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COVID-19: An Educational Paradigm Breaker

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tracy Rickman, Don Mason and Ygnacio “Nash” Flores
January 12, 2021

2020 saw many institutions change their operational paradigms in response to COVID-19. Higher education saw significant changes as the pristine lecture halls of the ivory towers gave way to remote and online learning delivery of class instruction. Likewise, the K-12 educational system was no different in changing a highly interactive environment to an online and remote campus. As professors and teachers struggled to ensure academic quality outside the classroom, valid concerns from numerous stakeholders voiced warnings about the quality of instruction, loss of social development, potential for cheating and most blasphemous of all—the question of whether the classroom is necessary for learning, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is moving along at breakneck speed. These questions are significant because the end of the pandemic is far off, as the virus has yet to be controlled by any nation in the world. With new strains of COVID-19 being discovered around the world, it will be some time until the educational sector experiences pre-COVID-19 normalcy.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc throughout the world, the quality of instruction in an asynchronous or hybrid environment transitioned from one of questionable educational value to one where innovation is required to maintain the ideology of rigor in instruction. Faculty with online teaching experience responded to COVID-19 restrictions with little difficulty while those requiring a classroom as a mandatory stage of tutelage had difficulty working with the technology required for remote and online teaching. Supporting a healthy learning environment has spawned a cottage industry of support services for faculty from pre-K to doctoral programs.

The social development of young children and university students was a banner many educators waved as campuses throughout the nation shut their doors to in-person instruction. Social development is a valid concern for young minds learning to exist with others. Until the COVID-19 restrictions end, teachers, parents and other stakeholders need to explore how technology can mitigate the stagnation of social development in primary and university environments, as these two settings strive to enhance successful life skills.

Without a shoulder to look over, cheating fueled many conversations in faculty web-conferences. For faculty not familiar with managing an online presence, cheating seemed to be on the verge of a pedagogical sub-pandemic of COVID-19. Yet cheating has existed since students filled the first classrooms. Prior to the pandemic, there existed a market for services providing students the opportunity to utilize the work of others in their educational pursuits. Faculty need to be cognizant of their curriculum and revise it regularly to reduce the possibility of students sharing past assignments with future students. Faculty should also use technology to be aware of plagiarism and other forms of cheating. One view is relying on the “honor code” or asking students to sign online agreements that include specific aspects aligned with reducing cheating. Although the premise does not automatically preclude potential cheating, it can provide accountability, if discovered, and become a teachable moment.

Is the classroom necessary for meaningful scholarship to take place between the faculty and students? Many students claimed they would rather be in the classroom than be at home. While people learn differently, an online class has many advantages over a traditional classroom. In an online class, the door is open to the student longer than the regular class in a school day. It also provides a means of communication with a professor/teacher to students too shy to speak up in class. There are many top tier universities and colleges that have fully online programs ranging from a two-year degree to a doctorate. This model, which at one time was merely a choice, is now utilized as the premiere delivery platform to meet the educational goals of working adults. Students, faculty and administrators have all had to adapt to this mandatory shift. Will people want to go back to the classroom once the pandemic is over? Will there be a resurgent push back to online delivery, online synchronous learning and online meetings or is a new paradigm being created? Faculty experienced in online teaching will support the claim that it requires more work that teaching in a traditional classroom.

COVID-19 added heads to the hydra of inequality in education. Without a school to attend, the beast of inequality added access to technology, adult mentoring, tutoring, personal interaction and sustained diets to the uncertainties of disadvantaged students throughout the nation. Giving a student a laptop or tablet does little good when there is no internet or limited bandwidth available to a student in their homes. Likewise, one computer often is used by more than one student in a household. Acknowledging this will help pave the way for a post-COVID-19 educational experience that benefits all stakeholders in the scholastic development of the next generation.

Authors: Rickman, Mason and Flores are certified online faculty teaching in Public Safety topics.

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