How to not slip back

A new cycle…

I’ve touched before on the opportunity that Covid has presented to embed new, improved practice in our teaching, but I didn’t really get into practical ways to do that.

So let’s have a crack now, yes?

For this, I think we have to side-step the question of whether your institution will give you a free hand in this. The range of options from ‘you’ll do as we say’ to ‘go wild’ is huge, even if no one is being told to ‘go wild’ by anyone. Fortunately, that shouldn’t matter too much.

The first step is to review and evaluate what you’ve been doing during lockdown. That means taking as impartial-as-possible a look at each of the elements of your practice and the overall package.

The whole matters as much as the parts because you often get synergistic effects at work. In a good scenario, your forum-based chat might have been a raging success (in stark contrast to pretty much everyone else), but that might have been as much because you made a lot of it in your direct work with students as because you structured it well. If you’re going to be doing some rearrangement of elements, then it’s really important to have a sense of what relates to what in all this.

This step needs input from multiple directions: your own reflection; that of colleagues; and that of students. If you’ve been relying on particular services, it’s also good to find out if the same level of support will exist in future (given everything, hopefully that’s less of an issue, but new-generation EdTech might be arriving that changes things for you). If it helps, treat it like a piece of research and triangulate as much as possible, and apply some thought to how much you weight each piece of evidence.

At the end of this step you should have a clearer idea of what works, how it works and in what context it works. Remember that those are three different aspects.

Step two is building a repository of elements and ideas for whatever new environment you will be facing.

This doesn’t have to be a literal collection of materials, although such things are useful. Instead, it’s a more conceptual process, of thinking, discussing and optimising new collections of pedagogic elements.

Broadly, you’ve got three choices here. The first is that you’re driven by institutional constraints: if you’ve got a major requirement coming out of management then there’s not much point in resisting (unless it’s very silly and not fully decided upon, in which case you should push back hard (maybe even using some of that evidence you’ve been gathering)).

Alternatively, you can be driven by the nature of the subject matter: some topics lend themselves better to some pedagogies than others, so check out what others are doing.

Finally, you can be driven by a desire to try out (or optimise) some specific pedagogic element. I’ve done this with flipping, because I really wanted to see how I could make it work. Lucky break there, given that we all had to flip last year.

However, in all three choices, you’re still trying to think about building a learning environment that works as well as possible for your students. So ultimately, while your starting point might vary, you should still be coming to a rounded and balanced provisional solution. And again, if you’re resisting institutional pressure, then having a credible and thought-through plan is only going to help.

The third step is implementation. As you close in on running your new class, you need to keep up the evaluating and reviewing as the realities start to hit home. In practice, this means being ready to adapt and regroup as you go.

Hopefully, that’s easier because you’ve got your evidence, your repository and your reflections to help guide you. Importantly, it’ll help in making a call on whether something is just a passing problem or something more structural (which is, admittedly, not always particularly clear).

Of course, all of this is stuff that I’d argue you should be doing in any year, because it’s a key part of maintaining and developing our pedagogic practice. The difference now is that you have probably been exposed to a lot more pedagogic practices than one year ago: so try to internalise these and see them as part of what you can do.

Some things didn’t work, but really very few (because you picked up on problems as you went). Some things worked as stop-gaps, because things were very hectic and pressured (but you’ll have picked up on that from your students, so you’ll not try to repeat the exercise at ‘leisure’). And some things worked in ways that you didn’t really anticipate.

All of that is valuable, whether or not there’s a global pandemic. So make something better out of it all.