Inspired by Downes’s super collection of ideas, and appalled by the discussion 1) in our country about keeping full presence classes, I need to write down some thoughts despite I am not a practitioner in this extremely difficult craft.
Of course I can imagine how terrible the weeks with closed schools have been, thinking of a family in a small flat having children doing their online classes and caring for younger siblings while parents are trying to combine home office with explaining content to kids. And yes, this widens the social gap.
But what I hear everywhere is only about the conditions, not about the objectives. Why don’t we consider
- drastically reduced curriculum content,
- drastically reduced summative assessments,
- and drastically refocussing on independent learning competencies?
We have an emergency! We cannot stubbornly stick to the prescribed catalog of facts to cram into pupils. I am old enough that the narrations of war and post-war plight from my parents were very vivid to me. In WWII, several cohorts had to do a “Not-Abitur” ( = emergency A-levels), and my elementary school teacher’s training was reduced to two years. But he became a great teacher. In Grammar School, we had a “Kurzschuljahr” (= shortened school year) when the start was switched from Easter to summer. And more recently, they made the experiment of “G8” (8 instead of 9 years). All without leading to the End of the world.
Instead of questioning the prescribed objectives, I hear everywhere just lamenting about, or arguing for, the changed circumstances,
- the technology (which many have just obstinately ignored for 20 years),
- asynchronous vs. synchronous,
- without vs. with eye contact and “togetherness” (Bates),
- and the feat of creating motivation for what pupils normally just let wash over them.
Of course, “ceteris paribus” ( = all other staying equal) this is impossible. Asynchronous mode furthers, but also requires, more independent work, which cannot quickly be learned in addition to all the traditional subject matter. But isn’t independent thinking the ultimate goal that is normally the effect of dealing with all the McGuffin of content?
(Yes there is content that may need to be quickly acquired. How the ventilator in the ICU works, for example, cannot wait for independent insight by the student. If some effective “Nuremberg Funnel” can optimally animate or simulate the necessary theoretical knowledge, we will welcome it, although it might skip the fostering of independent learning.)
For remote learning, without permanently being nudged, it is much more important to have an honest and plausible justification of why the stuff is relevant. A desired Unit 1 may require some Unit 2 for understanding, and in turn, Unit 2 may presuppose some Unit 3. In a flipped classroom, all this is flipped upside down. No longer does the teacher do the sequencing (Unit 3 > Unit 2 > Unit 1) to push stuff to the learners. Instead, the dependencies may be discussed on the face-to-face day preceding the canned-stuff day, and then the pupils pull the units themselves.
1) This Tweet shows a snippet from a German newspaper quoting a notice from the regional government in Münster to teachers: “Parents […], local politicians […] and colleagues don’t want to hear that you have doubts — but that school is a safe place.“