassing idea that includes blended learning, hybrid learning, and virtual learning. In fact, these are all very different approaches, each deserving of careful consideration. The same is true for digital tools; there is a huge range of digital tools, all deserving of nuanced understanding.
Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model eloquently describes how we can contextualize teaching and learning in a digital space, using digital tools. The SAMR model provides a framework to change our pedagogy when we are using digital tools. If we are going to effectively use digital tools in our teaching and learning, we need to teach differently. Our next normal should better discern our pedagogy in-person and digital.
We connected in more flexible ways with our parents. Parent teacher conferences were more convenient for busy parents, and I spoke with parents I’ve never seen before covid. Parents had an intimate view of teaching and learning. For some parents of younger children, the required level of participation and partnership was shocking. Our next normal should include broader and deeper virtual connection with parents, and more support for parents with younger children.
Some students thrived in virtual environments; the pace and cadence of learning better fit their circadian pattern. Some students collapsed in virtual learning environments, especially students with pronounced learning differences. We often differentiate learning using learning styles and academic ability; why not differentiate using circadian rhythms? Our next normal should have schedules that work for teens; late starts, A/B days, and more asynchronous, project-based learning.
We pruned our curriculum, or as Jal Mehta and Shanna Peeples at the Albert Shanker Institute wrote, we Marie Kondo-ed our curriculum. This distillation and pruning is probably a good thing. It reminds us to focus on what is truly important in our disciplines. Our next normal should include a ruthless removing of cruft from our curricula, and an unyielding defense for the truly important.
During digital learning many students fell behind. Socially isolated students do not have the same depth, breadth, and scope of understanding as the students from previous years. There is much work to be done to remediate. Our next normal needs to more carefully consider the value and practice of mastery-based learning.
Virtual learning sharply exposed a fault-line between the haves versus the have-nots. That well-resourced institutions could ably meet the needs of learners while less-resourced institutions failed their students is grotesque. Our next normal must open-source all our teaching and learning engagements, lesson plans, and curricula. The vision and practice of the Open Education Resources is an excellent example for us to follow.
Hopefully we will not face another pandemic anytime soon. As professional educators, what happens after covid is a critical opportunity for growth and change. Being socially isolated and teaching virtually was really, really hard. It would be a damn shame if we didn’t make some good from it.
Bill MacKenty is a high school computer science and middle school design teacher at the American School of Warsaw. In his 20 years as a professional educator, he has served as a director of technology and instructional designer. He really enjoys teaching computer science and programming. You can learn more about him at https://www.mackenty.org