Distance Education - The Driver Behind Change

Kate Friedwald  |  May 2020

Did you see me on stuff.co.nz?

Below is the full version of of what I wrote just prior to deciding that I wanted to reach and challenge even more teachers therefore getting in touch with stuff.co.nz

I am extremely passionate about innovative teaching and learning both for what it can achieve for teachers and students.

With little preparation, teachers were thrust into teaching by distance and for the most part, they have embraced it!  Learning to use new online learning platforms, rethinking how they assigned tasks, finding new ways to engage learners, creating innovative ways for collaboration and finding new resources that work well in the current climate have been consuming teachers for the lockdown period.

We now have a fantastic opportunity to take all the positive we can out of this situation and really analyse what is worth keeping from the distance teaching/learning experience and what from face to face school operation has not been missed and could be left out once we return.  As a PLD facilitator, I move (not at present obviously) from school to school and one thing I notice is that there are a number of practices, that for a variety of reasons stay in place because changing them is seen as a job that is either too large, too controversial or just not worth it as that is the way it has always been.  Well, now we are in a unique place.  We have been forced into trying out alternative ways.  We have been forced to let go of many practices, rules, routines and procedures.  So what can we learn from this? and what change for the better can we make when we return to school?

Traditionally teachers have been the knowledge holder.  Learners come to school to learn from the teacher, who is the expert in the content being covered.  But as the years have gone by the content being learnt has broadened due to social changes, industry development, future education, employment opportunities and student interests.  Teachers are unable to be the expert in all knowledge and skills students wish to acquire so they become the expert in facilitating the learning process and teaching learners how to learn.  They open learners’ eyes, ears and hearts.  The foster engagement, interest, collaboration, self-management and a huge range of other social and core skills that we want our young people to hold.

Distance teaching has required teachers to think past the traditional.  For some teachers, it is a slight change to their learning programme which is already focused on the development of 21st-century skills and practices.  For others, it is a massive change in practice.  Two examples of practices that can hang around for good are flipped learning and learner agency.

  • Flipped learning is a concept in which a teacher provides material for students to engage with in order to support their learning of a new concept, topic or skill.  This material may include examples, videos, practice activities, readings and more.  Students will engage with the material at their own pace, practice and then demonstrate their understanding to either their peers and or the teacher.  They have learnt, without being taught as such, but by being supported with the material, time and assistance they require.  Traditionally the teacher would have delivered the content to the whole class/group at his/her own pace and then supported practice.  During flipped learning the teacher is able to facilitate small group workshops, extend learners, support those needed further support and allow those who are able to go forth on their own to do so.  It fosters self-management, learner engagement and learner agency, not to mention the ability for students to revisit material as and when needed.  The concept of flipped learning as becoming a necessity for many teachers as they are suddenly unable to have as much face time in front of their students.  They can, however, push material out through various learning platforms so that students can engage and interact with it in their own time.  This is just one practice that would be beneficial to hold onto once we return to face to face education.
  • Learner Agency is a concept regarding students using their initiative and having the power to make more choices concerning their learning.  When/where/what and how they learn. Students are leaving formal education and entering a workforce that expects them to think for themselves, use their initiative, manage their skills/knowledge/learning and time. Project-based learning, passion projects, learning through play and inquiry learning are targeted examples of learner agency that are gaining traction in schools around the country.  Must do / Can do learning, choice boards, self timetabling and opt-in workshops are further examples of practices teachers can take to provide students with a growing level of agency.  Through need and practically teaches are developing these practices through distance teaching and learning right now.  Many students are able to access content when they please or when it suits their bubble dynamics.  A teacher may be suggesting a range of learning activities that a student can choose from.  They may be providing guidance and support for students who have made their own choices around what they wish to learn.  Rather than fitting the learning to the curriculum, learner agency is supportive of fitting the curriculum to the learning.  Supporting students to identify the areas of curriculum skill and knowledge in what they are learning and develop these as they go.  

During this period education has lost not only a number of long-held onto teaching pedagogies but also a number of operational procedures.  What students wear to school, when they eat, where they eat, who they learn with, what time they start and finish school.  Following this period of innovation is a great time to reflect on what has been lost and what can remain lost.  Can we foster individuality by dropping the school uniform?  Can we encourage self-management by allowing students to eat when they are hungry? Is there a benefit to having a whole school break for morning tea and lunch at the same time or could when and as needed be of benefit?  Are so many staff meetings that take teachers away from the priority tasks necessary?  Written reports? Set library times?  What else?

Let’s engage in some blue-sky thinking, challenge the norm and create a new and improved educational environment.

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