Four years ago, I was just starting a PhD in online learning without ever having taught online. A few short years later and we are living in a world where almost every teacher has.

When we first went remote, I was teaching Design Technology, a course for elementary students that was essentially “Makerspace” by another name. Being a big believer in asynchronous learning, my teaching strategy during those early weeks was to give students as many opportunities as the timetable allowed to complete projects. What I found, however, was that whenever I supplemented project time with additional explicit, fully guided instruction (thereby decreasing the amount of hands-on time with their projects), their learning seemed to improve, and they seemed much more engaged by the subject matter. By contrast, the more I asked students to discover and construct new knowledge at home on their own, the more they floundered. This was especially true for students with fewer home resources and less prior knowledge about the course material. The lesson for me was clear: Teachers should design units where they fully guide students through the initial sequences of knowledge construction before slowly removing scaffolds to allow for application of the taught material.

I’m not so naïve to think that all teachers came to the same conclusion as me after their pandemic year. I expect that many, perhaps most, teachers who were in support of relatively unguided, student-led instruction before the shift to remote learning will reenter in-person teaching still convinced that teacher explanation should only be used as a last resort, and that the best person to teach a novice is another novice. Likewise, I’m quite sure that anyone whose only gambit was to deliver one-way, non-interactive lectures to blank stares in the brick-and-mortar classroom learned very little from doing the same thing in their Zoom classrooms.

All this makes me wonder: Supposing we all return to in-person teaching next term, how might we navigate the uncertain road ahead, given the very real discrepancies in what we were each able to take away from the experience? In my next post, I will review the book Navigating the Toggled Term by Matthew Rhoads, due to come out this summer.

– Zach Groshell @mrzachg

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