Teaching in the new normal
WHETHER online learning is effective or otherwise is something we will only truly know from experience. For now, all things are plain speculation or expressions of hope. But it would be good for both teachers and students to be reminded that the reason why we opt for online learning is that there is no other safer option. “Freezing” the academic year at the expense of manpower preparedness cannot be an option.
As we move closer to the opening of classes, we must brace ourselves and expect challenges. We need to manage our expectations and be open to adjustments. Part of this is setting aside our idealisms as we try to grapple with many things that are either fully or partly unknown to us. In the middle of this pandemic, we should know when to say “should have been” or “should be.” Seeing and understanding things in context is important. This way we would live in the “here and now” and thus avoid unnecessary experiences of anguish.
The challenges to teaching in the new normal are both immediate and long-term; either formal or substantive. Within our plain view, connectivity is the immediate concern. Apparently, this is a challenge but actually not the only. In fact, it is a technical concern that should have a technical solution. This is not to say that such a challenge is not real, but once one would get to have the “means” to afford the service of an internet provider, the problem ends there.
The greater challenges are actually found in the need for educational institutions to adjust to the changing realities around them. This is where long-term planning and more serious reflections and discussions are needed. What shall become of education in the years to come? And what kind of educated people will the future need? This question is neither dystopian nor utopian but a practical one. It is a question that must be asked if we are to genuinely live our lives as reflective human persons in the new normal. Essentially, this is not just a technical question but one that pushes us to search and focus on the more enduring aspects of our lives. There is no one shot answer to it, and, in fact, the answer may have to be discerned and re-discerned in the process.
The questions, for example, on what is relevant to teach these days is nothing but serious. After all, if education is the process of birthing knowledge, we are, in more ways than one, at an age where people ask “what do we truly know?” Thus, when preparing performance tasks they have to be planned and designed in light of the updates, advances and challenges of the new normal. To what extent will our questions enable our students to connect to a world that is economically and politically volatile, ambiguous and uncertain? Do our principles still hold valid? Is the here and now a connection to human history and if so what is this current experience telling us of who we are as a people and the institutions that we create?
Then there is the issue of competencies or skills. While it is true that there are many skills that are enduring and shall forever be part of the needs of the marker (e.g. communication) but basically we cannot but be part of the evolution in which the mode and manner of the transmission and application of skills would surely change. This means that teachers too should be upskilled and reskilled for one cannot give what one doesn't have. An example would be research. Given all the lockdowns and strictures, how will we proceed with data collection? Now is the time for learners to “actually do” research using available and existing online data. Certainly, this will have many implications to the changing landscape of academic ethics given its closer interface with technology especially Artificial Intelligence (AI).
There are a lot of things that teachers should reflect on these days. At first the resumption of classes would initially feel like “business as usual.” But as things move one we shall feel the changes, and we have to be ready for them. In words of Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, the pandemic gives us an opportunity to “reflect, reimagine and reset our world.”