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Possible strategies for post-lockdown courses

Posted on: May 18, 2020

This is unsolicited advice that I offer to institutes of higher learning (IHLs) that rely heavily on the standard lecture-tutorial system even after COVID-19 lockdowns ease. I reflect on some planning considerations before a new semester starts.

Assuming that we can return to campus, I suggest some reductions for practical and pedagogical reasons.

Reduce or remove lectures. The halls cannot hold everyone if social distancing standards are to be maintained. Create or curate videos instead. This will have the long term benefit of shifting away from lectures as we know them.

Reduce tutorial class sizes. Like the note on lectures, this reduces human density. If a class is 30-strong, reduce it to 15 or 20. Why meet for tutorials? They (should) focus on learning content, not (re)teaching it. Tutorials offer social immediacy for the negotiation of information so that it becomes constructed knowledge.

Having smaller classes means faculty need to teach one class twice or there must be more faculty to handle the higher teaching load. Local IHLs have enough time and money to make this a priority. Making this move is a return to what makes makes an IHL valuable to society — a focus on the close nurturing of young adults.

I think of this nurturing like a hen brooding her eggs. There is only so many that one chicken can sit on and look after. Stuff any more under her and the eggs do not hatch.

Reduce face-to-face time by flipping the classroom (change what happens where) and flipping the learning (change who does what). The differences between the two are important, but the first lowers the need for face-to-face time and the second empowers the learner.

Reduce barriers to change. The barriers are not the ones already mentioned, i.e., requiring standard lectures before tutorials or large class sizes. They are also about mindsets about how an IHL educates.

One hidden barrier might be the focus on content delivery and the assumption that only experts should do this. Experts do not always make the best educators. They might need professional development on how to be instructional designers, facilitators, mentors, and evaluators.

One barrier that must be worn down is the operating model of in-person classes. While valuable, such a mode is not always necessary for consultative or cooperative learning. One need only deconstruct the efforts of online choirs to suggest what transfers to higher education.

Video source

Even the worst experiences of emergency remote teaching will likely have taught teachers and educators something about the value of proper online classes.

These lessons should inform the design of courses moving forward. If we do not change, we waste the time and effort of teaching and learning in lockdown. If we do not change, we risk making the same mistakes when another lockdown happens.

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