#OnlineThoughts: NEW NORMAL, NEW MINDSET IN EDUCATION

Originally published on Facebook on May 5, 2020.

The dawning of the “new normal” necessitates a review of educational policies and programs in every learning institution. Filipinos will have to adjust to the new requirements of the school system from admission to graduation. Teachers need to develop more creative and engaging strategies to effectively deliver the lesson for the day. Students need to deal with schoolwork without the regular personal supervision of their mentors. Administrators need to ensure quality of instruction despite the limitations in access to technology and Internet. Indeed, this new normal has brought to the fore new opportunities and challenges that every educational leader must carefully reflect on and plan about to keep up with ways never before imagined.
Last week, I attempted to share some initial insights on distance education and online learning. My take is that we might have focused so much on technology but we still have to consider how to produce the lesson and evaluate students’ performance in a different modality. The process has become more tedious now as teachers need to also think about how to deliver lessons online. This will definitely take time and effort on the part of all school stakeholders.
Let me first talk about the “new normal.” Being “new,” this means that this is a deviation from the usual things that we know and do. But we have to embrace and practice it everyday as this pandemic might persist even after the lockdown. There are new practices that we need to do consciously everyday until they become our second nature.
So what is the new normal in education?

  1. Teachers will not only prepare lessons but also think about how to deliver them via online or blended mode.
  2. Teachers and students will now have more screen time but will experience screen fatigue.
  3. Teachers will handle a few students per class if it is a blended mode and observe physical distancing in the classroom.
  4. Teachers will design instruction based on availability of technologies and accessibility to Internet by the class.
  5. Students might get overwhelmed with out-of-classroom assignments or outputs.
  6. Teachers and students will collaborate more often online.
  7. Teachers will create exercises and activities with the use of apps and online quizzes and evaluate their performance through online assessment tools.
  8. Administrators will also ensure availability of online resources or facilities to entice more students to enroll.

These are some of the things that we look forward to under the new normal. The question now posed is: Are we ready to take this on? Definitely not all. Teachers and administrators have to understand the needs of students of this generation to include their personalities, learning styles, study habits and interests. This is important as basis for designing the academic programs and the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities of students. This is likewise beneficial to schools to plan about competency-based recruitment, training and professional development of teachers.
There are four basic requirements that any school should take into consideration in embracing the new normal. I will discuss these topics individually in the next four weeks to present more detailed options to our administrators, teachers, and students. These are:

  1. School Leadership and Governance
  2. Curriculum and Instruction
  3. Teaching and Non-Teaching Personnel Development
  4. Resource Management.

Before deciding to use technologies, school leaders must consult parents and check the readiness of students to practice online or blended learning. Do teachers and learners have access to the Internet? If access to computers and Internet is a problem, what is the appropriate modality to adopt? Should this be blended learning, e-learning, online learning, or flexible learning? For teachers, they need to decide whether it is remote teaching or emergency remote teaching. I will discuss the basic differences between and among these terms and concepts next week.
The Commission on Higher Education recommends flexible learning while the Department of Education suggests blended learning for basic education. Whatever modality the schools will adopt, we will not implement an open calendar system. An open calendar system allows students to enroll anytime and complete courses at their own pace and time. This is still class-paced and not self-paced. This will affect how we design the instruction in a new mode to attain the required learning outcomes and competencies by students. Obviously, this is a temporary alternative learning set up to ensure the safety of students and teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. This must be our mindset.
The curriculum is something that we also need to review and modify based on learning outcomes or competencies required for each course subject. Should we make all our requirements and outputs online-based? If blended, do we modify the classroom hours per day or per week? How many hours should we allocate per online and offline meeting? How do we assess students’ performance? What are our options for laboratory and internship hours? Do we still have co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to further develop our students? What will be the new role of guidance counsellors and other support staff?
Professional development of teaching and non-teaching personnel is a paramount concern. Schools will have to ensure that teachers will not be displaced by the technology. They should still earn their full salaries and benefits despite the change in modality. Since teachers are considered subject matter experts already, they need to learn how to organize and chunk these topics to be delivered online more effectively. The school will need a learning management system based on the needs of students and teachers and train teachers how to use it as well. Training of support staff in the use of learning management system and production of learning materials is likewise essential.
Managing the resources (physical, material, financial) will also be a challenge. An initial inventory of existing and potential resources is needed to properly account for the required digital and non-digital technologies to be used for instruction. Do we need to mobilize more resources? How do we acquire them for a successful roll-out of the program modality? What will happen to the laboratory fees of students? Will these be waived? What will be the implications if we take them out? These are some of the questions that need concrete answers.
In the next four weeks, I will present some baby steps to resolve issues related to the four basic requirements. Hopefully, webinars will follow to help you further enhance your skills on specific areas of managing the new normal in education.


NEXT: LEADING SCHOOLS AMID PANDEMIC


(The author is former member of Technical Committee for Distance Education of the Commission on Higher Education. He obtained his PhD Communication, with cognates in Educational Technology and Distance Education from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. For feedback, please email jralagaran@gmail.com.)

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