As both an educator whose first year of teaching was interrupted by a pandemic and a graduate student whose first semester was entirely online, I’m becoming increasingly interested in the relationship between technology and education. The toolbox of digital resources available to teachers and students has been rapidly changing and expanding for years, but the outdated, conservative, and bureaucratic education system hasn’t exactly kept up. The pandemic changed that; suddenly and without precedent, schools were forced to shift instruction entirely online.
Obviously, this massive change has caused problems: frustrated teachers can’t connect face to face with their students, many of whom are struggling to succeed without the proper tech, structure, and support. But I think this change also presents an opportunity for the education system to overhaul its outdated, Industrial Age structure and finally catch up to the rest of the twenty-first century.
Whether the U.S. education system will take this opportunity is still in question; already, I think schools are desperately clinging to the old ways and consequently are missing opportunities for long overdue structural changes that the pandemic could have easily facilitated. Hybrid instruction, for example, instead of seamlessly blending asynchronous and synchronous instruction, just asks educators to teach their normal lessons to in-person students and virtual students simultaneously. (I have a lot of opinions about this model, but since this is a public post and I don’t have tenure, I’ll keep them to myself.)
Despite these missed opportunities, there are plenty of aspects of online learning that I hope will continue even after in-person instruction is safe again, such as the focus on open ended assessments that require students to research, think critically, and be creative (and are therefore difficult to cheat on, even in a completely virtual environment) instead of regurgitate memorized facts and figures.
The collaborative and experimental NetNarr course feels like the perfect avenue to explore the questions I’m having about these still evolving changes to the education system. Not only does the class’s topic revolve around how the pandemic will change the university experience, but the format and structure of the course point to what the future of online instruction could look like.
As I continue asking big questions about what the “new normal” will look like, I’m especially excited to have discussions with the cohort of scholars I got to know so well last semester. Despite entering into graduate school in a strange new virtual environment, my classmates created a supportive, connected community that I’m sure will only strengthen as we welcome new members and discover new topics to discuss.