Student’s Thoughts on Online Learning

As I explored ideas posted on the OpenIDEO platform about re-imagining learning during COVID-19, I noticed that there was a lack of student voice in the conversation, and yet students are the primary users of our education system. As a student myself, I’m very aware that at this time of year, when everyone is finishing up final exams and getting ready for relaxing in summer, most students aren’t keen to go on a site like OpenIDEO to continue discussing school right after they finished the year.

So I thought I would lower the entry barrier into this conversation by texting a bunch of my friends (7th graders-college juniors) 3 simple questions to get an idea about their opinions of online learning. I also set up a Zoom chat for those that wanted to go more in-depth on the conversation where we did a more personalized interview and also a brainstorming session in response to OpenIDEO’s three areas of remote learning, equity, and community. Then I analyzed all the responses, found some themes, and now wanted to share on the behalf of those 23 students who contributed.

 

Research Questions

The three questions I asked these learners to respond to are as followed:

1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

2. What’s your favorite part?

3. It would be better if…

 

Trends

The three greatest trends were students being:

1. Frustrated by their own lack of work ethic/motivation/focus

2. Enjoying the flexibility in terms of space and time offered by online education.

3 Wishing assignments and syllabi, in general, were more greatly altered to better match an online learning environment.

 

Analysis

As we analyze these trends a bit more carefully, it makes me think of these “How might we” statements for looking towards the future of education:

HMW internally motivate students to show up and participate in school? Teachers currently have less power dominance over students when not physically interacting; typical modes of enforcing attendance and participation such as threats of detention, silent lunch, suspension, etc aren’t feasible in an online environment. Now that these threats don’t exist, students are finding themselves less motivated which leads me to believe that the school work itself and the prospect of learning alone are not intrinsically motivating students. Wouldn’t it be great if students actually wanted to come to school and enjoyed participating in school work? The way to encourage life-long learning is to foster intrinsic motivation to learn – that would be a pretty novel purpose for school if you ask me.

HMW provide flexible learning opportunities post-pandemic? The mid-semester shift to a different learning environment on top of all of the other social-emotional priorities that have arisen due to the pandemic has been predominately challenging; however, the unquestionable best part has been the flexibility it has allowed students with regards to their education. Students have loved being able to wake up late and feel fully rested, knock out classwork while cozy in their beds, and then “get on with the rest of my day doing all the other things I want to do.” The ability to plan personalized schedules and work in a setting of choice has been amazing for so many learners, so now that we’ve seen how much students love this flexibility, how might we continue to provide it upon returning to our schools?

HMW effectively use technology in the classroom? The design for assignments to be better adjusted to an online structure was noted as a frustration, a positive element, and a wishful opportunity. So students loved the teachers that were adaptable and used going online as a way to incorporate new elements to their class in meaningful ways, and they were bored and/or frustrated with those who did not. The difficulties some teachers have had with adjusting to a new technological mode of communication raises an important question about how we can more effectively incorporate technology into our schooling even post-pandemic. What students warn us of though, is that technology can’t just be incorporated just for the sake of saying “I used technology!” It must be incorporated intentionally and meaningfully – there must be a true purpose for why the technology is further enhancing the learning experience.

Beyond the Main Trends

In addition to the primary trends, I found three key sub-trends that emerge when looking at how some of the trends interact with each other.

1. Re-thinking assessment (Responses on test cheating, not wanting tests, wanting more collaboration, and more project work.)

2. Maintain a sense of community (Want more socialization, interaction, and meaningful conversations with peers and teachers.)

3. Use a whole-child approach to education (Frustration with expectations not changing, eyes hurting from so much screen time, new challenges such as moving and schooling with family.)

 

Read More

If you want to read student’s full responses as well as my more in-depth analysis of the sub-trends, I have added two additional documents as attachments on my OpenIDEO post.

Empathy Seeking

Online learning has been a wild ride… Personally, I’ve had moments where I’ve been frustrated, bored, and even, occasionally, pleasantly surprised by elements that come with school online. Because of this, I’ve partnered with OpenIDEO as a community coach on their current design challenge around reimagining learning during COVID-19. If you have any ideas (tested or half-baked), are looking for new ideas, or just want to express some problem points around our current learning situation I’d encourage taking a look at/contributing to the OpenIDEO site.
I’m trying to do a little of my own empathy seeking because I noticed an (unsurprising) lack of student voices shared on the platform, and yet student stories are some of the most insightful voices we need right now. So I’ve come up with these three quick questions that I’d love people (young learners especially, though I also welcome teachers, parents, parents on behalf of kids, etc) to respond to in the comment section. I’m hoping to take away some trends to be able to share with the rest of the OpenIDEO community to make sure we’re actually ideating for user needs:
  1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

  2. What’s your favorite part?

  3. It would be better if…

Furthermore, if you are a student and interested in joining a virtual collaborative discussion/brainstorm session to dive deeper into this topic, I’m hosting a student gathering this Sunday night, May 17th from 7-8pm EST. Use this form to sign up so I can send out the Zoom link.

A Star in the Sky

For the past few weeks, I have been working on the brainstorming and planning behind what it would look like to host a virtual design jam (a design thinking workshop/challenge). We hope to start officially marketing the event next week, and I was originally going to wait until then to post about how much I’ve been enjoying working on this project, but I decided I couldn’t wait. It’s been so much fun to plan because I have to rethink everything I would normally do and figure out how to adapt it for an online environment and that’s been a weirdly amusing thought puzzle for me.

Today we had a group meeting with all of our table coaches for the workshop and even then I found myself still catching more little details that could be adjusted to make for a more interactive and engaging experience. It seems that every time I revisit the plans I realize there is something else I could do to make the process more efficient, and I think it’s finally starting to take on a really cool shape.

What excites me the most about this idea is that if we can pull it off, then a virtual design jam will be another tool in our pocket that we can continue to build on in the future. Being able to host a workshop virtually would give us the option to connect with such a wider range of people in the future and that’s a really exciting thought. To not be bound by the limits of physical location is truly game-changing, and I’m not sure we would have had the push to try out this concept had it not been for this pandemic; it’s forcing us to think differently and try new things that have the potential for great capacity building.

This pandemic has been awful, but it’s nice to remember that even on the darkest night, a few stars can still be found.

Over-Planning

Last night, for the first time probably in the last year, I found myself up working past 11pm. And ever since I finished my original 100 days of blogging challenge, I have always given myself the rule that if I’m working past 11pm then I’m not going to try blogging at that point.

I easily could’ve had time last night, but I think the hardest thing for me with going into lockdown and then transitioning back to school has been trying to get used to all the changes to my daily routine.

When we went into lockdown, at first there was basically nothing productive that needed to be done. As long as it could be done in my apartment, I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could decide to stay in bed all day. I could decide in the middle of the afternoon to play flute for several hours. I could transition between random activities without worrying about not completing the previous project.

Now with school back in session, my environment is the same and, therefore, my external circumstances feel the same, so I have the desire to stay in bed, spend multiple hours on a hobby, and transition between activities whenever I’m urged to. However, I can’t really do any of these things now because I have actual deadlines again. Certain things have to be done at certain times and they have to be completed before I move on. So when I decide to spend two hours in the middle of the day playing the flute, it has the consequence of me then having to work past 11pm…

This has been a hard adjustment, especially since so little of the rest of my circumstances have changed. (As in I’m basically still in lockdown with everything being closed and me staying inside, it’s just that school started and there are conversations about things re-opening.) From the beginning, I decided to try to keep to what would’ve been my school schedule even though most of my classes are now pre-recorded so I could technically have any schedule I’d like. I thought this might help give me some consistency which would help make sure I actually watch the videos.

But then I have days like yesterday where my schedule gets all sorts of messed up because I was invited to a different virtual meeting that overlapped with a class, so I re-arranged my schedule because it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. While I believe I made the right decision, and honestly it made me appreciate the flexibility of online-learning where I could prioritize a work opportunity over attending class live (this class was actually one of my 2 classes hosted on Zoom, but the video is posted later in the day so I was able to still watch the entire lecture), the decision definitely contributed to me getting all out of wack with getting work done yesterday. 

So today I decided to bring back an old habit of mine to help with prioritizing tasks; I’ve taken a homemade whiteboard (printer paper in a sheet protector) and listed out all of the things I need to get done in the next two weeks in the order I think I should do them and what day I should work on what. Perhaps this is over planning, but I think that maybe a little over-planning will help me re-adjust to the fact that I do now need to get back in the mindset of planning ahead.

If you’re also struggling with prioritizing work during quarantine, perhaps over planning and scheduling could help you too.

“Kicking & Screaming”

I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations lately around how powerful it’s been to see students speaking out for changes to education because the traditional model doesn’t work online. Many also express their hope to see this sudden uprise of student voice and agency in education continue once we are allowed back in school buildings. Furthermore, people are hoping if learners come back “kicking and screaming, and demanding change” then things might actually start to look different long term.

However, my fear is that students that may be proving more feedback than usual right now aren’t going to realize that the newfound power of their voice isn’t just due to distance learning. Student voice has always been powerful, but I fear when we get back into classrooms, students will think, “Okay, now things are back to ‘normal’, therefore, my opinions on how school should be run no longer matter.”

It’s invaluable to have student voice to better re-design the learning process and make sure we’re meeting user needs. And it’s inspiring it is to see students having agency during a time when there isn’t really accountability- there aren’t many viable punishments right now, so you can’t scare students into coming to class and participating, they have to actually want to learn. So everyone is wondering, “How might we continue to see student voice and learner agency when we return to our schools?”

Well, I propose that step 1 is that we have to make sure students even realize what student voice and agency mean and help them be able to identify that they have it.

I think we are currently seeing a rise in student voice and agency out of obligation. I know from personal experience that I’ve had several moments in the past few weeks were I’ve participated in school-related feedback sessions just because I feel like it’s one of the few things I can do so I should be doing it. Things are so new and different that, even if they can’t articulate it, learners realize they have to have agency if they want to keep from getting bored or mentally unstable. Furthermore, they acknowledge that with these changes it makes sense that school leaders want to hear student stories and opinions because everyone is flying blind so the more help the better. It’s easy to accept these concepts as being necessary and normal right now. But student voice and agency were already invaluable before we moved to distance learning, most students just didn’t realize it.

Student voice I think is a bit more straight forward in terms of meaning, but I don’t think most students realize just how powerful it is in the eyes of educators to get true feedback directly from the users, ie. students. I also believe this is in part because most students don’t think their thoughts will really be taken seriously – I’ve pretty much been directly told this before. Anyone who knew me in high school would say I was part of the “smart people group” – the same group some people may refer to as “teacher’s pets” – and yet even some of my closest friends would sometimes make comments about not thinking administration really cared about student opinions. Not to mention students who weren’t typically thought of as being part of the “smart people group” would make snide remarks about feeling like they weren’t one of the “chosen ones” so why should they even bother to share their opinions.

Right now everything about school is different, and so it’s easier to grapple with the idea that teachers and administrators might care a little more about all student opinions right now. If we want to continue to see student voice upon returning to our usual learning environments, there has to be more transparency with students so they know if they speak up they’re actually being heard.

When it comes to learner agency, I bet 9/10 learners couldn’t articulate what it means to have “agency.” I mean even as I’m writing this post my computer keeps underlining the word agency thinking I’m using it incorrectly because it thinks I’m talking about a corporate agency. Additionally, I’ve been to at least a dozen education conferences at this point that talk about learner agency, and even I sometimes wonder about how to best describe it which is what makes me really doubt students without a particular passion for transforming education can actually tell you what agency is.  Learners can have agency without understanding it, but if we really expect students to come back to school and “demand” that they have agency, they have to know what it is.

We can’t just keep hoping that learners will all of a sudden start “kicking and screaming” for education change and that’s what will make the difference. Some learners, I believe myself to be one of these learners, will have an amazing experience with learner-centered education, realize that the experience was partly due to feeling like they had a voice and agency in their learning, and then start advocating for change. But I know I’m not the normal student, and most learners don’t have this reaction even after a crazy out of the box experiences.

My first of a series of “ah-ha experiences” happened at the 2013 Council on Innovation. I was one of twenty students asked to spend an entire day not going to classes and instead partake in this day-long design thinking event alongside twenty community experts and visionaries. Of those twenty students that participated, I was the only one that after the experience decided I needed to start “demanding change,” and I wouldn’t even call it demanding per-say, I just started conversations. Later in time others began to agree that things could be better if they changed, but I wouldn’t say they were “kicking and screaming” about the necessity of these changes. Now obviously this one-day event is not as big of a change in the learning environment as the weeks we have already and are still yet to experience online during this pandemic, but I don’t expect the results to be much different in terms of how many students are going to come out of this wanting immediate permanent change. Honestly, from what I keep hearing from my friends and the kids I coach, I’m expecting most students will just want to feel like things are “normal” again and want to stop dealing with so much change.

So yes it’s great and inspiring to see how learners are reacting during these challenging times, and I would love to see more learners speaking up for long-term education change, but if we want to see this happen I think it’s going to take a lot more than just hope. We can’t just expect to have this big unique learning experience (if that’s how you want to describe the current circumstances) and then have dozens of learners suddenly come back as reborn advocates of learner-centered education. We need action not just hope. We need to be open and honest to learners about how much influence they currently have over education, and then guide them in the process of reflecting on how this might factor into what they expect/want out of school upon returning to our buildings. Most importantly though, we have to make sure learners realize that they even have voice and agency and that it matters far beyond the scope of distance learning.

 

We Are One Planet

Today, as part of my work with the Wellington International Leadership Program, I participated in a webinar hosted by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Planning for this anniversary was clearly intense with hundreds of people around the world organizing to speak out specifically around the need to take action in regards to climate change. And then the pandemic hit…

Guest speaker and founding Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes expressed his devastation and frustration about two years’ worth of work now being illegal to execute in most countries. But what was most inspiring to me, and my biggest take away from the event, was his hope, despite everything, for what this could mean in terms of how we think about global challenges in the future. Hayes’ said it would make up for all the lost work if we come out of this crisis realizing that global threats need global cooperation and collaborative solutions that actually eliminate threats worldwide, because if only some people, some states, or even some countries take action – if it’s only “some” – then there is always a threat of the issue coming back. “We are one planet,” Hayes’ exclaimed, and so we need to work together cross-culturally to make change happen. This goes for all global threats from pandemics to climate change.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t even remember that it was Earth Day this week before I signed up for the event, let alone know that it was the 50th anniversary. I support Earth Day, but it’s never been a holiday I go out of my way to figure out how I can get involved with. But there are other global threats that I more actively work to find solutions to, like access to education and safe water, sanitation, and hygiene options. That’s why this conversation around global cooperation was so powerful to me because it’s relevant beyond the scope of just Earth Day; there are dozens of global threats out there no matter how directly we notice them impacting our lives.

For obvious reasons, the threat of climate change was compared frequently with the threat of Covid19 on today’s webinar. All of the panelists discussed how the virus is impacting their daily operations now and how they expect it to impact the future. A key idea that came up throughout the session was that even with Covid19 until people saw their neighbors rushed to hospitals, they weren’t taking the threat seriously. So the webinar left me thinking: “How might we get people to take threats like climate change and other global sustainability goals seriously when it’s even harder for the average person to visualize the direct impact these threats have on the world and the individual?”

The answer is unclear. However, from experience, we know that when people are actively involved in the process of planning and creating change, they believe in it more and care about pulling society along with them. So really the question is, “How might we get the average person to actively engage in processes to overcome global threats?” This is still a lofty question, and there could be hours spent on unpacking the meaning of “average person” alone, but it’s encouraging to have heard from several social entrepreneurs today who seem to really be thinking about this question daily.

Furthermore, panelist Molly Morse with Mango Materials suggests that there is already a demand for solutions to some of these sustainability threats like climate change. The key for social entrepreneurs to keep in mind is targeting the right market; markets need to be focused and specific that way every user feels that the issue is truly relevant to them as an individual.

So my take away from Earth Day amidst the Covid19 crisis is that no matter your area of passion, global threats exist, demands for solutions exist, and people tackling the big questions to create solutions exist. Now we just need to put it all together by working in collaboration with each other across sectors, political affiliations, and borders in order for change to actually happen. We are one planet – let’s make it one worth living on.

The Lead-Up

We have one week left of our four weeks of lockdown, which also means one week left until my classes start again but now online. Since lockdown has begun time has moved in a weird way. Every day seems particularly long but every week seems to go by weirdly quickly since I have trouble keeping track of what day it is, so it seems like the break before re-starting school has kind of snuck up on me in a quick way.

It honestly seems crazy to think about going back to classes at this point. I was only in school for three weeks before everything shut down, and by the time I go back, it will have been four weeks off school, making for a longer break than school time thus far. This much time off from school and stuck inside has made for a very odd sense of reality and it’s hard to imagine school now restarting but isolation not ending. It’s been fine so far staying amused and relatively decent mentally during isolation, but I’m concerned adding school into this mix is going to make things much more difficult.

I think it’s going to be very challenging to find motivation to do school assignments for 9 more weeks while still in some variation of social-distancing. I’m basically going to be doing an entire semester of online classes which is something I’ve always intentionally tried to avoid so this is slightly terrifying to think it’s just about actually here. Plus this time of year is when all of my friends in the US are just finishing up the end of their classes, but I’m basically just starting the semester still. It’s going to be extremely hard to stay focused while all of my friends are done with classes, and I wasn’t really around people here long enough to make any close friends still in New Zealand who will also be in classes at this time of year. 

I’ve also really not taken advantage of this time off in terms of trying to get ahead on school work. I did some work, but mainly just for the assignments I know are due relatively soon after we get back since they were originally due for the week everything shut down. Most of our professors encouraged taking time to relax and assured us we’d have enough time to complete our assignments even if we waited until classes re-started to begin working on them, but at the same time they clearly were encouraging the people who did choose to get started early so very mixed signals were being sent… I wanted to be okay with not working on much school work during the break, but now that it’s almost time to start again the “over-achiever” in me is getting anxious about the fact that maybe I should’ve done more to take advantage of this “extra time.”

I’m worried now it’s going to be a decent bit of a reality shock going back to classes in terms of going from doing so little that I get bored and tired of watching TV even to now having to do daily work but still being at home. At least on a typical break, you’re still getting out of the house and doing stuff so when you go back to school it’s not literally going from 0-100 in average daily energy level. Plus the change of environment with actually going to school usually helps with the mind-shift, but that’s a luxury we don’t have right now.

I don’t have any sort of formal plan at this point for how I’m going to try and adjust to going “back to school” but still from home after four weeks of nothing. I wish this post could be about my fears and how I plan to overcome them, but that’s just not the case at this point. The best I’ve got is the hope that hearing from my professors again with our video lectures will help get me in a working mood, but I’m not exactly convinced this will be the case.

At first, when the announcement was made about everything moving online, it made me think that this would make the semester easier since all of the online courses I’ve ever taken have been the easiest classes I’ve been in, but now with every class being online, I’m actually thinking it’s going to be harder than a traditional semester. It’s pretty much all the same amount of work, but without the usual fun aspects of school – no random conversations with new classmates you’re meeting, no clubs, no group projects, no late hour study sessions, (for the lectures that are entirely pre-recorded) no wacky tangents based on a slighly off-topic question, and I’m sure there are more things that will be missed out on that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most of my classes (I wouldn’t be in Econ if I didn’t have to be…), it’s just the thought of the assignments that are daunting considering I have an average of two big research papers in each of my 5 classes and I’m really just not a fan of research papers even though I know that’s a big part of college. I think this is because I prefer thinking through ideas in collaborative environments opposed to independent research. And now with classes being taught digitally, I know there are going to be even fewer ways to make new connections with peers in my classes and group projects were pretty much all canceled so even more is now riding on the research papers – my not preferred method of communication – which is just very stressful to think about.

But I’ve got one more week to figure out how to get motivated I suppose, because like it or not and believe it or not it’s almost time to start the semester again.

 

 

(Just to clarify, I probably wouldn’t write about anything I really thought I couldn’t manage, but part of that management process for me is being able to list out concerns honestly, thus the more pessimistic tone to this particular post.)

Team Bonding in the Classroom

Today was team bonding day for our gym Zoom call. I’m glad I was even able to make it, especially since I forgot to turn on the outlet that charges my phone last night so my alarm didn’t go off this morning…

I found it funny how you can be on a team with the same people for years, and yet somehow still not know basic information about them. Things like where people were born, when they started the sport, how many siblings they have, favorite x,y,z, etc.

Today’s team bonding session was all about discussing the answers to questions like this and it was really fun. I liked getting to learn more about the kids I coach from a whole-child perspective. You never know when it could come in handy to know someone’s favorite animal is a narwal and they were born in Texas having started gymnastics as soon as they could walk. The more you know about a person, the more you can empathize with them and the better you can work with them.

During the normal season, we hardly do any team bonding and it’s something we’ve always regretted, so I truly appreciate this time for allowing us to start implementing this new norm of taking time to value who we are as individuals and a team beyond just gymnastics.

It’s also made me wonder, what if classrooms considered themselves a team? I mean when you think about it, a class is a group of people working together for a year to hone their skills in order to overcome various challenges related to their discipline. That’s pretty similar to how I’d define any sports team…

And yet, in a classroom we often don’t act like a team. There isn’t typically an emphasis on group norms, bonding, and support for each other’s learning and progress. Even in gymnastics where we compete against our teammates, we still talk about the importance of working together in practice, cheering each other on during competition, and doing non-judged group activities to help encourage unification and love for the sport.

I guess it’s assumed in a class that kids already know each other because they’ve been in school together for years, but even when you’ve known people vaguely for years, each new arrangement of people creates different team dynamics.

What if classes spent more time during the year intentionally bonding as a class and thinking about how they will support each others’ growth throughout the year? The more you know about our classmates, the more we can empathize with them and the better we can work with them – and this goes for teachers too. Some teachers are great about getting to know there students, but what if this was even more intentional at a cultural level for the entire school vs just the occasional teacher that everyone knows really takes an interest in learning about all the students? For example, what if the first week of class was all about “class bonding” and setting the norms for the year and thinking about how everyone can best support each other – teacher included?

I wonder how learning might improve if we took more time to know our “teammates” as whole people outside of just the subject material.

Boring But Good Rest

Two days ago I challenged myself to take a real break – “No meetings, no school work, no gym work, and I’m not even going to blog.”

Well, the break is over and I can honestly say: It was really boring.

Turns out watching TV and reading all day get’s old after a while – maybe it’s because even though the last few weeks haven’t been a full-on break, it’s been enough of a break for me to have watched far more shows and movies than I ever would in the past.

I realized that one of the nice things about working is that it distracts me from the fact that I don’t have daily interactions with people. Perhaps had I been taking my break with other people it would have been more amusing. Day two of break I had a video chat with my fam and my best friend and that definitely made day two more interesting than the TV all-day approach. I even tried pulling an all-nighter because I realize I never had before and this was a no-risk environment, but around 5am I realized there was nothing actually motivating me to stay awake because it wasn’t fun and I didn’t have to be awake so instead I went to bed and slept till noon.

I will say though, the break was good for one thing, because I took a mental break all weekend, I was far more motivated to actually be productive today now post-break. After I woke up and ate breakfast I had two meetings, family game night, updated gymnastics files, drafted the flow of a three-hour workshop, choreographed a gymnastics routine, and found seven new songs that have potential to become routines. Getting bored made me want to do work, even the work I don’t normally enjoy like researching for various papers I’m in the process of writing so I suppose that’s a good thing. (I didn’t get to those papers today because other things were more time concerning after my meetings, but I thought about wanting to during the weekend when I accidentally opened a tab one was on.)

And at least at the beginning of the break it felt nice to just do nothing and try and accept that work could wait. And I definitely feel well-rested physically and mentally, though this isn’t normally a big issue for me.

So overall I’m a bit undecided on the whole “true break” thing. It had nice moments, but I really don’t like being bored, but again I feel like my experiment was potentially compromised by the scenario of quarantine. Alternatively, maybe it would’ve been better just to have one “do-nothing day” rather than two.

I’m kind of sad there weren’t bigger takeaways, but that’s about all I got on the subject of taking a mental break – boring but good rest.

Now Is The Time

Today I got to partake in a video meeting with some educators from across the US and it was really great just to hear everyone’s stories about how their schools are dealing with the current changes.

One of the most inspiring parts about the conversation was how optimistic people were in light of everything happening.

This is the greatest disruption to our education system since the great depression. Disruption means there will be long term changes to life as we know it.

There is no question that when we get through this crisis things will be different. Change is inevitable. So the question is, what do we want that change to look like? 

Is this pandemic going to scare us backwards in an effort to make things “easier” or are we going to be inspired to charge forwards into opportunity-filled new beginnings?

Moving to distance learning has lots of challenges. To face these challenges it’s a lot easier for teachers and students both to simply watch some pre-recorded lectures and then take some online multiple-choice tests or write a 5 paragraph essay than it is to try and create opportunities for group discussions and collaborative projects compatible to a virtual environment. And honestly, with all the other stressors in life right now, making one part of life “easy” is really tempting.

But when students are sitting at home on their couch, why are they going to choose to watch a 2-hour lecture on the Pythagorean theorem as opposed to watching Mean Girls on Netflix? What’s going to motivate learners to take multiple-choice quizzes about the French Revolution instead of BuzzFeed quizzes that tell you which Disney character you are? How are we going to convince learners to write essays on Hamlet instead of Instagram posts about missing their friends?

If school isn’t engaging than learners will find something else to do that is.

Traditional schooling is not engaging.

It’s never fun to be “talked at” for hours on end, but it’s especially not fun when you’re sitting at your desk at home all alone in your room and staring at a computer screen. It’s mentally exhausting. And we already know multiple-choices tests are not indicative of actual learning.

Now more than ever, it is essential for education to be learner-centered.

We should teach lessons that are competency-based because while we can’t proctor tests as effectively online we can have virtual presentations that assess actual understanding and mastery of knowledge.

We have to find ways to engage young learners through personalized, relevant, and contextualized lessons or they just won’t log in to class.

We must encourage learner agency as a tool for staying mentally healthy and motivated to learn, explore, and create even while stuck inside.

We have to understand that learning is open-walled because we don’t know how long we will be out of our traditional classroom so we need to convince entire families that the absence of a room doesn’t mean the absence of learning.

And most importantly, while physically we might be social distancing, we need to ensure that mentally we are remaining socially embedded because a learner without a community is lost and we have enough loss in the world right now.

 

The world is changing. Education has to change too. While it might be “easier”, in the sense of having less thought work to do, we can’t rely on traditional methods to teach learners while they are at home with myriad other factors vying for their attention. Kids have to want to “go” to school because, in a way like never before, it’s really easy for them to choose not to. There aren’t many consequences to convince them otherwise so we have to use other methods to keep kids learning.

So how might we convince learners to want to “go” to school?

I propose that one answer is that schools need to be learner-centered. And maybe, just maybe, the greater impacts of learner-centered education will be so evident that we’ll be encouraged to continue teaching in a learner-centered paradigm even when we get to go back to our school buildings. So if you’re not already doing it, now is the time for learner-centered education. Now is the time to make sure we are being competency-based, teaching personalized, relevant, and contextualized lessons, encouraging learner agency, embracing open-walled learning environments, and remaining socially embedded even while distant.

There is no question that when we get through this crisis things will be different. Change is inevitable. So the question is, what do we want that change to look like?