These pandemic reflections are shared with us by Ian Wilson who invites us to consider what our “new normal” may look like.
“I hear it repeatedly. On the television, radio, internet and in conversations and emails. Always the similar phrase being used. When things return to normal. We cannot wait until things get back to normal. Do not worry normality will soon be resumed. But the thing is, I do not want to go back to normal, because I think we can do better than the normal.
Changes in Learning.
The current situation has stirred many emotions in us. From the great sadness of losing loved ones to this horrible pandemic, to the praise and admiration of the NHS and volunteers. I received my first vaccine jab over the weekend, and it made me realise that society might be slowly returning to the life we were living before the pandemic. As the timetable is being drafted for next semester and face to face teaching is expected to resume next September, I hear daily that normality will soon be re-established. If I said one year ago that we need to move more teaching and learning online, I would have been greeted with a range of replies which celebrated the face-to-face nature of learning and how people did not have the equipment or expertise to make the transition. And yet now, one year on, I have witnessed a huge transformation of teaching and learning. Facilitators of learning have committed themselves to an innovative approach and have developed and implemented skills which were once thought to be out of their reach. Learning materials have been transformed to suit learning on a range of online platforms and the use of conference meeting software such as Zoom and TEAMs has rocketed. We, as educators and facilitators of learning, took up the challenge and the need for engaging with all things digital and have made huge strides forward with moving learning online. We all should be proud of the changes we have made, but I worry that, as the light of the end of the pandemic has started to be seen on the distant horizon, we abandon the positives which we have developed and return to the pre-pandemic approaches just because that was the ‘normal’ way of doing things.
An effective tool?
Technology is not always the most popular tool in the teacher’s toolbox. Like an ineffective drill it sometimes fails to start or, worse still, does not stop. Sometimes it has a life of its own and other times it just it plagued by slow internet connections and pixelated imagery. I am not trying to convince you that technology is the only tool to use to deliver learning. What I want to say is technology does have a valuable place in our learning toolboxes and because of this, we should not be returning to learning situations where we did not use the tool effectively, just because we want to return to the ‘normal.’ People do not like change. But I always like to share the point that whatever they are experiencing now, was once change, and if change had been resisted and prevented then the current situation which people prefer, would not have happened. From moving learning and other aspects of our work to the online environment, we have provided content which has been recorded and has allowed the learners to return repeatedly to support their learning. Online live sessions have meant that learning has been accessible from people’s own homes and although interaction has been limited as we gazed at a screen of initials, back channels of discussion have been created in the chat and the learners have been willing to express themselves with emojis and gifs. Tools have allowed students to interact, scale, rate and comment on topics and videos and podcasts have transformed the learning to a more engaging and sometimes humorous experiences. No matter how you look at it, technology has supported learning through the current situation. So why should it be returned to the dark recesses of the toolbox again?
A new normal?
I recognise that I am a technologist, and I must say that although I have hated the pandemic, I have enjoyed flexing my technology muscles to engage with learning online. I am not saying that we should stay trapped in our homes, teaching and learning through the internet. What I am saying is that I want us to acknowledge the benefits and the positives of both systems, both the pre and during pandemic approaches to pedagogy, and allow them to work together in harmony to produce a new blended approach which is seen as a more effective and supportive learning experience. So rather than saying, let us return to normal, the normal of how we were learning and teaching before the pandemic, I would like to think that we can embrace, as effective practitioners, the ways we have transformed learning to create a new and improved normal. A normal which brings together the positives of both approaches and celebrates the transformations, developed expertise and adaptations which we have created. As we reflect and improve, we should not slide back to the previous normal, but we should challenge and embrace the changes and uses of technology we have developed to create a new and better normal for the future.
What will emerge?
So next time you hear that expression maybe you could pause for a moment and accept that although the pre-existing normal might appear reassuring and secure there might be a new normal. A lover of analogies, we went into the pandemic chrysalid a year ago. When we entered, we were a well-established caterpillar, familiar with ourselves and our practices. But very soon, we will be emerging in a pandemic free world. But what will we emerge as? The normal pre-pandemic caterpillar or the transformed butterfly of the new normal? “
Ian Wilson, York St John University. I.Wilson@yorksj.ac.uk
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