Looking Back/Learning Forward: Lessons For the Now Normal
Published by Brett Christie, PhD
on Jul 20, 2021
Looking Back, Learning Forward, a motto and mindset to utilize as we envision the future of distance education and fuse historic learning practices with modern lifestyles. I recently co-hosted a webinar with Dr. Jim Julius, Faculty Director of Online Learning at Mira Costa College, where we walked a group of educators through insights gathered over the last fourteen months of online learning. If one thing is clear, it is that it’s been a journey for everyone: faculty, students, education consultants, learning designers, institutional leadership, and families alike.
During the panel, we reviewed how Mira Costa College effectively shifted their educational goals due to the Coronavirus. Jim shared data to help the group understand how they modernized their distance education platforms. Pre pandemic, Mira Costa had 16K enrolled students with 10K of those students full time and 6K part-time. A total of 29% of their student body was enrolled in online learning. Reading this data would seem like the overnight haul to solely online classes may have been overwhelming for Mira Costa. However, Dr. Julius and his team succeeded in rejiggering their focus and building a structure for teachers and students to lean on over the course of quarantine.
Early on in the pandemic, they discovered their distance education offerings were not in the framework of programming. Instead, they were presented as one-off courses. Let’s bring this notion to the plebian, non-educator, imagination. Picture opening Spotify and not seeing albums, playlists, or genres, instead just an amalgamation of random song and podcast offerings. Or imagine logging onto Netflix and realizing there are no subsections, top ten, recommendations, Netflix is not clocking your taste! All you see is a mish-mash of content. You, the user, have no rubric to follow, no guidelines to lead you towards options to pique your interests or further your growth.
The structure-less Spotify listener or Netflix watcher is a student in 2021, 2020, and years prior, attempting to enroll in online courses. Students need help seeing the forest through the trees, so to speak, when picking an online course. So what did Mira Costa do? They created online education programming. They helped teachers shift an entire year of coursework into digestible, interesting, and engaging online classes. They also trained their faculty to teach online. And it didn’t stop there. Mira Costa developed a rubric to delineate how a class, traditionally taught in person, could shift online and achieve the same effect. Some of the topics included: conducting a lecture, leading a structured class with Q&A, group activities, individual conferencing, giving tests, collecting papers, returning papers, returning assignments, student presentations, and hands-on labs. In this rubric, one can see actionable ways to translate a course requirement from the physical classroom to an online platform.
Mira Costa is committed to the equitable use of cameras in online instruction and assessment. In short, this means that a student can opt-out of a cameras-on approach based on what makes them feel safe and comfortable. Before registering for courses, students are informed if a course requires cameras-on. Mira Costa also created a system where, if a course is requesting a camera-on approach for a single class, students are told ahead of time, so they can let the teacher know whether or not they are comfortable.
By the end of the webinar, everyone could envision the enormous changes in learning on the horizon. Audience members also commented on the myriad of personal and professional awakenings they also encountered during quarantine which they shared via Padlet. This change can and will make our education system greater and fairer.
As we gear up for a post-pandemic world, one thing is clear: online learning will continue to flourish as an essential element of our nation’s education system. We need pioneers leading the way in developing technology that benefits students and faculty. With hard work, outside-of-the-box thinking, and consistent commitment, this is achievable. We have a lot left to learn about one another, how we educate ourselves and how we engage with technology to improve learning for all. This is the beginning of a new era.