Traditional <=> Virtual Instruction and Community

I am tired of people stating that online education is lesser or doesn’t work as if that is a fact. It is not a fact. There is good teaching, good pedagogy, that can occur in online, hybrid, or traditional classrooms. Sometimes there is bad education in those settings. Some teachers are better in one setting because they have had no training (and/or time to prepare) for the other. Some teachers are awesome and flexible about their teaching strategies when they have not been stretched and stressed by three years of teaching and living in a pandemic. Most education systems never worked for all of the students, all of the staff, and all of the families, all of the time. These are facts.

It is also important to not think about education as operating as an on-off switch. In truth, education operates on a spectrum from one-on-one in-person instruction to asynchronous distance learning and there are a lot of options in between. Different models work for different people and different purposes. Long before the pandemic I was a big fan of teaching first year writing using a hybrid format. I loved the opportunity to work with my students in the classroom once a week while also offering them the flexibility, space, and time to think and write on their own schedule. That format really offers the best of both worlds which is why I try to offer some optional virtual synchronous sessions to my online first year writing classes. I have a friend who likes to employ a similar hybrid model by dividing her class into small groups. Too many institutions (like my own) do not offer enough variation in our models and they certainly do not explain the differences to students. Isn’t it time we got more serious as educators about flexing our models? Why aren’t we building in more choices and more flexibility?

For too much of the pandemic too many have focused on the shortcomings and failings of various pandemic education models, but I know many students and teachers who thrived on the hybrid models built around shorter weeks or days. Both students and teachers responded to smaller classes and those models often meant more focused and productive learning and teaching. I’ve said it before and I’ll shout it now for those in the back: seat time is not pedagogy. Students are individuals. Teachers are individuals. Best practices exist on a broad spectrum. I am not advocating for anarchy but can we abandon the one-size-fits-all model we’ve held onto for far too long? It has long been inefficient and harmful in so many ways. Can we abandon the factory model of education and take more of a craft or artisanal approach? There has been too much angst about the “learning loss” experienced by some students and almost none about the failure of our institutions and society to take this opportunity to reshape our systems of education. We can and we must do better.

My classes started just two weeks ago and at Morehead State University (located in Eastern Kentucky) our semester is off to a rocky start. Our first week was a short one due to the national holiday and then was further disrupted by TWO different storms that resulted in two days of cancelled classes. The second week was much better but we still ended the week with a delayed start due to yet another storm. Now the forecasters are predicting that we may end our third week with yet another storm that may impact classes for 1-2 days. And all of that before we even factor in the pandemic that continues to rage in our region (I have students quarantining and others missing for traditional health/life challenges). I was fortunate because my course load included a mix of online and hybrid classes so I already had my #HyperDocs infrastructure and a virtual introduction process set up. This insured that missing our first week of class did not set us back. I had already planned to hold at least one optional virtual Jam Session so it was easy to shift an in-person Jam Session to a virtual one. In fact, more students were able to opt in because other classes had been cancelled. Three years of pandemic teaching and learning made this shift easy for all of us. We have all learned to be flexible. Why can’t our entire education system be more flexible too?

HyperDocs have been an important part of designing flexible interactive educational experiences for my students, but there are other tools. I have also designed a course that builds community and supports each student where they are as a person and learner. Even when my students do not (or cannot) choose to connect with me for a synchronous Jam Session, I still interact with each individual in at least three different ways each week:

  1. Respond to their ideas via Google (see #HyperDocs);
  2. Connect personally via Blackboard (see How’s It Going); and
  3. Celebrate, encourage, and coach privately via Blackboard.

In addition, my students interact with each other asynchronously by responding to ideas and connecting personally plus the sharing and troubleshooting that takes place during our Jam Sessions is always special. I love watching the creativity and connections unfurl exponentially as we build on our shared ideas, stories, and experiences in real life and virtual community. Students tell me from beginning to end that they feel connected to and supported by our classroom community. Students grow as writers, thinkers, and humans in my classes even when we never meet in person so stop spreading the malicious lie that virtual and hybrid instruction is less than. We can and we must build learning experiences that meet our current reality and the future. Traditional P-16 education does neither and it is time we reinvented it. Who’s with me?

Image by PDPics from Pixabay

Author: Deanna Mascle
#TeachingWriting and leading #NWP site @ Morehead State (KY): Passionate about #AuthenticWriting, #DeeperLearning, #PBL, #Ungrading, and #HyperDocs.

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