Since February 2020, the International School of Beijing has continued to improve and refine its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The work of the Office of Learning to clearly define and document our expectations, procedures and protocols for Online Learning has been immense, both in the scope of the task and in the guidance provided to our community (students, teachers and families alike)!
I literally stopped in my tracks, then, when I came across the article The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Published in March, 2020 by Charles Hodges, Stephanie Moore, Barb Lockee, Torrey Trust and Aaron Bond – all of whom work within the higher education sphere – I was immediately struck by the language in the title. What is the difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning?
As the authors go on to explain, online learning is an effective modality of education that has been highly researched over many years:
Online education, including online teaching and learning, has been studied for decades. Numerous research studies, theories, models, standards, and evaluation criteria focus on quality online learning, online teaching, and online course design. What we know from research is that effective online learning results from careful instructional design and planning, using a systematic model for design and development.7 The design process and the careful consideration of different design decisions have an impact on the quality of the instruction. And it is this careful design process that will be absent in most cases in these emergency shifts.
One of the most comprehensive summaries of research on online learning comes from the book Learning Online: What Research Tells Us about Whether, When and How. The authors identify nine dimensions, each of which has numerous options, highlighting the complexity of the design and decision-making process. *
These nine dimensions (modality, pacing, student-instructor ratio, pedagogy, instructor role online, student role online, online communication synchrony, role of online assessments, and source of feedback) are the result of careful and intentional design choices, made to maximize the potential and the accessibility of learning.
On staff at ISB, we have numerous teachers who are currently implementing online learning through their work with our partner Global Online Academy. These courses are created to be delivered through various online modalities – synchronous and asynchronous – and to take advantage of the various affordances that online learning allows. We also have high school students who are enrolled in these courses, supplementing their ISB enrollment with courses of their choice.
Emergency remote teaching (ERT), on the other hand, “is a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances. It involves the use of fully remote teaching solutions for instruction or education that would otherwise be delivered face-to-face or as blended or hybrid courses and that will return to that format once the crisis or emergency has abated.”*
As a school, we have done an amazing job of making this shift to what the authors call ERT. The hard work, dedication and professionalism of all of our teachers is something to be proud of. Our agility in shifting from on-campus learning to campus closure, and from fully in-person to our Dragons’ Abroad Academy model is remarkable. Our fluency with existing systems such as Seesaw, Dragons’ Exchange (DX) and Clever made this transition easier. Our continued dedication to those platforms and other tools for effective blended learning during periods of “normal” only improve the learning experiences for our students when the need to switch to ERT arises.
In their follow-up article, One Year Later . . . and Counting: Reflections on Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning, the same authors wrestle with the effects of returning to a pre-pandemic “normal”:
Traditionally marginalized students noted how they felt they could thrive in online learning, since distance from the classroom also meant distance from racism and microaggressions. Students with disabilities also noted that online learning during the pandemic made education more accessible. Students’ reactions to the push for a return to normal are complex and nuanced, suggesting that they wish colleges and universities would retain the benefits and lessons of online learning by blending new solutions in the online space with what’s effective about classroom learning, not merely rejecting or adopting either in toto. *
What lessons can we learn from our experiences with remote teaching, and how can we incorporate the positives of that modality with our face-to-face instructional practices?