‘CARE AND COMMUNICATION’ IS THE KEY
In part 1 of the blog I finished up with a call for a pedagogy of care. Let me say at the outset that if you want to undertand more about care and education you should really check out the work of the wonderful Maha Bali. Her keynote Centering Critical Care During Crises (OLC Innovate 2020 Virtual Conference) should be required viewing for all involved in education – in the meantime if you only have five minutes to spare you should watch her Gasta Goes Global presentation where she reminded us ‘that nobody signed up for this‘.
Thinking About September
For me, in the context of the pandemic, a pedagogy of care is underpinned by my contention ‘nothing fancy is required’. Above all, it is about doing the basic things right and not making unrealistic demands on ourselves or our students.
- Technology is in itself not Pedagogy – Don’t become enthralled with the technology as an end in itself.
- Communication is at the heart of the process – Regardless of the technology used, opportunities for communication both formal and informal need to be maintained and where neccessary created, especially in the case of peer to peer student communication.
- Clear expectations from everyone – It is always important to be clear about what can be delivered and what is expected. However, when operating at a distance the potential for misunderstanding and mixed messages can become amplified. In planning for September, individuals and institutions should make their expectations of themselves and their students explicit. Students should know what they can expect and what is expected of them and plan accordingly.
- If it’s not your job it has to be someone’s – Roles and remits need to take account of the changed circumstances; it is not enough to say that it is not your role. Systems, policies and procedures that have been largely predicated on a campus-based model need to be modified. For example, if an institution’s computer services department previously did not support student off-campus technology issues that needs to be changed. If you cannot resolve a student issue know who can and take responsibility for tracking that issue.
- Consider what is ‘minimum’ standard to aim for everyone – There is little point in some students having a wonderful online experience while others have a poor experience. At an institutional level, collaboratively decide what is appropiate and meaningful and ensure that staff are supported in achieving that standard.
- Clearly structured and easy to follow content – One of the best starting points for creating clear and accessible content is to adopt Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. For those who imagine that UDL is about designing for people with a disability; think again, it is good design – period! As Damian Gordon says “Universal Design for Learning UDL is a great way to develop online content that addresses to needs of all learners”.
- Good quality asynchronous teaching – Asynchronous learning has much to offer, not least fact that it is far more student friendly and less technologically demanding (see Bali & Meier, 2014). As Mark Brown argues a “well-designed asynchronous, self-directed and small group learning experiences can be far more engaging, interactive and challenging than sitting passively in front of a screen watching a live or recorded lecture”.
One could quite rightly make the argument that these points are always pertinent – but when the online environment IS the campus these become essential and NOT aspirational. Develop and enhance your skills by all means; but remember that the bread and butter issues of education are about teaching and not agonising over fine tuning and editing a high production value video. If the majority of staff can deliver and support a competent and pedagogically sound online learning experience, they have done a good job as have the staff who support them.
The 90/10 Challenge
For months I have seen excellent advice and case studies detailing some great examples of innovative and exciting work – work that clearly demonstrates inventiveness, hard work and a commitment to students. But at times I have asked myself: who is going to use this advice and who is it aimed at? Over the past four months I have tried to do my ‘day’ job, diligently supporting and supporting colleagues while at the same time trying to maintain and enhance my professional knowledge.
Sometimes it left me a bit overwhelmed, feeling that I should be reading that document; registering for that webinar or watching that recording; and if I’m feeling overwhelmed what are my non edTech colleagues feeling? The reality is that the vast majority of our colleagues in higher education are not swimming in the sea of educational technology; they (in keeping with Gilly Salmon’s typology) are more likely to be drowning in a sea of work, stress and technology or waving frantically for the edTech ‘lifeguard’ to come and rescue them or their colleagues. In my role as an academic developer I have always contended that:
I would prefer that 90% of the staff used 10% of the technology rather than if 10% of the staff used 90% of the technology.
A pedagogy of care is about reassuring, informing, supporting and inspiring colleagues. In turn, if they are supported and confident, they will be better placed to support their students. Returning to my points about ‘nothing fancy’ – if the vast majority of staff can provide well-structured and resourced scaffolded online learning opportunities that does not pose an inordinate challenge on staff, the available technology and the students, that is good enough; and sometimes good enough is good enough. Caring for others begins with caring for oneself, be self-reflective but not self-critical. In articulating what the nature of online teaching should be in these challenging times I think we could do worse than consider the words of the late great Arthur Ashe:
As we move forward my earnest hope is that online teaching & learning is not seen as a deficit model; something to be taken out and dusted off in a time of emergency; but ultimately not regarded as good as ‘the real thing’. I would have loved to write something pithy and insighful to finish, but I am afriaid that well ran a little dry at the end of writing this blog. However, the quote below from George Veletsianos beautifully articulates my thoughts and feelings regarding what is the most important aspect of
online education as we move forward.
As I said in part 1 of this blog, the genesis of this blog began with a keynote that I delivered online for Dundalk Institute of Technology’s Centre for Teaching and Learning. I was asked to reprise the presentation for Waterford Institute of Technology’s end of year event hosted by its Centre for Technology-Enhanced Learning 48 hours later – the video of which is below: