Learning From a Distance

This is going to be the first in a series of posts around the theme of “Learning from a Distance

The world is a changed place. The global pandemic means that schools, playgrounds, and sports facilities are closed, the world over. There are no face to face interactions, apart from the people who we (may) live with.

School’s and educators have done wonderfully scrambling to create learning opportunities for students, in super quick time. A huge amount of educational business have opened their doors to the world to support this process (although sifting through all of these resources can be challenging – more coming on that in a future blog post.) Educators, parents and students are learning so much about themselves, technology, and the learning that was happening in schools and now at home!

So if, there are so many changes to our world and to our schools then how and why has education evolved to meet these needs? How have schools and educational systems changed it’s structures and rules that have restricted education and learning for so long? Or have schools simply tried to re-create the model that has served us (not well) for so long, in an online learning environment?

Reflecting on these questions I am taken back to October, 2015. At a Project Zero Conference in Amsterdam, titled “Zeroing in on Learning”. During an enlightening few day’s I heard Daniel Wilson (now Director & Principal Investigator of Project Zero) talk about “Leadership and learning: The past, present and future” Daniel provoked our thinking with an painting that was created by the Artist Jean Marc Cote in 1899, as part of a collection of paintings titled “En L’An 2000” or “A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000”

Source “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

Looking at this image; with the school teacher feeding knowledge into a machine ; with students with skull with caps on consuming information (or maybe not taking anything in!); with students learning in isolation. And I wonder how true this may be for much of the online learning that we are asking our students to engage with both at school and now virtually. It made me wonder how we are organizing our emergency learning with our students?….Are we just giving them information (through a video, book, website) and then asking them to regurgitate that information back to us in a different form? Or are we really being thoughtful about how we are asking our students to think, to interact with each other and learn?

School as we know it has not been truly supporting our students needs. Education has still been using the factory model of education that Jean Marc Cote depicted above. Too much of the time the teacher has been the “sage on the stage” and not the the “guide on the side”. Too often we have not give the rules to our students about the “game of school. Again and again schools are the ones who decide what and how our students learn. You get the picture…What if this was an opportunity to redefine school from a distance and when we return to our schools?

“This should be seen as a beautiful opportunity to live without the shackles of a bricks and mortar institution that has hemmed in so many ideas and productive learning moments already.” 

Ewan Mcintosh @notosh

In an distance learning environment I believe that it is an opportunity to really think about what and how we are creating learning moments. Do we try to re-create school by offering similar learning experiences in a classroom OR are we redefining the teaching and learning that supports distance learning? Are we trying to teach subjects in isolation OR creating learning opportunities that support learner dispositions and trans-disciplinary learning? Are we trying to keep to our trusted timetable that has penned us in for so long OR created a flexible timetable to flexibly meet the needs of our students, families and teachers? Are we the ones who are imparting all the knowledge to our students OR are we giving students the opportunity to research, to collaborate, to create a shared a understanding ?

What if; we looked at learning through a trans-disciplinary lens, created learning that supported our students learner dispositions, focused on the process of learning rather than a finished product, provided flexibility in how, what and when the learning was taking place, provided rich learning that allowed students voice and choice, leveraged the ability to learn from home, used technology to redefine learning and rethink our schools.

We are at a cross-roads in what and how learning can look like in our education system.

When schools return to their sites how will we this become an opportunity? What changes will we make that will transform our education system from old factory model to a “new normal” type of education?

When we finally return to school what will our next steps be? Do we return to the old ways of “doing school” to our students? Or invite them and put them and their needs at the middle of what we do. What if we saw that remote learning was an opportunity. An opportunity to:

  • Think about what is worth learning in schools
  • Think about the type of learners that we want to mould
  • Make critical thinking the core of the learning
  • Provide open blocks of time for students to work at their own pace
  • Focus on the process of learning over the product
  • Provide tools, resources and opportunities that offer students the opportunity to collaborate, to create, to connect, to critically think and to communicate
  • Design learning opportunities and distance learning units that are low threshold (that any student can access), high ceiling (there is no limit to where they can take the learning) , and wide walls (multiple pathways from floor to ceiling)
  • Create a school environment that focuses on creating students and teachers that support NOW literacies (Digital citizenship, information literacy, media literacy, network literacy, global literacy)
  • Offer students the ability to follow their passions and interests
  • Teach students to be able to play the learning game
  • Focus on learning not work
  • Teach for deep understanding vs surface level knowledge
  • Leverage the power of technology to create authentic and rich learning
  • There were no grades
  • Report cards became about student reflection and goal setting

What is your what if about education? I would love to hear your thoughts.

What if….?

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