COVID-19 must surely change our plans for the future of HE across the world, in terms of both quality of provision and equality of access.
Digital access is not universal, but neither is access to conventional education. Access to mobile broadband in the developing world is now 75%, and could reach 100% by 2023. By contrast, at the current rate of reduction in the numbers of out-of-school children, we will not reach universal education for over 70 years. This is a shocking comparison, but it means that digital methods for teachers’ professional development are indeed the most promising means to accelerate the SDG4 goal to “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.
Digital methods are the only effective way of supporting millions of teachers, at all levels of education, in all countries, in learning how to teach online. MOOC exemplars show that we are beginning to work at scale:
- The 3-week course ‘How To Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students’ runs on FutureLearn, was launched on 23 March, has enrolled over 70,000 teachers, and is available on demand.
- The Edraak platform is supporting a UCL/Lebanese University course in Arabic ‘Teaching Online’ that launched on 26 April, runs every month and has enrolled over 22,000 teachers.
Such professional development courses could make a significant impact on the ability of teachers worldwide to move online, and support universities doing initial teacher training.
With our new experience of digital teaching methods, we should be able to take a much more inventive approach to the future:
- Trust the teachers to innovate – Universities to build large-scale collaborative environments on MOOC platforms for teachers to take ownership of this new blend of classroom and online teaching and learning, to exchange experiences, share solutions, adapt other’s ideas, and build the teaching community’s knowledge of how to optimise online teaching and learning.
- Partner with ministries of education – Universities to develop the 65m teachers needed for universal education by 2030 by offering hybrid models of initial teacher training, mixing periods of online study in the place of origin with local support, and periods on campus.
- Partner with iNGOs and NGOs – Universities to partner with community agencies to support community-based blended learning courses for student teachers and professional development.
We cannot switch to digital overnight. Online teaching is importantly different from conventional methods. High quality requires high initial investment of time and effort to create a wholly online course. Teachers in all sectors must share the work of innovation, orchestrated by university courses on teacher professional development that exemplify both a quality experience and economies of scale in a more flexible offer to participants.
We must not waste this crisis. It is a good time to rethink the responsibility of universities and governments to act out our mission statements: to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. We can build on the fact that we do now have the technology, and have begun at last to understand how we might use it.
by Diana Laurillard (July 2, 2020)
Cover thumbnail photo: UCL