The last couple of years has dramatically changed the world. There have been changes in the way business is done. Employers have found that employees do not always have to be in the same building to complete work. In a recent article by Forbes, the project that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022 (Bryan Robinson, 2022).
What happened in higher education as we moved to online learning for all? As a member of Generation X, who is tech-savvy, it was apparent that not everyone had the same level of skills. What has prepared this Generation Xer was completing a master’s and a Ph.D. online. Learning from the pioneers of online learning gave this individual a more robust understanding of what a good online class should be. These pioneer programs set the standards for what online learning looks like today.
Not all faculty embraced the idea of online learning when the pandemic shut the world down. We saw individuals refusing to use the LMS system. Others wanted the traditional classroom and forced students to meet with them synchronously many times a week. Then others had online courses closer to those early online classes of the 1990s than the modern-day online classroom. Others struggled with the idea of developing content. They tried to take their traditional classroom content and move it online. Others thought they needed to add more content to ensure that they met the standard hours of learning. Neither of these created a thriving learning environment for students. Students struggled to understand the content without the professor lecturing when it was their on-ground course. Students could not complete the vast amounts of work that the faculty placed in those classes where they felt they needed to compensate for the lack of on-ground experiences. Some faculty were ill-prepared for an online environment because they did not realize that online education has its own learning pedagogy. The opportunity that the administration noticed too late for the start of the pandemic was the need for training that would assist faculty in being better prepared.
The second observed thing was that not all content could easily be transferred to an online classroom environment. For instance, it is hard to conduct a band or a choir through a digital format. While technology has advanced, the delay and sound quality are not there, and thus this classroom content had to be modified. This faculty taught an Advertising class that required the students to use Adobe. While we had the software available in our computer lab, it was unavailable when we moved online. Adjustments had to be made to accommodate the learning objectives.
The following observation that this Generation Xer noticed was that while 18-year-old college-age students can work with a smartphone in the dark with one hand, they are not all as tech-savvy as we thought they would be. They struggled with an online platform. The vast differences in online class design between those classes that started on the ground and those designed online were dramatic. A few students thought that online classes would be more accessible and found that they were the opposite. They did not realize that they would spend so much time studying, reading the content, and exploring other sources to help themselves understand the materials. They were ill-prepared for a more independent process. This, I believe, comes from the fact that K-12 has not prepared them for such an independent process. This is not the fault of teachers but the system. The “Adopt a Classroom” website points out just how many distractions exist in the classroom and children’s needs. While the website’s focus is on classroom needs, it does show just how distracted teachers are dealing with shortages in staff, supplies, and the basic emotional and psychological needs of their students (Karbowski, 2022). They struggled with converting the content they had prepared for a classroom environment to online. They read the body language and understand their student’s struggles and personal interactions. Taking these extra queues away from the K-12 teacher made it more challenging to read the needs of their students. Parents were placed in a situation where they had to pick up the slack and, in some cases, lacked the skills to properly help their child. Balancing their own workload and that of their child while being home together 24/7 certainly added to the stress level of everyone concerned.
A significant obstacle in my area was the lack of high-speed internet in many areas. The university I work at is in a rural part of West Virginia. A large percentage of West Virginia residents deal with poor internet service (Manfield, 2021). The university stepped in and provided opportunities for those who were in need. They offered WIFI in the parking lots to help, but it meant that they must sit in their vehicle to use this opportunity. This was not easy with the four-season environment of West Virginia. Faculty developed downloadable content that could be worked on offline. This allowed for more flexibility for those students who lacked the resources necessary for online learning at home.
A fallout of the pandemic that is changing business and education is the tremendous burnout that individuals are experiencing. K through 12 teachers are leaving teaching in larger numbers because of the burnout and stress of the last three years. The National Education Association estimates that 55% of teachers are considering a career change (Walker, 2021). This article discusses the stress and strain as contributors to the mass exodus of teachers from the profession (Walker, 2021). It is being seen at all levels of education. As a college professor and head of a department, I have noticed the stress level of faculty, staff, and students. There are many who expressed just how much their summer meant to them this year.
Where does this Generation Xer see education in the next 10 to 15 years? Technology will be the cornerstone of learning. A classroom will include face-to-face students and online students learning in the same classroom. A student will no longer sign up for an online class and expect to work completely independently. That online student will be able to login to an on-ground class and experience the learning alongside of their brick-and-mortar learners. We will also see dramatic integration of technology throughout the curriculum. One of the biggest take aways from the pandemic was using virtual meeting platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. This will replace many face-to-face meetings not because of fear but because of convenience. This has also been a takeaway for business leadership. They realize that many travel experiences can be discussed via Zoom instead of jumping on a plane.
Will small schools like the one that I work existing in 20 years? I honestly do not know. It is in a small rural town in West Virginia where the state population is declining. For such schools to exist in 20 years, innovation in learning and the integration of technology will be vital. This means a dramatic change in the curriculum. It will also mean a change in learning pedagogy from a traditional model to one that integrated a more technology-focused learning experience. The traditional educational model isn’t how Generation Z and Millennials want to experience higher education. They have access to information at their fingertips with smartphones. They are interested in experiencing education in the form of applied learning and real-world relevance. We need to help them sift through the garbage that can be found online to ensure that they have the correct information and then on how to use it in a career.
The idea of applied learning and competency-based education are controversial to many liberal arts educators, but this scholar sees them as part of our future. The more we can show students how education is not just a process of gaining knowledge but a lifelong process of gaining, synthesizing, and utilizing information to better ourselves and those around us, the better. One of the best ways to do that is to meet them in an environment that works for them; technology.
- Bryan Robinson, P. (2022, February 1). Remote Work is Here to Stay and Will Increase in 2023, Experts Say. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2022/02/01/remote-work-is-here-to-stay-and-will-increase-into-2023-experts-say/?sh=109b3d7620a6
- Karbowski, D. (2022, April 12). Adopt a Classroom. Retrieved from The State of Teaching Today: https://www.adoptaclassroom.org/2022/04/12/state-of-teaching-statistics-2022/?gclid=CjwKCAjwv-GUBhAzEiwASUMm4lRdaxBzzsyNp-oZ9Kc_IPLQC_oDIj9KJTa2GQhzBppT0V1MIRHeqhoC4XoQAvD_BwE
- Manfield, L. (2021, February 16). Mountain State Spotlight. Retrieved from Mountain State Spotlight: https://mountainstatespotlight.org/2021/02/16/west-virginia-leaders-say-improving-internet-is-a-top-priority-the-latest-numbers-show-access-in-the-state-is-just-getting-worse/
- Walker, T. (2021, February 1). National Education Association. Retrieved from NAE: https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/survey-alarming-number-educators-may-soon-leave-profession