Lessons learned from a life online (National Education Summit)
National Education Summit, Melbourne
Over the last two years, boardrooms have become dining tables and classrooms have become bedrooms, as the world shifted to an unprecedented life online. With advancements in technology continuing to excel at an ever increasing pace, it forced educators to adapt without delay to a new way of teaching and learning.
For any leaders in education, instigating change can often be a slow, if not a tense, process with key stakeholders. While devices, apps and exciting new platforms appear on our radar’s with regularity, introducing them into traditional models of education can be far slower and incremental. Compliance, legality, cost, infrastructure, and teacher and student upskilling are all potential barriers to any effective implementation. So what then happens when a global pandemic erupts with little notice, and schools are forced into a ‘sink or swim’ proposition?
We adapt, because the grim alternative was for schooling to grind to a halt. The beauty of this scenario was how it has highlighted the incredible ability and adaptability of teachers and students to acclimatise, without hesitation, to a fundamentally new way of learning. While online learning is by no means an entirely new innovation, the way education has been delivered over this period has been significantly different. Teachers had to adapt their resources, collaborate with colleagues from a distance, and strive to engage their students when often each unique personality in a classroom was reduced to a pixelated thumbnail on a screen. While learning from the comfort of home might’ve seemed a novelty initially, many swiftly learned to appreciate the myriad opportunities presented by being at school, once they were stripped away. Whether it be the organic conversations stemming from a classroom debate, the relationships strengthened traveling with friends to and from school, or the cocurricular prospects that institutions strive to offer, being stuck behind a webcam just didn’t replicate what it meant to be a student or a teacher.
While 2022 has an air of uncertainty hanging over it, education can approach it with optimism, knowing that the lessons learned from the last two years have prepared them to adapt at a moment’s notice. One thing to be cognisant of is that there may be a divide in how teachers and students embrace technology in a pandemic or post-pandemic era. Without using the term lightly, some may have lingering trauma and emotional distress from the prospect of online learning in the future. Learning at home underlined how we are innately social beings, and when this aspect of learning was taken away, the process felt less engaging. Any future prospects of online learning will need to be approached with sensitivity and consideration for how previous experiences may demotivate and disengage both students and staff.
Our constant news cycle, with a bombardment of statistics, case numbers, and new variants, can easily be cause for dismay. However, it is important to focus on the benefits that have come from this significant paradigm shift. As classrooms and playgrounds whir back to life, it is hopefully with a renewed vigour and appreciation for what it means to go to school. Teachers have rapidly upskilled in blended learning and how to deliver content in less traditional ways. Students have been introduced to new tools and ways of collaborating, and have been reminded of the value of being amongst their peers in the physical space. Parents have, more than ever before, received a front row seat and appreciation of their child’s education as they’ve supervised their learning from over the shoulder at home. 2022 is an exciting time for education, as we take the lessons learned from one of the most tumultuous times in modern history and put them into practice.