This book has sought to provide concise, evidence-based chapters that address a wide range of online teaching and learning topics. Our focus has been not on the minimal skills needed to survive online activities but on developing and promoting the knowledge and skills that will make thriving online a real option for many teachers. The chapter authors are leading thinkers and practitioners whose teaching practices have been enriched through selectively and skillfully taking advantage of the affordances of the technologies they have written about.
In assembling this work, we have relied on the academic expertise and the real-world experiences of 27 highly experienced contributing professionals to create what we hope will become a source of information and a welcome challenge for readers.
Each chapter has provided some academic background and general guidelines related to the chapter topic. We have also tried to emphasize ways to teach effectively online and encourage student engagement while ensuring that our teaching is responsive to the needs of the diverse student populations in our schools, colleges, and universities. In the process, we have been guided by three major bodies of educational research: the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model developed by Randy Garrison and his colleagues (Garrison, 2011), Michael Fullan’s Deep Learning (DL) approach to more engaged learning (Fullan, 2013), and Collaborative Learning (CL). We hope that this book will help instructors engage in a self-designed and self-regulated program of professional development that will re-invigorate their professional work and improve their teaching effectiveness in-classroom and online.
We are talking about a vision in which deep learning, based on collaborative work in communities of inquiry, becomes the norm. Teachers at all levels need to accept the challenges involved in developing and redeveloping teaching strategies and practices that are informed by:
- a growing understanding of human learning (including new insights from educational neuroscience); and
- an ever-evolving body of educational technologies designed to improve professional practice in the context of our emerging knowledge.
In this chapter, we would like to focus briefly on where that vision comes from and what we think the future of education might be.
Lessons from Medicine
It is practically a requirement for those who want to look forward to begin by looking back. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) was founded in 1905 to improve college and university education. It has produced research reports that have shaped and guided North American education for over a century. The first was the Flexner Report (Flexner, 1910), possibly the most influential report in the history of medical education. Flexner’s research involved site visits to 150 medical schools in the United States, Canada, and Newfoundland and comparisons of the data obtained from documents and interviews with the information held by the American Medical Association. In the absence of both the internet and air travel, this was a massive undertaking.
That research revealed that there was an oversupply of medical doctors, a host of low-quality commercial medical schools and a serious lack of standards in medical education at a time when the medical practice was changing: “Progress in chemical, biologic, and physical sciences was increasing the physician’s resources, both diagnostic and remedial” (Flexner, 1910, p. 8). His recommendations included housing medical education in universities with hospital affiliations and significantly increasing admission standards. He also wanted North American medical education to emulate what happened in Edinburgh and Paris, where students encountered the “statistical and analytical study of disease, which is the discriminating mark of modern scientific medicine” (Flexner, 1910, p. 9), to dramatic changes in medical education (Cooke et al., 2006). Physicians took up the challenge, and by the end of the 20th century, surgeons were transplanting organs, smallpox and polio had been essentially eradicated, and biologists had mapped the entire human genome.
In 1996, Lee Shulman became the head of the CFAT, bringing a background that included both teacher education and medical education. In a 1998 paper on the education of professionals, Shulman pointed to Flexner’s long-term impact on medical education but noted changes taking place at that time, specifically, the use of case-based teaching and problem-based learning. In an earlier paper, Shulman (1986) took on the G. B. Shaw aphorism “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches” when he asserted that “those who understand, teach” (p. 4) and developed the concept of pedagogical content knowledge. His idea was that teachers must not only understand the content matter, they must also understand how to convey that content to others.
Today, the body of information guiding teaching is growing rapidly through advances in cognitive psychology, neuropsychology and discipline-specific areas like language learning, STEAM, and kinesiology. At the same time, new technologies like social media, shared drives, internet search engines, and video conferencing are creating new opportunities for both pedagogy and andragogy.
While many of our chapters have provided sound advice and examples regarding the development of 21st-century teaching skills, we also share Shulman’s view that skills alone are not enough:
I am not offering herein an argument against the conception of teaching as a skill. I am instead arguing for its insufficiency … (we also need) a conception of teaching in which the principled skills and the well-studied cases are brought together in the development and formation of strategic pedagogical knowledge. (p. 12, parentheses added)
We like that phrase strategic pedagogic knowledge. It implies practical knowledge and suggests looking forward. The knowledge that might impact future teaching–that is precisely what we have been talking about in the chapters of this book.
So, given that the future does not lend itself to a clear description (who would have foreseen the world turning to online teaching and learning to cope with a pandemic virus?), what sort of vision can portray busy educators thriving online? Who, in 1910, could envision the mapping of the human genome less than a century later–especially since the double helix at the genome’s base was not discovered until 1953 (Watson & Crick, 1953)? Envisioning is hazardous territory. Nonetheless, it seems clear that Flexner had a vision for medical education. His vision helped shape changes that radically altered both medical education and the practice of medicine.
Our goal is not that ambitious. Instead, we simply want to comment briefly on some areas of inquiry and practice that may begin to reshape teaching and teacher education in the decades ahead. The six predictions we want to focus on are
- Technological Paradigm Shift.
- Decreasing the Digital Divide.
- Increasing Awareness of Students with Special Needs.
- Increased Qualities of Assessment.
- Connectivism and Messy Problems.
- Virtual Reality.
Technological Paradigm Shift
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, one of the most cited academic books of all time, Thomas Kuhn (1962) noted that a paradigm shift occurs when a new and significantly different approach replaces the typical way of doing something. In the early part of 2020, one could argue that a paradigm shift was forced on the education world by the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators across the globe were required to teach online, to use a wide range of new technology tools to reach and connect with their students. If this shift had lasted only a few months, instructors might have slipped back into familiar in-person teaching patterns without technology. However, the pandemic lasted over two years, establishing technology as a mainstay for all educators. Luddites and resistors had to adapt.
Some researchers, especially engineering educators, have called this changing dynamic a new paradigm, Education 4.0. Miranda et al. (2021) have defined Education 4.0 as
the current period in which Higher Education institutions apply new learning methods, innovative didactic and management tools, and smart and sustainable infrastructure mainly complemented by new and emerging ICTs to improve knowledge generation and information transfer processes. (p.4)
Further, Miranda et al. (2021) have elaborated its four core components:
- Competencies (training and development of desirable critical competencies in today’s students).
- Learning Methods (incorporation of new learning methods).
- Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) (implementation of current and emerging ICTs).
- Infrastructure (use of innovative facilities, services, and systems to improve learning processes). (p. 4)
While Miranda et al. focused on higher education, we see the emergence of Education 4.0 as a consequence of the kinds of planning, programming, and delivery at all levels of education that we have described as thriving online.
It is reasonable to conclude that a significant paradigm shift is occurring with respect to the use of technology in education. Now and in the future, technology will likely be a mainstay in day-to-day education for students. In higher education, it is conceivable that 50% or more of all classes will be delivered online (Li & Lalani, 2020; McKenzie, 2021). K-12 public education may shift more slowly because parents need to work, and younger learners need opportunities for social interaction. Regardless of age, technology will play a more meaningful role in education.
Our first prediction is that online technologies will increasingly be a significant part of education at all levels and will be integrated into all aspects of education, whether delivered online or in classrooms.
Decreasing the Digital Divide
COVID-19 and our dependence on the internet brought significant awareness of the marked digital divide worldwide (Broom, 2020). Almost half the world’s population has no internet access, which means that half the world’s population could not learn effectively during the pandemic. When internet access is down for an hour, we begin to feel panicked. Imagine having no access at all. While it may be optimistic to believe that governments will take action to ensure internet access for all, significant efforts are being made to make universal access a reality (Innovation, 2019; Ontario Government, 2022; UNICEF, 2020).
For example, although the One Laptop Per Child initiative started by Nicholas Negroponte fell far short of early expectations, it created new understandings of the kinds of adaptations and adjustments necessary for computer technologies to have widespread acceptance in developing countries nations (Shah, 2010). For example, United Nations Under-Secretary-General’ Utoikamanu (2019) has indicated that while lack of access to high-speed networks is one limitation, building an economic infrastructure and a highly science-literate society are also significant hurdles to be overcome. While such cautions might seem to suggest that global equity is still quite distant, they also serve to shape a more straightforward pathway toward that destination.
Our second prediction is that internet connection will increasingly be considered a necessity, and access will grow globally. We hope that with a better understanding of the barriers and the international community’s support, developing countries will not be left behind.
Increasing Awareness of Students with Special Needs
According to Whitley et al. (2020), students with special needs are more likely to be impacted negatively by Covid19 and the switch to online learning because of reduced community-based services and weakening of support systems necessary for these children to learn and develop. Educators have become acutely aware of how difficult it is to support children with special needs online (Maurer et al., 2021). While many online technology tools exist to help students with special needs, teachers need time to adjust and learn how to use them effectively and adapt them for online teaching and learning.
Although research on issues related specifically to online learning for diverse learners is limited, systematic reviews of the research literature on assistive technologies in various areas and levels of education (e.g., McNichol et al., 2021) are increasingly available. There is a growing understanding of the value and importance of Universal Design for Learning and of the importance of accessibility standards like Ontario’s AODA. This increased awareness comes with greater support for and rapport with vulnerable populations whose voices can further shape the use of online technologies in teaching and learning.
Our third prediction is that increased awareness of vulnerable populations will lead to more research directly focused on the educational affordances of online technologies and improved availability and use of online resources for students with unique or individual needs.
Increase Quality of Assessment
Many secondary schools and higher education institutions heavily rely on exams to assess student learning. Unfortunately, the shift to online learning revealed several obstacles to delivering online exams, including exam design and format, suitable software to provide the exam, power outages, unreliable internet, disparities in the quality of technology available to students, cheating, and privacy (Bashitialshaaer et al., 2021; Elsalem et al., 2021 ). Given this range of challenges, some teachers are looking for alternative forms of assessment to measure learning (Pokhrel & Chhetri, 2021). Possibilities include greater use of authentic assessment that involves the production of meaningful products (e.g., articles, chapters, podcasts, videos, mind maps, websites, blog posts), systematic peer-assessment, video or audio representations of knowledge, and collaborative projects.
In short, the shift to online teaching during Covid has stimulated conversations and thought about alternative approaches to evaluating students because e-exams do not work particularly well.
Our fourth prediction is that with the growth of online education, we will continue to see growth in research on and the practice of alternative forms of assessment better suited to online environments.
Connectivism and Messy Problems
George Siemens formally introduced the idea of connectivism in 2005, a broad theoretical framework to understand learning in the digital age. The main idea is that knowledge is developed and learned collaboratively through many shared resources, including web browsers, search engines, wikis, online discussion forums, social networks, and virtual classrooms. The predictable and rapid expansion in the range of resources and information available to teachers was sometimes overwhelming, particularly to those not accustomed to using technology. The growth in knowledge is a plus for humanity, but it creates demands on the education system that pose significant challenges. This growth may also involve reorganizing bodies of knowledge, revising theories, adapting curricula, and changing instructional methods. Educators are now more connected with information sources, with one another and with learners. Still, the range and rapidity of change have made the processes of teaching and learning substantially messier.
One of the consequences of this messiness has been for researchers to call for dramatic changes in approaches to education (e.g., Malik, 2018). Some observers might regard such challenges as problematic, but in assembling the work in this book, we chose a more proactive and positive interpretation.
Our fifth prediction is that educators will feel energized by new and engaging approaches to teaching and learning. They will also feel challenged by the volume of information, differing opinions, the validity of claims made, and consolidating multiple ideas into a well-reasoned teaching approach that will undoubtedly change over time. That is to say, we believe that educators will rise to the occasion and take productive steps to ensure a better educational future.
Initially, online learning was asynchronous—communication and collaboration occurred through email and discussion that did not require learners and teachers to be in the same place at the same time. With the advent of the 21st century, synchronous online learning emerged and students were connected through audio and video. A newer and potentially more promising possibility in online learning is immersive virtual reality. Dr. Jeremy Bailenson, a pioneer in virtual reality education, delivered one of the first online virtual reality courses at Stanford University in 2021 (Metz, 2022). In 2022, Western University started a three-year project on immersive learning in higher education (Banks, 2022). So what are the possibilities of immersive education?
In a systematic review of literature on VR in K-12 education, Tilhou et al. (2020) pointed to the current popularity of games like World of Warcraft as generating interest in the educational potential of VR. They observed that in the period 2010-2019, there were seven studies in peer-reviewed journals and that “the grade levels and disciplines where 3D VR is most often applied are middle and high school classrooms narrowed to branches of science” (Tilhou et al., 2020, p. 181). Other reviews with slightly different time periods and topical foci have also demonstrated that research on VR in K-12 education is already taking place (Maas & Hughes, 2020; Pellas et al., 20-21). Indeed, both the Tilhou et al. (2020) and the Maas & Hughes (2020) review included discussions of multiple previous (and non-overlapping) systematic reviews, suggesting that continued research and development can reasonably be expected.
Virtual Reality (VR) offers a learning experience in which learners are immersed in an alternative, digitally-generated environment. In a 10-year systematic review of the literature, Di Natele et al. (2020) concluded that immersive virtual reality systems provide a significant opportunity to support effective learning experiences in K-12 and higher education. The main advantages of VR are motivation, engagement, experiential learning and a chance to participate in first-hand experiences that would not be possible in the real world (Di Natele et al., 2020). Donally (2021) provides some examples of a VR experience such as:
- collecting artifacts from a (digitally created) archaeological dig;
- holding a 3D simulation of a beating heart in your hand;
- collaborating with students around the world in a virtual environment;
- participating in a fitness class in simulations of natural habitats;
- practicing a new language with a virtual avatar;
- visiting and exploring geographical sites around the world; and
- participating in virtual labs and conducting virtual chemistry experiments.
Perhaps the true potential of VR, though, is supporting students in creating their own personalized VR environments and programs, providing similar benefits to those gained by learning to code.
Our sixth and final prediction is that VR will be used increasingly in online higher education and that as the cost of virtual reality headsets (currently CAD$400 in 2022) declines and VR software becomes ubiquitous, VR will emerge as an important element in K-12 environments.
Ultimate Moral of What’s Next
The lesson of the Flexner Report and its impact on medical education and medical practice in the 20th century is clear and straightforward. In the presence of new technologies and a rapidly growing research base, if professionals commit to evidence-based practice, stunning improvements in professional practice can follow. Suppose postsecondary instructors and K-12 teachers over the coming decades build on the kinds of practices described in the chapters of this book. In that case, they will be creating a future in which they and their students will have unprecedented opportunities to thrive.
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