Education & the pandemic reflections from smart people


Now that we enter phase 19.3 of the pandemic, and higher ed is sort of, maybe, going back to campus based, hyflex, blended, online learning there have been a number of thoughtful pieces from commentators which I thought I’d wrap up here (if you’re confused by all those terms, Sue Beckingham has a neat summary diagram).

Bonnie Stewart did what she so often does, and articulated some vague thoughts I think many of us were having in a clear manner in her piece on Hybrid learning in the Conversation. She highlights how this is the worst of both worlds, with no special provision for the online students, just watching a broadcast of the classroom. The ‘aha!’ moment for me (I admit I’m probably slow), was this sentence:

“Hybrid learning collapses virtual and face-to-face classroom options under a single teacher’s salary, instead of having to hire additional teachers for virtual learning.”

Of course! The pandemic will be utilised as a means to reduce labour costs. Hybrid will mean you can double the class size for a single teacher. It will be untenable of course, and lead to teachers leaving in droves as they simply can’t satisfy those two modes. But hey, look at those cost savings. I think we’d be naive not to think this is a model some nations/states/provinces/institutions will employ.

George Veletsianos also had a piece in the Conversation in which he questioned the demand for a return to normal on campus. It’s based on research with surveys of staff and students. He pulls out five key points including a desire to carry on with innovation in delivery, a desire for greater flexibility for students AND staff, and a focus on equity.

This gives some hopeful counterpoint to Bonnie’s piece in that the staff and students at least recognise the value of support, care and equity which won’t be realised under some mass hybridisation model with minimal labour. Whether the politicians or the educators win this argument will be key to how education is shaped in the coming years.

This brings me on to Laura Czerniewicz’s piece in University World News in which she attempts to find some positives that can be seen in post-pandemic education. Like George she highlights the increased attention on equity, stating that “Now that inequality and inequity have been seen, they cannot be unseen”. She also suggests that the pandemic has caused educators to reflect on their practice, as they were forced to deliver online:

After the initial panic, online learning design has seen shifts to enabling interaction and designing new forms of assessment, challenging taken-for-granted practices and at times improving those historically practised in face-to-face teaching environments.

This led to innovation and ‘rules got broken’, in a sector that is normally slow to change. So, there are potential areas that might flourish now that the online pivot has provided the initial boost.

This will require sensitive leadership, which brings me on to the last post for your consideration, from Rajiv Jhangiani, titled “Reflections on leadership, self-care, and building humane systems“. He stresses the importance of creating a caring environment in a team, and this includes taking time for self care. Which perhaps brings us back to Bonnie’s post – the demand to just do more, all the time is not the route to a successful, or sustainable education system.

What all these posts had in common for me is that we are now a long way into the pandemic, and perhaps finally coming out of it. We haven’t had time to reflect and consider previously, and it has been too soon to detect lasting impacts. But now we can see some trends emerging and it is essential that educators control this narrative. As politicians and Game of Thrones fans know, chaos is a ladder, and in this crisis there will be plenty of companies, politicians, and self appointed education gurus who seek to fashion that ladder to their own ends. Our responsibility is to students, and as Rajiv reminds us, ourselves also.

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