Our world today is defined by uncertainty. Nearly all of our touchstones have shifted or disappeared altogether.
Since this spring, the days and nights have run together to the point where I often don’t know what day of the week it is. As the summer winds down, I would often have a mixture of dread and excitement knowing the changing of the seasons would signal the end of summer and the beginning of another school year. Whether as a student or teacher, the feeling would be the same.
Now, even this familiar dynamic remains in flux as our world, nation, state, and local communities struggle to balance competing needs of education and safety.
Not a day passes without me reading a social media post or news story about politicians, educators and parents brainstorming to find a solution to the pandemic and its rippling effect on our daily lives.
I occupy a distinctive place as both the parent of a student entering high school as an educator on both a secondary and collegiate level. Last fall, I found myself taking graduate seminars as well as teaching both face-to-face and fully online classes. These online courses were not haphazard offerings necessitated by the crisis of COVID-19, but courses designed from the outset for an online platform.
During the respite of spring break, I also found myself transitioning my in-person classes to some type of online format. As someone who has taught online courses for most of the past decade, I found the process less stressful than scores of my teaching colleagues who had never taught online and who did not wish to teach in this manner.
For me, teaching in both arenas has allowed me to become a more effective all-around educator, regardless of the format. This had not always been the case.
As I reflect on my first online courses, I often cringe at the way in which I taught these classes. I had only a passing acquaintance with applications like Skype or VSee. I fondly recall first using Zoom five years ago and marveling at how much easier it was than other similar videoconferencing products.
Within a semester or two, whatever reticence I had for seeing myself on camera dissipated and I began to explore the possibilities of this brave new world of online learning.
One of the stumbling blocks for me was to accept and embrace the indisputable fact that my online courses would never replicate the face-to-face classroom experience. When I offered a session at symposium for online education, I jokingly made my attendees repeat the following: "This is not my classroom."
When teachers, parents, and students struggle with this new paradigm, I empathize, but I also encourage them to see the possibilities for the virtual classroom. I have been able to invite filmmakers, novelists and former federal judges to share their talent and expertise with students in my courses. I have discovered novel ways to approach material that I have been able to use in a traditional classroom, too.
As we approach the 21st century, it is time to rethink the notion of a classroom and methods of instruction which have not significantly changed for much of our nation’s history. Innovation and open minds are essential to finding our way forward.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.