Merging Online Skills With In-Person Experience
The 2020/2021 academic year is coming to a close for almost all schools, from K-12 to colleges and universities, and what a year it has been! Educators the world over acquired skills in online course design, technology, and facilitation and are ready…to just take some time off.
It’s a well-deserved rest.
Yet in the wake of this last pandemic year, teachers and administrators are left trying to figure out what comes next. It’s evident that many of the tools and skills that were incorporated into the course curriculum were important in the crisis. Though learning experiences weren’t ideal for many students in this crisis-induced move to the online environment, online learning did allow for the academic year to continue and avoid a full shutdown.
Now as we look to the future, educators find themselves with a new set of tools in their teaching toolkit—and some time to reflect on their pros and cons. Moreover, institutions have experienced some of the more overt benefits of the online learning space, like reducing travel and space needs, distributing asynchronous content, and enhanced tracking of student progress data.
Facilitating A Hybrid Environment
These skills, tools, and the new perspective that educators and students have had of online learning potential seem to be pointing us all to an even more hybridized educational space. As you consider the implications for your teaching environments, I offer the following reflections on the ways we may facilitate this hybrid environment:
1. Classroom Engagement
The in-person classroom space is the one environment that has been missing the most from our online experience. This seems an obvious statement but it bears mentioning because it is also what we took the most for granted before last year. When that space was removed, it forced exploration into new types of engagement, including interactive presentation applications, videos, and videoconferencing tools. The return to the in-person space does not need to immediately mean the benching of these practices. Instead, it could reveal an entirely new engagement experience for students and teachers alike, an experience where students engage actively and in sync with the teacher. Live polling, classroom chatrooms, in-class online research, and interactive curriculum content are all potential ways that online skills may enhance in-person engagement.
2. Asynchronous Learning
The asynchronous learning environment (whether within a Learning Management System, or not) was absolutely key to the last year. It is a space of guided self-learning that offered students the ability to move at their own pace with a more individualized experience. While it is likely true that some learning experiences may have leaned too heavily on this type of experience, it’s also undoubtedly true that asynchronous learning tools were a valuable resource to educators. The return to in-person should mean a rethinking of asynchronous learning resources in a way that reinforces the classroom experience. Before the pandemic, the flipped classroom model was already seen by many in the online learning field as an optimizer of in-person time. Now, it may be possible to view asynchronous learning as a wraparound tool, providing the students with learning experiences before and after the in-person meetings. This will of course vary by educational level and field of study, but the potential of the asynchronous format should remain a valuable resource for any curriculum.
3. Social-Emotional Awareness
The stress of a pandemic year has taken its toll on students and teachers alike. There are dozens of articles focused on the mental health impacts of living and learning in quarantine, and on the emotional toll that has been unequally shared by students in underprivileged conditions. Instead, I want to highlight this area because we have witnessed the effects of emotional health on learning (and teaching!). It will be important for educators and administrators alike to continue to factor in the social and emotional environment of their students to their educational progress. Helping students connect to each other and to their community is crucial to their academic achievement. And the technological tools and acquired skills of the last year can spark innovative pathways to keep students connected and engaged to people and stories that help enhance their learning experience.
These are just a few key areas where there is enormous potential to merge the online teaching skills acquired in the last year with the in-person excellence that educators already engaged in previously. As we move into an era where hybridized experiences are considered the norm, reflect on how you will integrate the lessons learned to create the educational experiences of the future.