I have already written two of these letters about our hybrid future in education, first here, and then here, and this is another in the series. So far, I feel like I have not given a clear picture of what that will actually look like, beyond suggesting that it will not be one monolithic thing - it will be different for different ages of students and in areas of teaching and learning. And of course it is impossible to give a complete picture of the hybrid future, because it will be generated and refined on the lessons we are learning right now. But two weeks ago, I used the metaphor of the “slider bar” on a sound engineer’s console, and I thought perhaps some more specifics of what I mean by that might be helpful - first stratified by level of education.
I think we can all agree that fully online school for young people - say, Kindergarten through 4th grade - is really difficult: for the teacher and the student. Children that age do not have a long attention span. Teachers of students that age do not have difficult content to impart, but they do spent a lot of time focused on individual student needs, and they often know more about each student than many college professors know about one or two of theirs. They learn this through regular interaction with each student, and body language and other small cues they are trained to pick up and interpret. It is for all these reasons, I submit, that we have learned this past year that fully online education of children this young is extremely difficult and probably is lacking in important ways, and hybrid is better, but not much.
At about 5th grade, we already sent students home with homework sheets, for an example. If those sheets were electronic - sometimes they already were - then those students were already engaged with online learning part of the time. The slider bar already had moved some, and in this past year some things have been learned in middle-school pedagogy online that can be incorporated into a hybrid mix created in a post-pandemic world. The slider bar moves a little more, but still not a lot.
In High School, students are rightly valuing their autonomy, and need support for that. This is where Modification of student learning could come in, using the SAMR model. This is where students and teachers can use technology in a way that changes the traditional student task, and allows the student to demonstrate mastery in a new way. Perhaps using more open-ended explorations in student projects that are self-paced. In an article entitled: I’m a High School Student. I Don’t Want Online Learning to End, Rory Selinger, a 14 year old student in New York wrote:
There are many things I miss about my pre-pandemic life. Attending school in person is not one of them.
Rory is a “very motivated high school student” who likes school. But the reduced social pressure caused by the “grade obsessed culture” of her school, well, she has discovered that taking her exams remotely, and the immediate feedback she gets from her teachers, has given her the freedom to “embrace [her] own unique learning style.” Perhaps by high school, the slider bar should move some more towards incorporating the benefits of online learning in new ways. As Rory so eloquently says:
We shouldn’t want things to go back to normal. We should want them to be better than they were before.
By the time students have entered college, we should be moving to the Redefinition part of the SAMR model. Yes, many students want the “residential college experience.” But is not that mostly about - as one of my readers pointed out - the privileges of sending ones children away (to get them out of the house) and having someone else deal with their rebellion against authority? And hasn’t the residential experience become a lucrative business model for colleges? It is no wonder they are defending it. True redefinition would require a different model, with some on campus experiences, and some online, and some in the world (externships is one form of this). These would be designed in different ways by each major, perhaps. But the goal would be to prioritize engagement versus seat time, and support “anywhere, anytime” learning, with increased student choice and participation.
Finally, graduate schools should become more permeable than they currently are, and the slider bar should move even more. Providing the full terminal degree, but also allowing opportunities for life-long learning and micro-credentialing, with hybrid textbooks and a deeper mix of in-person, synchronous online, asynchronous, and student directed project-based learning. This would vary by program, curriculum, and course, as determined by the experts who know the subject matter best, incorporating insights from their own experience teaching during the pandemic, and also help from instructional designers.
So - when I advocate for a hybrid future in education - but one with significant variability within it, particularly by age group - I hope this provides a little clearer picture of what I mean. Let me hear your thoughts!
Letters of Recommendation
If you have any interest in gardening, I can highly recommend the British program Gardener’s World. Even if you only like to look at gardens, these are gorgeous ones to see and learn about. And even if you don’t like gardens (really?), the host’s two golden retrievers - Nigel and Nellie - are worth the visit alone.
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from Dorothy Sayers, the novelist and translator of Dante’s The Divine Comedy:
The moment will come when we have to make a decision about this. At the moment, we are not making it - don’t let us flatter ourselves that we are. It is being made for us.