Thursday, March 12, 2020

Covid-19 - a Breakthrough for Technology in Education? #CoronaVirus

There is already a lot of Technology in education - we have become so reliant on it that most of us can no longer envisage learning without some kind of technology in the classroom. Despite some setbacks (eg, see: Co Meath school to reverse iPads-only policy after review), students everywhere are using their computers for learning. There's no going back on this.

With some Schools and Colleges already closed, and I'm certain - more to follow, the use of technology to replace face-to-face classrooms is on the agenda as we struggle to contain the Covid-19 virus. I'll only comment on the third level sector, as this is where I work. We of course use the likes of Moodle and Blackboard to manage content such as lecture notes, sample assessments, exercises, model answers, and links to relevant on-line material. But lecturers everywhere are wondering about or asking questions about virtual classrooms and how to use them. Since I already teach one of my modules on-line - I feel that I could easily move my other modules on-line for the rest of the semester. I may have to make different arrangements for students who do not have broadband access, but this may not be the problem it once was. I use Adobe Connect, which is excellent for on-line delivery of a class. A warning to others thinking that just because an old guy like me can do it, how tough can it be! Also a warning to educational institutions' management who think that moving everything on-line is the solution to the current crisis.

It is two years since my first on-line class and I am still learning the trade. From a Learning and Teaching point of view, it is a very different environment than the classroom. Way back in 2003, Morten Flate Paulsen*, Professor at Sør-Trøndelag University College in Norway, was one of the first scholars to research the distinction between on-line and classroom education. A simple summary of what he wrote to compare the two types of education:

Classroom Education:
  • Controlled by “bell”
  • Boundaries are socially accepted

On-line Education:
  • 24 x 7 x 365
  • More demand from students
  • Heavier workload for on-line teachers

In short, on-line education has a heavier workload than the classroom equivalent. Paulsen proposed the following strategies to reduce teacher workload in on-line education:
  1. Form a group of experienced and well-trained teachers
  2. Establish a system for technical and administrative support
  3. Shift attention from spontaneous interactive teaching to deliberate course design
  4. Pay special attention to the assessment workload per student when designing course assignments
  5. Restrict teacher interaction with individual students and small groups of students
  6. Encourage and facilitate interaction among students
  7. Automate response
  8. Develop a scheme to handle the demand for expedient responses
Sound advice indeed! However, we have to consider that we are two thirds of the way thought the last semester of the academic year and there is not the time, resource, or knowledge to implement above (written 17 years ago). We are also in the middle of a crisis (though not all education authorities see this yet) and we must put our students' learning first. Most will be understanding of the difficulties Colleges will encounter, and be sympathetic of our efforts to finish courses. But many (if not all) are already concerned about finishing modules and sitting exams. They are waiting.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

* Paulsen, M.F., (2003). Online education: Learning management systems - Global E-Learning in a Scandinavian Perspective.

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