When I was studying for my doctorate, we read a book called Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform by Tyack and Cuban (1995). This book focused on the fact that although educational reform has been a topic of discussion among various stakeholder groups for well over a century, all of the promises and reform measures adopted have not made significant changes to the grammar of schooling (i.e., self-contained classroom, subject-matter courses, age-based grading and placement; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). In other words, very little has changed in how education is conducted in schools.
The pandemic forced K12 education to quickly pivot from in-person instruction to remote emergency learning (see Barbour et al., 2020). Without a doubt this was a significant change in how instruction was delivered to the majority of students enrolled in public K12 education. The speed with which this changed occurred was as unprecedented as the pandemic itself.
Schools had to quickly address the mode of instruction from the school perspective: Paper packets sent home? Prerecorded video segments broadcasted through public television? Acquisition and purchase of online curriculum and lessons normally used for online academies and/or for credit recovery purposes? Asynchronous classes? Synchronous via Google Meet or Zoom?
Then there was the issue with accessibility of instruction from the family perspective: Would families come to school to pick up the paper packets? Would the school mail the paper packets home? If so, how would the paper packets be turned in to the teacher? What if the families did not have a device or enough devices (multiple children in the same household)? What about Internet connectivity?
Additionally, the schools also had to consider the technology knowledge and skills of the teachers who were suddenly thrust into a situation that their credential programs did not prepare them for. Teacher knowledge and skills of technology spanned the entire spectrum from expert to novice. Soon came the questions, which technology tools would be easiest to implement? Were these technology tools user-friendly for the teachers, students, and families? Who would provide technical support if something went awry? Granted many districts employ teachers on special assignment, but their knowledge and skills of technology integration likely mirrored that of the teachers in the trenches. Thus, many teachers were thrust into the role of “instructional MacGyvers” (Barbour et al., 2020)—myself included.
The bottom line is that teachers were forced to change how they delivered instruction; students were forced to change how they viewed and participated “doing” school; parents and caregivers had to figure out how to create a learning environment at home while also balancing their own familial responsibilities.
These were all changes that affected how schooling was done, and the changes were enacted within a few months and in some cases days.
But will these changes persist as we come out of this pandemic?
I hope so.
It is my hope that some (if not all) of the following changes will take root in K12 public education:
- Incorporating technology tools for collaborative learning
- Allowing students to conduct independent projects
- Supporting creative means to demonstrate learning
- Flexibility in pacing and learning
- 1:1 student to device ratio
As a teacher who has diligently pursued and championed the integration of technology for meaningful learning, it is my hope and desire to see technology used not only as an emergency measure for content delivery, but as a partner for meaningful learning in general. It’s also my desire that the lessons we’ve learned over the course of the past year and a half will be the motivation needed to make changes in how schooling is done in K12 public education.
We can and should be doing better by our students.
Barbour, M. K., Hodges, C., Trust, T., LaBonte, R., Moore, Bond, A., Kelly, K., Locke, B., & Hill, P. (2020). Understanding pandemic pedagogy: Differences between emergency remote, remote, and online teaching [Report]. State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada.
Tyack, D. B., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.