In this article I outline the lessons I’ve learned from my hybrid classes in 2020.Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) is the correct term for what many of us have been doing for the past year or so. It is not all online in every case and Learning Management Systems (LMS’ s) like Blackboard and Canvas have become much more familiar to us all, along with Zoom and its many competitors(4) which are now well on their way to becoming standard tools for teaching and learning as textbooks and whiteboards. This is not to say that they will remain so after COVID-19 is under control enough to allow for the majority of teachers and students to return to the classroom again but the lessons we have learned will be with us for the long term in my opinion. So, here are a few of the lessons I expect to remain with me for the foreseeable future.
1) LMS’s are useful but by no means perfect.
I had Blackboard almost figured out last term and then our university switched to Canvas. Blackboard may be pretty basic, but it had all the functions I needed in terms of grading, testing, etc. and Canvas seems to have more flexibility in terms of what students can see and do with it but I did not want or need to lose a year’s worth of class materials in order to learn a new LMS for 2021. There is supposed to be a way to import courses I know, but our University did not make it available, so, I had to start virtually from scratch and rebuild my courses from the ground up. The online gradebook or similar tools allows students to review their accumulated grades at any time and that also means that there is little room for surprise when they see their final grades. Here is one comparison I looked at
2) Zoom brings much of the offline feel to classes but is no replacement for face-to-face learning.
Names are a breeze and breakout rooms are good for discussions but there is no way to monitor every group all the time. So, I miss what is going on when I am in other rooms (a task that is much easier offline even with large classes). Attendance records are relatively easy with a Pro account but participation is a bit harder. Polls and surveys are also a nice tool but I miss the energy and flow of offline classes.
3) Hybrid classes give greater flexibility than purely online or offline ones do.
I use a mixture of self-created and very basic videos, YouTube videos and materials from other websites. All classes are synchronous though, so the aforementioned materials are mostly for studying in preparation for or as supplements to the main class.
4) Workbooks and textbooks provide more structure for online classes and are easy to revise and update each term using a few basic tools.
I have fallen back on mostly self-created and regularly updated workbooks and occasional textbooks to help to structure my classes and compile the weekly tasks and assignments in one place. The LMS serves as a reminder of these tasks and a place for announcements.
5) Online classes do not allow teachers and students to get to know each other as well as offline classes typically do.
On the one hand, I know all of the students’ names and the faces they choose to share with me but there is little room for casual banter or the more relaxed atmosphere before or after class and during breaks to get to know the students as real people. Office hours online are also not the same as having them visit my office in person.
6) Video lessons are a lot more work than they appear at first glance but may be worth it in the long run.
I am no professional but I did learn to keep my videos short (1-10 minutes at most) and tried to only make my own videos when there was a good reason to do so. A welcome video at the beginning of term and a few comments on homework pros and cons or supplementing a lesson where necessary are examples of times that I made my own videos on Zoom. Mostly, I used YouTube videos to supplement our synchronous lessons when appropriate.
7) Tests and Quizzes are much harder to design properly online but once done are easier to grade and administer using a few tricks.
Matching or filling in the blank questions was problematic so I use more true/false or multiple-choice questions these days. I assume tests will be treated as open book tests since I can not monitor them as I would in a real classroom. Setting strict time limits, limiting the number of attempts to 1 per question and locking questions after they have submitted answers allow me to reduce the chance that they can cheat their way to a good grade
8) A bit of research and self-study helps a lot if your school does not offer much in-house or other training.
YouTube has tutorials for all the major LMS’s and each has manuals available for you to download. I did however buy one book that came highly recommended and it was useful as a starting point for the intricacies of online education. Despite its American focus, it was an excellent foundation for what I tried to accomplish last year and to bring to designing my courses this coming term and year.
9) There is a tradeoff as some tasks are easier and some are harder under these circumstances.
Speed grader in Canvas makes grading a lot quicker and more efficient and, as mentioned earlier, gradebook on Blackboard meant that students could keep track of their overall grades much more easily whilst making end of term questions from students much easier to handle.
Setting up review quizzes and weekly assignment is also much easier online as everyone can access and review materials in similar ways. However, the numbers of emails about homework and other matters related to class matters went up, even though I made a point of leaving at least 5 minutes at the end of class for questions. Sometimes, I posted conflicting information in different places by mistake but the numbers of repeated questions also suggested that student were not really paying attention to other students’ questions or left the class early thinking the question time was not important for them.
10) These skills are important as education becomes more technology based.
It is unlikely that education will go back to the way it was before COVID 19. After the virus and all of its variants have been tamed and everyone, who needs or wants it, has been vaccinated, the reliance on technology as well as the disruptions to traditional education are still likely to exist, the implications are far-reaching and impossible to ignore.
An Economic Policy Institute Report from 2019 found that, based on data from 2008-9 and 2015-16,
“…. schools’ staffing efforts are challenged by teachers leaving the profession at high rates and by the reduced pipeline of new teachers as fewer people have entered teaching preparedness pathways in recent years. We also present data suggesting that teachers entering the profession don’t have the same qualifications their peers in years past had, due to the proliferation of nontraditional teacher preparation programs and changes in the requirements for obtaining an initial teaching certificate. We also show staffing trends are affecting the qualifications held by the teaching workforce overall: A lot of teachers quit teaching and some of the teachers who quit are as credentialed or more credentialed than the teachers who stay, and the share of all teachers who are inexperienced has increased over time.” (1)
As with the aforementioned ERT’s impact on the prevalence of online versus offline teaching as a result of COVID-19, I fully expect that the same will hold true for the numbers of educators leaving teaching for good and those choosing teaching as a viable and desirable job, profession or career in 2020-1 and beyond. However, to be fair, “Education Week found there is no way to validate dire predictions of a national spike in teachers leaving the classroom. It will be years before there are federal data that give a clear picture of whether teacher attrition rose or fell nationwide during this unprecedented school year. What is clear is that there are huge regional variations: An EdWeek review shows that teacher attrition this year was higher in some places, lower in others, and indeterminate in many more.”(2) This may mean that I am wrong about what is happening and will happen as the pandemic continues but it will be many years until data show what is really happening now.