To teach is to network

Are you transitioning to online teaching yet? How are you navigating this transition? Does each day bringing new challenges and frustrations, and also new knowledge and skills? How do you unlearn and relearn while making this transition? Are there any guiding principles that will help you on your journey?

Well here is one you can evaluate.

A fundamental principle of teaching online is to establish our own online learning networks – consisting not only of our peers and experts across the world, but also of our students.

Why should this be so fundamental to our teaching? After all, most of us never had to go beyond periodic training sessions and feedback from immediate colleagues while in the offline mode.

There are many reasons why this is so fundamental. It is quite likely that our immediate physical network has pretty much the same level of knowledge as we have on how to make things work online. We are reliant on others to explain and train, to learn and practice what they tell us to do in a very short period of time. We haven’t really engaged with the online medium in a way that we had been prepared to engage for physical classroom learning models. That also means we end up taking a few convenient shortcuts by mostly trying to replicate online whatever we do offline. Basically we are effectively viewing online teaching with the same lens as we used for physical settings.

But that is wrong. Obviously limited. And sometimes incongruous.

Take for example lecturing online. In a physical class, we can sense moods, read body language, make eye contact, understand the fears and concerns, share elation and joy, and other non-verbal cues much more readily than we can online. Sure, we can keep asking, and engaging students in conversation (if we can hear or see them online or through textual chat), but that by definition is still very limited. Lecturing online will narrow the ‘middle’ that we normally are able to teach to. It will force us to make more assumptions about what children are learning.

Next let us take assessments. Now assessments taken online can never be the same as physical systems. Why? You could never perform extensive analysis of student performance before, that you can achieve now. Analytics like comparative performance charts, weak and strong topics, comparisons with peers and so on which are arduous to compile manually, can be expeditiously created and utilized. If you have the more advanced systems in place, you can even predict at-risk students based on data from thousands of similar students across the world. Not just that, you can take the help of remedial software that can help keep every child at the class level (with your intervention recommended when needed). You can even personalize and adapt lesson plans automatically, take the advantage of group wise recommendations and many other very powerful actionable insights that result from the effective analysis of data at scale.

We talk a lot about experiential pedagogies and social constructivism. The Internet (curated by us perhaps) allows us to really implement these through networked digital pedagogies – pedagogies whose relevance we have struggled to find in the physical classroom settings. Innumerable examples of these abound in our networks. Others we can learn from took the leap long before us in experimenting and finding new ways in which these pedagogies could be effectively used online. Games, simulations, 3D, Augmented & Virtual Reality, gamification, personalization, adaptive testing & learning – all are areas where more than enough research has been undertaken to prove effectiveness. Could we do these in predominantly physical classroom settings? Difficult – which is why curricula have changed very little to adopt online learning in most places.

Or let us just take the learning conversation. No longer is that limited to the few minutes we spend with our class each day. It is continuous. The online medium can ensure we are connected all the time to the learning chatter – questions, comments, activities that can potentially keep happening through the day, creating many more opportunities to build trust, engage students and resolve gaps. In fact, the learning unit of a ‘period’ no longer really holds any significance in a connected pedagogy. The concept of ‘time’ itself undergoes a huge change in the online learning world.

Clearly more of our effort has to be spent on building other ways to teach and engage online, some of which we perhaps never could do in physical classrooms. And clearly we can learn faster and much more, and in a very fulfilling manner, if we also turn our own learning and teaching into one that is truly networked. This is where being a part of an active, bustling community of teachers is so crucial, not just as always a passive participant, but as an active contributor!

Could these networks lead to improved student learning outcomes?

From #WhatIfEdu, my book that explore networks in teaching in more detail:

Researchers have found that there is an indirect connection. Teachers’ networks foster a shared sense of responsibility for positive outcomes and a sense of empowerment through shared practice, improved confidence and better skills. This ‘collective efficacy’ is both associated with teacher collaboration and student achievement. As Bandura defines it, collective efficacy ‘represents a group’s shared belief in its conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produces given levels of attainment’.

This is an exciting journey, but also a journey that can overturn many other paradigms of the way we have taught and learnt in the past.

There is another principle I want to talk about. It is based on our notions of time in teaching and learning.

Want to find out more about that? Read my next post!

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