To be clear, what we’ve all just been through with “online learning” is not online learning at all. It is emergency-use online learning (EUOL). We should be careful to call it what it is. Pretending that what we’ve experienced is online learning is akin to pretending the burger you just ate was filet mignon. Well, they’re both meat.
Let’s start with a question for instructional designers and faculty members: when you last designed a course, how much time did you spend thinking about the role that each element in that course plays in shaping your college or university?
One of the key changes faced by students and educators alike in the shift to online teaching has been a decrease in social presence. Yet numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of social presence in education. The benefits include increased student satisfaction, participation and engagement with material, and a greater likelihood of students feeling comfortable in a course and confident in approaching their instructor. More social presence has been shown to reduce challenges inherent in online education such as interpersonal disconnection and isolation.
The pandemic has been responsible for a great many things, including the exposure of something endemic in higher education: learner variability. This is not new. Institutes of higher education have long ignored or paid lip service to the fact that students come from multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds, that they have differing needs, abilities, disabilities and constraints.
There’s a non-trivial element of entertainment involved in the act − or art − of teaching. If you think back to your favourite teachers over the years, whether from school or university, I would wager that they found a way to convey their own interest and investment in their subject matter in a way that captured and held your attention.
Back on a cool March morning, I went through my usual pandemic ritual of logging into Zoom, when an urgent message came in from a small group of students in my health justice class – an online class I developed mid-pandemic.
Imagine you’re 18 years old and you’re just beginning to learn how to read and write in a language you’ve never heard or spoken before. Not only that, but you have to learn it remotely, sitting online in front of a machine with a keyboard that, most likely, doesn’t have the letters of the language you’re about to learn. You’d be forgiven for asking yourself why you’re learning this language. And why you’re learning these strange-looking scripts.
Two things changed the direction of my personal and professional life in my early twenties: during my senior year in college, I survived a violent sexual assault, and three months after graduation I experienced homelessness. My family was not equipped to support me with either because they were struggling financially and had strong opinions regarding my queer identity. I was forced to navigate the sexual assault trauma on my own while still trying to earn my degree.
Throughout the pandemic, students, staff and instructors alike have received countless emails addressing the collective exhaustion of teaching, learning and working online. Often, these emails contain directives such as “don’t forget to practise self-care”, or “go for a walk” or − my particular favourite − an email sent on a Wednesday that gently advised “don’t check emails on Wednesdays”.
Effective teaching requires both expectation and compassion. At first glance, these components might appear mutually exclusive, but they are not. Successful outcomes require both.
In any learning environment, expectation and compassion are more mutually reliant than mutually exclusive. The literature on teaching and learning shows that high expectations result in better gains for students. But online teaching has highlighted that students lead varied, complex lives behind their cameras, and that meeting study requirements can be stressful, so they also need care and support.