By John Nkemnji, Ph.D.*
COVID-19 has forced the implementation of technology and virtual-learning in schools. It has also encouraged creativity and permitted parents to work closely with teachers to support student learning. Life for teachers, students, and parents may never be the same. COVID-19 led to the suspension of classes, the closing of facilities, and converting schools from the preferred method of instruction (face-to-face format) to virtual teaching and learning. Compared to other institutions like transportation, communication, medicine, and entertainment, schools lagged behind when it came to adopting the digital revolution. The main mode of content delivery in schools was to lecture students (seated attentively behind desks,) what they needed to memorize for various tests – weekly, unit, or quarterly. These tests were mostly “paper-and-pencil multiple- choice type” and measured rote memorization (Knowledge) or recall.
In the Bloom’s taxonomy of learning hierarchy, knowledge is the most basic skill as it is the easiest to teach and test. Other skills on the hierarchy, in ascending order, include: Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. Essential skills like critical thinking, clear communication, and application are more advanced stages of the learning scale. Proper use of technology in schools fosters the acquisition of important life skills. Although the first cases of COVID-19 occurred at the end of 2019, the severity of the pandemic was not globally felt until a couple of months later. Once government officials began to understand how deadly COVID-19 could be and how the illness is transmitted, mandated online teaching became instituted to comply with social distancing.
Many schools in the USA as well as in Africa were ill-prepared for genuine change in the implementation of virtual teaching. In some schools, the use of Chromebooks and tablets was not common. The jump in price by “Microsoft and laptops” drove K-12 schools to adopt the less expensive “G-Suite and Chromebooks.” G Suite for Education comes with free Google tools and services. The suite has similar tools to MS Office – Google Docs for word processing, Gmail for communication, Google Slides for presentation, and Google Classroom for content management. These tools are web-based and reside in the Cloud on Google Drive. Google Classroom simplifies creating, distributing, collecting, and grading assignments electronically without the use of paper and pen.
Teachers are doing their best to help students learn with the help of parents working with students in their homes despite different technology skill levels and connectivity capabilities. The bulk of the school activities are pushed to students and their parents. One is reminded of the African saying that “It takes a village to raise a child,” giving this new collaboration in education. It is unfortunate that the federal government has not provided national policies for social distancing. Every state is left to design its own policies. A shout out to teachers who in a matter of days, recalibrated their instruction. They are working tirelessly to stay connected to students and provide instruction. Teachers are among the heroes emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last two months, I have consulted and worked with some teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). One of the teachers I worked with, learned and introduced the educational app, Flipgrid, in a creative way and students were able to use Flipgrid to create and post digital videos to the class grip. They collaborate virtually by watching and commenting on the posted videos. They learned the content collaboratively and assessed each-other with beautiful, inciteful comments.
Ideally, teaching with technology would have been part and parcel of the school system where administrators, teachers, and students are adequately trained and equipped in the use of 21st-century learning with technology. In special instances, to satisfy this mandate, a specialized teacher is trained and charged with helping other teachers on technology matters. Few K-12 schools and classrooms have transformed into digital learning environments despite the many advantages of such a transformation. The hope is that this pandemic is an eye-opener and what is hastily launched (alternative teaching with technology) will not perish but flourish when classes return to normal.
Proper administrative role in alternative delivery starts with a clear vision in the district-wide implementation of technology, with professional development release-time, funds, and support for the tools and infrastructure for connectivity and accessibility. Some administrators are requiring teachers to assign schoolwork to students with the expectation that parents will help the students complete the assignments. Teachers are asked to make calls to the students and parents to find out how they are coping with “stay-at-home studies”. Some teachers assign movies either on YouTube channels or through Google Classroom for students to watch. Some teachers carry out organized teleconferences with students. The fact that students are not in school with their classmates can be socially and emotionally difficult. Some stress is to be expected for the rest of the Spring school term. Teachers and parents must practice ongoing empathy, caring, humility, and respect for the young ones whose lives are disrupted by the pandemic.
Some teachers are forced to use low-end technology or no technology at all since about 40 million homes in the USA lack broadband access. If developed countries like the United States are struggling with issues of virtual learning in the wake of a pandemic, one cannot even begin to imagine the challenges that the developing (African) nations are experiencing as they try to implement virtual teaching and learning. As the coronavirus crisis forces schools to grapple with the challenges of virtual learning, many schools are getting creative with traditional forms of instruction that don’t require a fast internet connection or expensive digital devices. The hope is that schools in Africa will follow suit. In a virtual learning environment, TV and radio can be used to disseminate instruction in places with no access or poor internet connectivity.
In today’s digital world, technology is an integral part of students’ daily lives. Whether we refer to them as digital kids, the millennials, or the android generation, today’s students at various levels use assorted gadgets (tablets, cell phones, gaming consoles, iPods, MP3 players, digital Cameras) as tools to make their lives easier, and strengthen their social networks.
As an educator, and especially as an educational technologist, I stand in solidarity with educators struggling to fulfill their duties to the youths in these difficult times. May is Teacher Appreciation Month. My wish is that after a plunge into the beauty of “alternative content delivery with technology” educators with the lead and support from administrators will continue the effective transition into the daily use of appropriate technology to communicate, solve problems, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information. This in turn will improve learning in all subject areas and will lead to lifelong learning and skills for the 21st-century graduate.
- *Dr. John Nkemnji is Professor Emeritus, Educational Technology. He is an educational consultant and a proponent for life-long learning. Prof. Nkemnji is a board member on a number of corporations.