Last week, I hosted a conference of 70 colleagues from around the country. This was a Pre-Conference Workshop for the in-person conference we will host in late September. The title of the conference is Online & Hybrid Learning Pedagogy - Toward Defining Best Practices. It first took place in 2019, and over 160 colleagues across silos and job descriptions gathered to learn more about online pedagogy. The goal of the conference was (and going forward, is) to support and encourage a data-driven approach to the decisions we know we need to make over the coming decade to improve and enhance the delivery of online and hybrid learning to our students.
When we hosted the first conference, in September of 2019, there were attendees who called it such extravagant things as “the Conference of the decade” and averred that we “would all remember the Denver Conference.” Those folks who said things like that did not know how prescient they were being, or what was coming just around the corner.
We did know - even then - that the conversation was urgent. That the teaching of many subjects could be improved and expanded dramatically using these technologies. But there was resistance, as there often is for many forms of change in education. We did not know, none of us knew, that a pandemic of immense proportions and impacts would be the accelerant for learning so much about these critical issues, under pressure. A mere five months after the conference in September, the issues we raised and explored became immediately critical and urgent.
We entered a period in education that came to be called “Emergency Remote Teaching.” This term was created to draw a distinction between the massive disruption created by moving everything we do online over a weekend – and the kind of planned, data-driven, decisions that the conference in 2019 began and advocated. But we made it through the rest of the spring semester, and many were surprised at how we were able to rise to the challenge.
For the Academic year 2020-21, we applied some of those lessons, but it felt haphazard at times, with experimentation with such approaches as HyFlex teaching – some students in the classroom, and some remote. We taught in-person some of the time, in masks. We taught fully online classes. The trauma to all of us – teachers and students alike – will take some time to fully assess. But we made it through that year as well.
Most of the conferences I am involved with involve education and pedagogy. Some years ago, it occurred to me that it would be important to invite students to speak about their experience. That was such a positive element of that conference, that I have done it ever since. This conference was no exception.
I invited four students to be part of a panel, all graduate students, each of whom had experienced all or part of their educational experience online. Several of them had experienced it in hybrid format, some in HyFlex format, and some in-person and online. Basically, every variation of teaching modality of the last four years were experienced by members of this student panel.
I asked questions about their learning experiences. We had a great conversation. There was one overarching take-away, for me at least.
It was no big deal.
Sure, they would have preferred a steadier presentation, and not so much back and forth. There were elements their teachers could have done better. But they were able to adjust, and get what they needed. They had some suggestions for their teachers, among them to communicate better about what was changing, and to post materials in a consistent way. They know that engagement is still what makes for a good learning environment, and in most cases, they were able to stay engaged. In other words, overall, they got what they needed and appreciated the efforts of their teachers.
Which isn’t that surprising, I suppose. They have lived so much of their lives - already - online. Banking, signing up for stuff, ordering groceries, or dinner. While they were in some ways negatively affected by the pandemic - as we all have been - the online/hybrid/HyFlex/mask debates were a relatively small part of it.
After two years of angst, and upset, and back and forth, and parents screaming at education boards, and endless debates about masks or no masks or vaccines, or no vaccines, and on and on… mostly students got what they needed. At least on this panel, among grad students. Even with that caveat, it was an encouraging discussion.
Letters of Recommendation
I have been enjoying reading a book published several years ago called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, written by Mason Currey. It describes the artistic process for such writers as Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Benjamin Franklin, and Twyla Tharp. Mason also has a Substack on the same subject called Subtle Maneuvers.
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from Todd Wittaker:
If anyone were to ask your students if you love teaching and enjoy your time with them each day, what would they answer?
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