The Coronavirus (COVID -19) pandemic has ushered in a new era in education, where technology is now being used by educators to teach, connect and collaborate with students, parents and peers, all while working from their own kitchen table. Most educators have taken to this online pivot with energy and enthusiasm, however 9 months on, cracks are beginning to show.
The report launched by Education International today highlights the role of technology in education, and how a pedagogy first (Selwyn, 2011) approach is required now, more than ever.
When the online pivot happened in March 2020, many educators’ first thoughts were technology led. Having a laptop and access to a strong broadband connection was their primary focus, to ensure they could continue to teach and finish the school term for their students. However, once the first-order barrier of access to technology was resolved, second order issues began to emerge. Educators began to think about the pedagogies associated with online delivery. They were wondering about their own skills, and how they could use their devices more effectively in their educational settings. How will I engage my students? How will I ensure I cover the course material? How will I know they’re listening? How will I make sure they’re ok?
Since lockdown, the novelty of being able to access lectures, classes and course materials remotely is also beginning to fade for students. While they continue to delight in being able to access their content on any of their mobile devices, while out for a walk, HOW their course material is presented to them is also important. Murmurings of discontent are emerging on Twitter and in WhatsApp groups where phrases such “Zoom fatigue” and “being always on” and complaints about “exhaustion” and “workload” of staff and students alike becomes the norm. In colleges, students want to be on campus and experience the wider student life – and not just attend lectures from their bedrooms. As noted in the technology report released by Education International (October 2020), staff and student wellbeing in this remote learning environment is a persistent risk worth consideration by Unions, as we continue into 2021.
Other problems arise when trying to recreate practical skills in an online environment. Yet, educators have been ingenious in their responses to these pedagogical problems. It is worth noting that much of the literature about use of technology in education does advocate that pedagogy should drive and technology should act as an accelerator (Fullan, 2013). Neil Selwyn (2011) is a keen proponent of this pedagogy first principle when thinking about using any technology in an educational context, and a similar viewpoint is present in the research report launched by EI this month.
Technological self-efficacy of staff and students has also come into focus since March. Educators are concerned they do not have the skills required to use technology in a pedagogically sound manner. However, the European Union Digital Competency Framework (DigCompEdu https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcompedu) is a possible way for educators to start their digital competence journey. The DigCompEdu provides 22 competencies in 6 key skills areas, and details how digital technologies can be used to enhance and innovate education and teaching. This DigCompEdu framework was invaluable for many education technology leaders to ensure colleagues and students increased their own technological self-efficacy and moved move away from the ‘techno-centric’ (I need a tablet or any other device) mentality.
Where I work, we used the DigCompEdu Framework to map skills and competencies to technology we had available on site, and created a training programme known as TELMiE about IT ™. The first question we asked staff was what they wanted to achieve in the class and it became a pedagogy first intervention, where technology and devices were secondary. This TELMiE ™ approach has accelerated the technological self-efficacy and digital competencies of our colleagues and ensured they have acquired new pedagogical skills too. This has enabled them to integrate technology in meaningful ways into their classes in time for the new academic year, and throughout this term. They are device agnostic and can use any tools they have to achieve the course aims and objectives. I’m sure the global technology giants would rather prefer we purchased full suites of equipment, but we do not need to – confidence and competence using technology we have, and that students can access, has been the real success story for our colleagues and educators.
The problem of equity of access to technology has also arisen in this post Covid-19 environment. Only the privileged few have access to their own laptop, in a quiet space with a strong broadband connection. Equity of access also applies to students with intellectual disabilities who are now being asked to access content that may not be accessible due to synchronous modes of delivery. Whether every streamed class is delivered with live captions, for example, or adheres to the principles of universal design becomes relevant. The report launched by EI notes that equity of access to technology is an area for improvement and all teacher educator unions should be aware of this, especially as we continue in online mode.
The next few months will present continued challenges for educators, but as the Minister for Higher Education in Ireland noted yesterday, “the dynamism demonstrated by education [during Covid-19] is a lesson we must not unlearn”. Members of Education International are keenly aware of this, and I wish everyone luck and health during this challenging time.