As Simon Jenkins points out in a paper published in The Guardian, “Large institutions traditionally need trauma (wars or pandemics) to force them to change.”
In nearly two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken people and institutions from their usual habits. In line with changing times, education has found a striking structural redefinition in terms of knowledge diffusion.
With companies and governments opening up to a hybrid model and work economy, it is prudent to assume that teaching / learning will increasingly be based on a mix of face-to-face and digital learning spaces.
I don’t know if Microsoft’s vision of holographic collaboration or Facebook’s augmented reality research will apply to all classrooms in the near future. But until then, ed-tech should take into account some important challenges for e-learning, such as different learning styles, dysfunctional reciprocity, and the digital divide.
In his study of learning styles and strategies, Professor Richard M. Felder groups students into four categories: 1) Active and reflective; 2) Sensitive and intuitive; 3) Visual and verbal; and 4) Sequential and global.
Active learners prefer action-oriented learning where they can participate in group work. Reflective students tend to contemplate what they have been taught and then work on their own.
The type of practical detection shows a preference for facts and routine, while the intuitive student tends to understand abstract concepts and does not like routine.
Visual learners absorb information by looking at pictures and verbal learners react positively to spoken or written words. Sequential learners are predisposed to acquire information provided in logical and linear steps at a good pace. Global students are looking for a larger image to connect a unique concept with other concepts.
What needs to be kept in mind, however, is that these are generic categorizations that may not strictly adhere to the / or binary. An effective teacher is one who works hard to accommodate and balance as many learning styles in their instruction as possible.
Attending to different learning styles on e-platforms remains a challenge. At my institution, we have had several brainstorming sessions on how to ensure student participation and meet the needs of students more effectively in online classes and synchronous virtual classes. Some of the formidable challenges have been to keep students motivated and engaged.
While many students have responded positively to incrementally spaced Canvas assignments, online / recorded lectures, discussion board posts, and virtual group activities, there have been students who have felt abandoned.
As instructors, not being able to physically reach students who suffer from depression (and deplete motivation) has been a frustrating experience. This number, which I would like to call “dysfunctional reciprocity,” has been a crucial factor for the depression and anxiety of teachers and students.
Humans are socially conditioned to respond: to give and to receive. In her essay “The Structure of Reciprocity,” Linda Molm observes, “Reciprocity is one of the defining traits of social exchange and social life” that builds “integrative bonds of trust and solidarity”.
But what happens when a move to an online-only platform disrupts this social culture of reciprocal exchange between a teacher and his students? As humans, we yearn for connections and reciprocity, but when incoming emails don’t respond and camera shyness leads to a screen full of faceless names accompanying them, and there are sudden unexplained absences from classes in line, technical difficulties and hours of virtual meetings, and reciprocity suffers.
Therefore, dysfunctional reciprocity has been a determining feature of teaching / learning during the pandemic. That said, ed-tech has integrated several ways to ensure reciprocity: discussion board posts (Canvas), Together Mode (Teams), meeting rooms (Zoom), video discussions (Flipgrid), team evaluations ( OneNote and Google Drive)), etc.
These ed-tech platforms have also helped instructors create engaging content based on different learning styles. Most of us, as educators, have experienced the grueling days and nights of desperate electronic content creation: recording, re-recording, deleting, manic editing, learning the difference between a Power-Point video, a Panopto and a Spark, mixing buying / lending the right equipment with the desperate hope of connecting with all students. Ed-tech has provided innovative means for the dissemination of knowledge.
But the question that often bothers me is whether there are learning styles that are still partially or totally uncomfortable with ed-tech. For example, for an active learner who learns through direct participation: an online discussion post or video presentation is most akin to mimicking a classroom discussion. However, it still retains the passivity that accompanies e-learning.
Many students don’t find it interesting to listen to a lot of peer-to-peer video presentations or scroll down to discussion forum posts, unless we introduce triggers such as additional credits to review and comment on posts. The culture of reward, thanks to social media, can drive an online student toward greater engagement, but it only demonstrates how, in addition to dysfunctional reciprocity, many learning styles remain partially unaccompanied by these learning platforms. e-learning.
The other issue of online education is that of a digital divide between students who have easy access to information technologies and those who do not. Inadequate access to online learning tools and platforms can be the result of financial, technical, and infrastructure constraints, such as lack of Internet access, inability to buy laptops, or poor digital skills. .
In their book “The Digital Divide,” authors Massimo Ragnedda and Glenn W. Muschert argue that this issue “has the potential to replicate existing social inequalities as well as create new forms of stratification.” In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Jody Early, has “aggravated the digital divide and perpetuated systemic racism and poverty” and negatively affected many of the black, Hispanic / Latino and indigenous communities.
To add, according to Microsoft, the dependence induced by the digital skills pandemic and the momentary transition to a “hybrid economy” that depends on digital, with people working both from home and from work , would require more digital skills in the workforce. Inequitable access to technological tools will only foster socio-economic gaps between people, unless the grassroots are addressed.
Therefore, it is crucial that governments, educational institutions and technology companies take active steps to close the digital divide. Every little drop of help counts. As an educator, I appreciate Microsoft’s commendable efforts to address the shortcomings of broadband access and its Global Skills Initiative; Google and Amazon point-to-point laptop donation units; and initiatives taken to help students access information from Cengage, Adobe, IBM, and other companies.
While I have my reservations against turning our classrooms into replicas of the Vulcan Academy of Sciences, with students interacting with spooky, emotionless skill domes, I hope for the endless possibilities of combined learning.
If ed-tech can capture the finer aspects of human interactions: learning styles, reciprocity, access / distribution of resources, etc., we can forge a strong community. Maybe then I can sit down to a business English class in India and attend a translated market transaction in a Chinese city. Or my UCLA friend can have their avatar present a paper at a conference at Cape Town University. Or better yet, I can open my community college classroom at Harvard University conferences.
Because, as the pandemic has taught us, we are global citizens and knowledge is everywhere.
Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray teaches English at Highline College. His research interests include postcolonial studies, space literary studies, British and rhetorical literature, and composition. Prior to teaching in the United States, she worked as an editor at Routledge and taught English at universities in India.