I am concerned that while the perceived desire to overcome the extreme challenges of trying to educate in the worst of epidemics is interfering with some deeper question, we should have some more brief conversations about teaching and learning.
My current concern stems from a recent op-ed New York Times Jonathan Malesic, College Instructor and recently published author, Ending Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build a Better Life. (Highly recommended.)
It seems strange that I am going to fight a part where I agree with the essential emphasis of logic, namely that education is a humanitarian initiative and we must focus on the idea that we care about our class and our higher education institution.
But I think there is a significant difference between what we think is necessary and what Malesic presents in his essay, how we frame and discuss the problem. Malesic observes what many are reporting and what they are feeling – missing students, late assignments, inadequacy of class discussions, overall feeling of isolation – and advocating for students to return to pre-epidemic status as a way to “rebuild”. The ability to learn. “
He says “accommodation for the epidemic can either end or be permanent,” and the right choice is “for all involved – the student faculty, the administrator and the general public – of course.” To insist (Emphasis added) Personal classes and high expectations for the fall of 2022 and beyond. “
As I say, I am sympathetic to the underlying cause of this argument. I have said many times that when it comes to helping a student work on their writing, there is no substitute for one conference after another. There are solutions, but those solutions are not necessarily alternatives.
But I was annoyed by the false choice that Malesic put at the center of his recommendation that we have two routes, either end housing, or make them permanent. I think it unfortunately reflects a certain strain of broad thinking about the epidemic that the best way to respond is to return to pre-epidemic stability.
I think there is a third option, which is to apply an educational lens to the structural problems exacerbated by the epidemic and to work with students to create the most possible human connection that is compatible with both complex life, and in many cases, the epidemic itself.
I want to consider us as we deal with the ongoing recovery from the worst of the epidemics.
Things were not going very well in the case of the students’ pre-epidemic preoccupation.
Prior to the epidemic, students had significant concerns about engagement and learning (Adrift academically, Anyone?), As well as student anxiety and depression. Sure, the duration of the epidemic has gotten worse, and the enforced isolation was undoubtedly a contributing factor, but it would be a shame to fail to acknowledge and solve the problems that already exist because things got worse.
We can do better than that, and we should.
The epidemic was not an experiment in alternative pedagogy.
As I wrote at the beginning of the epidemic in late March 2020, it is important not to view the educational responses required by the epidemic as “experiments.”
Rather, we were feeling what I call the “emergency distance direction period.” It is impossible to judge the effectiveness of habitats built in the acute phase of an epidemic for use in less severe or non-epidemic times.
Malesic believes that epidemic-driven policies such as “recorded speech, flexible attendance and time policy and flexible grading” have been a problem because “these make it very easy for students to be separated from the class.” Basically if you allow students to flow, some (even many) will do it, damaging their ability to complete the required work.
After using a number of these approaches – no mandatory attendance policy, flexible deadlines, ungrading – before the epidemic, I can report that they were actually important factors Growing Students involved. You can’t run an experiment on pedagogical methods with the epidemic wild card in the middle of everything.
(For an excellent example of what experimentation with pedagogy looks like, I recommend Richard J. Light’s recent article on changing the mode of delivery from one semester to the next in a first-year seminar, recently published here Inside higher ed.)
Malesic suggests that students should “bounce back” this semester, but this seems to significantly reduce the risk of epidemic. I don’t know how long it takes to reset after an event like this, but a few months doesn’t seem to be enough for me.
Taking a current snapshot in the first semester of trying to return to school in person after nearly two years of global epidemics and blaming educational practice for the inconvenience of this return is both absurd and inadequate pedagogy. .
In-person does not necessarily mean anthropocentric education.
I have seen multiple lamentations from faculty on Twitter that now that their lectures are being streamed and / or recorded, they are speaking in an empty room. Malesic thinks the remedy is to “insist” on returning to personal appearance as a way to help students return to their pre-epidemic habits.
I can see some holes in this thought. First, perhaps we should consider whether those empty lecture halls tell us something about how students value and accept lectures. If the options are good enough and seen somewhere high, then why expect them to fill the room at a certain time to listen to the faculty?
A possible answer to a Faculty Malesic interview for her part is, “What makes me an effective instructor, I have a lot to do with my personality, how I work in the classroom, use humor. I’m very animated. I travel around the classroom and interact with students I like to talk. ”
This is another idea I am sympathetic to. I gave a lot of time and was very proud of the quality of my class duration, both the time I spent building them for the maximum benefit and the energy and spirit I brought with me in acting.
But like those faculty who want to turn off recording devices for their lectures so they can have an audience, this is a fundamentally trainer-centered approach to learning. Don’t get me wrong, instructors are important for helping students learn, but our presence builds our personality Central In the equation, we are actually limiting students’ learning potential.
The trainer will not always be present to bring the material to life. And for some students, even if they have a strong desire to attend, the situation may not allow it. For this reason, the material and education must be central, not the presentation of the material instructor.
If we first consider how we would engage students if we had to “teach from a distance,” our presence would be added, without being strictly necessary for learning.
Online, hybrid, and high-flex modes are not interchangeable, but not necessarily inferior to personal learning depending on the subject, situation, and student. We do a detrimental job of short-circuiting these educational considerations in order to return to a personal instruction default.
There is no inherent inconsistency between structure and flexibility, and forced consent is not conducive to learning.
Throughout the section, Malesic advises that epidemic-need allows students to enter the worst instincts (or people in general more accurately), and that larger structures, and less flexibility and less accommodation will ultimately be in the best interests of students.
Here’s another false choice. A course can be both highly structured, flexible and rigorous at the same time. One of the reasons for introducing flexible deadlines in my course is to simultaneously increase rigor and give students the opportunity to do their best.
It was my observation that this could be achieved if I helped students fill the “metline” without having to learn “management”. When I was assigned a significant period of fines, I would often start working to get students (something) to meet a basic requirement. This task would often be unprepared, as it was clear to me as a student. When I allow for some flexibility over time, students can plan their school / work / life schedule and try harder, increase their busyness, hopefully reduce anxiety.
For this approach students need to learn how to meet their academic responsibilities beyond the minimum requirements required for grades. I would argue that my expectations of students were higher than before to meet their expectations for themselves and to claim agency over their own education.
Malesic is not clear on who should “insist” on learning personally or what that insistence should be, but if it is recommended to use the camouflage of consent, it strikes me as a potential mistake. Instead we should do more to build courses that make attendance and engagement fruitful for students and listen to what students need in order to access what institutions have to offer.
We have a lot more to learn on that front, and the gap between university activities and teaching and learning missions was widened by the epidemic, it was not created by it.
Undoubtedly students will need help to recover from the epidemic and reintegrate schooling into their lives, but what it looks like and how students can be supported is a more complex issue than Malesic presents in his op-ed.