By Mary Jones, CEO, Top My Grades
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Educators are fighting to provide quality education for learners amidst a tumultuous, often hectic environment. They face old and new challenges in the short and long term. The strategy, while it needs to be promulgated from the top, requires involvement from actors at each step of the ladder, and security that, despite reduced resources from reduced enrollments and tuition fees, they will enjoy the safety, certainty and support from their institutions. A particularly poignant requirement at a time of undisputed technological change.
The latest National eLearning Survey of Community Colleges by the Instructional Technology Council collects school performance data alongside with members’ views and feeling on their biggest challenges, and their outlook about the blooming year. Covering nearly 1,000 members, responses came from educators, leaders and on behalf of institutions. The principal one? In a word: Support. Administrators supporting teachers, and feeling teachers deliver and engage. Teachers getting social, technical and support in tasks like content creation and curation. Students feeling supported, oriented and encouraged individually, despite the predominant virtual settings.
While the full report is available to ITC members only, a 2020 Survey Summary infographic is available to download. (PDF)
These challenges and the survey are an invitation to rethink the future of education and improve our current system. Many, deliberately or with a forced hand, are starting to.
Concept mapping: The silver vaccine
What for some of you might look like a quirky business management class game is now at the core of the digital transformation strategy. Universities are using concept mapping to correlate with topics and ideas, problems and solutions —ready-made, or needing some adjustment— in order not just to overcome a crisis, but to face an uncertain multitude of possible futures. Concept mapping is best when an intricate thought process needs to be organized into sets and subsets, steps, responsibilities and metrics. It all starts with a graphic diagram. Participants in a mapping exercise take turns adding items, or connecting them, either as best-candidate solution to a given problem, or likely causality.
From my work in counseling with universities —including Principals and Administrators— through concept mapping, I have found these as significant shifts commonly agreed upon, that we need in education:
№1. Student-centered models
Before, teachers were used to depend on batch, factory-like models of training. (They still do, but they used to too.) These methods are not enough to acknowledge the unique traits or differences in students’ experience. Without giving it proper thought to its ramifications, you might have missed how, in the absence of directed action, wealthier students would just come out ahead compared to deprived students. Most students fall behind because we fail to see them as unique individuals, subjects to unique circumstances.
The pandemic is compelling us to admit these differences like never before. Even the most luddites among us saw in the internet a tool with real potential, both to administer elearning, and to connect and understand learners in brand new ways. We can all see how good things happen when we focus on educating students by meeting them at where we are, literally. Now we can build true student-centered education.
This practice is already working in schools across many countries. Universities and schools who are succeeding in this method can share with others who are more comfortable to shift to a 21st-century education method. Advocacy groups like KnowledgeWorks and Aurora Institute can support schools interested in adopting this focus.
№2. Personalized learning
One things is to address student by their circumstances and attributes. But personalized learning is not yet realized until it also lets them go their own ways.
We often forget that learning is actually an inherently desirable activity, pursued by one’s own passions and searches in life. Schools follow standardized testing and grading out of institutional prerogatives. But in doing so, they tend to forget to explore the unique abilities of their students. Advanced digital technologies have greatly increased our ability to enable this and empower students.
Here, the tools and approaches of concept mapping can be put on the hands of students, along with interactive games, modeling tools, videos and more. Students should be not just allowed, but encouraged to use different tech-enabled devices and programmes related to the subject, and keeping a structured approach while doing so.
While standardized testing is still needed for reasons beyond the students, alternative techniques are welcome, like using assignments as assessment tools. Assessments can become a measure of a student’s critical thinking and mental hygiene, not their memory.
How do universities apply more whole, open-ended assessments?
- Open book and take-home exams
These might sound easier to do. (And, sure, cheat!) But the simple fact is that take-home, open book exams are complex. How challenging they are is a matter of how challenging the question is. If need be, originality checkers coupled with a good lesson in proper citation and reference practices can filter out attempts at taking a tempting shortcut. This exam affects both character and knowledge.
- Essay exams
In essay exams, you give a topic or question, in order for the taker to write a detailed conclusion. Essay exam tips and hints have sprawled a thriving virtual community, where essay makers can find all kinds of help related to the proposed selection of questions, summarize points and follow the structure.
- Oral Exams
Oral exams are generally conducted for language subjects, but in our highly visual world they can give your student an edge on their public speaking skills. Oral exams help express and sharpen communication skills. Depending on the context, and how comfortable students feel about it, the presentations can be public, for the class, or just you. And now, live and prerecorded examinations are at everyone’s fingertips.
№3. Expansive accessibility
For students unable to access tools and content, this and most all conversations on elearning are moot.
Accessible tech is a must. Tools like tactile drawing boards and screen readers allow such students to get subject knowledge on maths. Thanks to technology, students in a remote location can get educated through web-based apps. The University of Pennsylvania offers screen readers and cameras, along with resources for schools and teachers looking to get started.
№4. Teacher’s roles
Teachers serve as a resource for students. Teachers take a class and provide subject information. Later students need to accept data and repeat them on a multiple-choice test. Sounds dreary, doesn’t it?
The information available in fingertips through smartphones and computer screens. Teachers needs to be shifted from data transmission to improve skills. Students must be trained to learn logically, research instantly and effectively. There are diverse new skills to be known to drive plenty of information and make the correct decision in this rapidly changing world.
№5. Curriculum planning, resources and tools
Ashley Berner at Johns Hopkins Institute tells redefinED, “National studies of America’s classrooms notice that most underchallenge students, mainly needy students. The Rand Corporation’s national survey found that a majority of teachers improvise their lessons through a variety of resources.”
Nothing against Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers. But focusing on adequate resourcing is a must. Teachers and education authorities must now more than ever make sure the sources are top notch and stand scrutiny.
Mary Jones is the co-founder and editor-in-chief at Top My Grades, which focuses on career counseling for university students in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. She is an educator for the past ten years, having ample experience in training aspiring teachers in the field. She specializes in providing help with teaching assignments, drafting lesson plans and templates for students and professionals. Beyond work, you can find her out on the porch reading or a solo trip exploring the wonders of nature.