During the COVID 19 crisis we have relied heavily on video conferencing technologies to maintain education, work and social connections. In a recent Zoom meet which included participants from around Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the USA, I was struck by just how incredible it was that each of us were facing such similar challenges and experiences regardless of where we were on the planet. I cannot think of another period in my life time when such a universal transformation of our way of life has occurred simultaneously around the world.
As we begin to slowly emerge from isolation, it is therefore worth considering how our experiences will be used to shape the world that we emerge into. There has been speculation about how this period may impact our societal expressions of justice, human behaviour and use of limited resources. It is also fascinating to consider what lasting changes will be made to the way we teach and learn as a result of our rapid adoption of distance learning.
I once attended a conference where the presenter told an anecdote about the adoption of Twitter to enhance education. He explained that a history class in the United States was studying revolutions in early 2011. While the students were learning about the Ancien Régime of France from a theoretical perspective, a real time revolution was occurring across the world in Egypt during what became known as the Arab Spring. The teacher posted on Twitter to see if there were any revolutionaries who could speak English who would be prepared to discuss their motivations, hopes and fears with the class of high school students. After connecting with a suitable candidate, a video meet was set up and the class was able to shift from the theoretical to the experiential as they encountered fresh first-hand testimony from Tahrir Square.
Such transformative technology-dependant experiences used to be the exclusive domain of the social-media connected, technology savvy generation of educators and also relied on the interview subject having these capabilities. An advantage of the current situation is that we have trained up all teachers, students and many people in the wider community with an understanding of how to utilise video conferencing technologies meaningfully. Prior to the COVID 19 outbreak King David had utilised this technology in some twinning experiences with schools in Israel. I believe that we will be able to use this in a far more consistent manner to encourage dialogue between students internationally and to have the opportunity to bring relevant and interesting experts into the classroom, from wherever they are in the world.
Another way that the COVID 19 situation may positively transform education is through a change in the role of the educator. Educational theorists have for some time talked about the necessity for educators to shift away from the model of filling up the student with knowledge to encourage them to develop transferable skills and conceptual understandings. This move from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide by the side” is enhanced when teachers are less concerned with delivery of content and more focused on monitoring the acquisition of understanding. One way that this has been shown to work in a senior school setting is through increased reliance on delivery of asynchronous content in, for instance, a teacher-prepared video or a publicly available resource which students can watch outside of class. Then teachers can spend valuable in-class time in testing for understanding and correcting misconceptions. This “flipped” model is now adopted in many universities but the transition to schools has been slowed by a lack of available content or even inhibitions about video delivery. During COVID 19 we have seen a proliferation of such content and this is likely to enhance teaching and learning experiences going forwards.
Perhaps the greatest, and I hope long-lasting, impact of COVID 19 in terms of education has been the renewed love and respect which has justifiably been directed to teachers. It is truly fantastic that our teachers have been thanked in media, popular culture and in person for their extraordinary contribution during this period. The truth is that our teachers have risen to the challenge but we know that they are always like this – professional, committed, creative and inspiring. I am sure that upon the return to the classroom a lasting legacy of this unfortunate time will be that we celebrate our teachers more frequently for their wonderful contributions.