This blog was kindly contributed by Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technology at the UCL Institute of Education. You can find Diana on Twitter @thinksitthrough.
Teaching in every education sector has changed beyond all recognition over the past year and the dramatic conversion from primarily face-to-face teaching to wholly online has been accomplished by the teaching community almost entirely without help. Some universities, colleges and schools have central technical support staff who have offered guidance and resources to teachers, but it has hardly been commensurate with the scale and difficulty of the change.
So let’s begin with a simple acknowledgement of the extraordinary work done by all those teachers who somehow discovered how to reinvent their entire way of teaching, while also managing the pressures and commitments of lockdown and home-schooling.
There is an expectation now across the teaching and education community that the new-found skills will continue to be deployed, as both students and teachers discover that there is value in mixing conventional and online methods, to achieve the optimal ‘blended learning’ mix. We may as well plan this, for two reasons:
- the resilience of the current virus and new variants could lead to further extended lockdowns; and
- the lost learning time for so many students, especially the younger ones, requires innovative methods to support unsupervised learning at home of the kind that goes well beyond traditional methods.
One clear finding from the educational research literature is that pure discovery learning does not work very well. So if we expect that the skills in blended and online learning will continue to be useful, teachers deserve support that goes beyond access to a mass of educational digital resources.
Educationists believe that courses are a good means to help even highly skilled learners develop their professionalism more efficiently than they would on their own. The UCL Institute of Education (IOE) has developed a free online course on FutureLearn on Blended and Online Learning Design to provide this support. The focus is not on digital resources, which are difficult to select and evaluate, but on pedagogy and on the problem of how to turn a face-to-face session into an equivalent online learning experience. We were fortunate to recruit 25 volunteer teachers from all sectors known for their innovative approaches to using technology in their teaching. Their exemplars illustrate the key concepts in the course.
We also use a novel tool explicitly created for teachers: the Learning Designer, also free and online, which supports the development of any learning session — conventional, blended or wholly online — for any education level or subject area. Teachers plan their new design and receive feedback on the nature of the learning experience they have designed:
I am going to put some of my lesson plans into Learning Designer so I can analyse what I taught during my placement. Just having a place to create and keep my learning designs will make reflection and reuse easier. (Anon)
Through reflections on my current practices, I realised that I need to add more collaboration and inquiry types of activities for the maximum student outcomes. The Learning Designer helps me to see the balance of activities in the program, so I found it really useful. (Megumin Noble)
I’ve got lessons to plan lined up for the Learning Designer – the last I gave was observed formally towards a PGCE and was very well received for the balance, variety and methodology. (Jonathan Vernon)
The tool also supports them in sharing their designs with others or adopting an existing design as a starter kit for making their own. This creates the opportunity for collaborative development of new blended and online pedagogies to enable the whole teaching community to build the new knowledge we need.
This collaborative approach uses peer review to confer value on a design. These are design experiments, not scientific trials. A previous HEPI blog notes that researchers:
are still at an early stage in answering the fundamental question: if a student learns online, will their learning gain be better or worse than if they had learnt in a classroom?
Is that the right question? When we only used conventional methods we never thought to ask: ‘if a student learns from a book, will their learning gain be better or worse than if they had learnt in a classroom?’
The teaching-learning process is too complex to evolve through controlling parameters that can vary in their mutual impact day-by-day, if not hour-by-hour. No-one expects a book to be better than a class, but neither would we banish books as being worthless. We blend: we always have done. But we now have an intriguing new toolbox of digital methods to play with and a plethora of different ways to use them. A collaborative approach will lessen this immense burden of innovation. Some of our alumni comment in particular on the value of a collaborative approach.
I love the Learning Designer tool, and I enjoyed reviewing teacher’s designs, even if they were very different to the subjects I teach, I could find common ground. (Tatiana Soler Pastor)
Browsing other teacher’s learning designs lets me learn from their pedagogy far easier than from resources posted as zip files. (Anon)
I learned greatly from each session, from peer comments and feedbacks, and I’ll go back to these resources when it’s finally time to go back to ‘class’ (face-to-face and/or online). (Maria RD)
Teachers in all sectors will need this more collaborative approach not just for the current closures, but also for helping students catch up on lost learning when they reopen. They will have to develop new digital pedagogies to improve their guidance on unsupervised active learning at home. It would be a much better option for everyone than lengthening the school or college day. As one of the alumni said:
Now, more than ever, we should work together in order to improve our pedagogical practices to meet our students’ needs.
You can access the free tool here on FutureLearn.