As the world grapples with the global COVID-19 pandemic, education is one of the hardest-hit sectors. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2020) a total of 1.6 billion students are out of school; also affected are 63 million teachers. These numbers comprise 91% of the total students in the world. A total of 188 countries have implemented nationwide or localized lockdowns. As many brick and mortar schools have closed, many have transitioned into online or distance learning. Some sadly have stopped offering classes altogether.
In the Philippines, the Department of Education (DepEd) has not made a final decision whether to end the school year 2019-2020 or not. It has advised learners and educators to use its online learning platform. For the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) it has left the discretion to the administrators of public and private colleges and universities.
The Philippines is no stranger to a crisis. As a country annually visited by earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural hazards and by various kinds of human-induced disasters, the country’s educational system is prone to disruption. When a large-scale tragedy strikes, Philippine schools double as evacuation centers, many teachers are also called to serve in various capacities as front liners, relief workers among others. Colleges and universities also shelter the poor and homeless and are mobilizing their facilities and resources to respond to the global pandemic.
As school administrators decide on whether to continue with delivering their services on distance mode, both teachers and students have to contend with this new normal. Some schools have transitioned smoothly as they have adopted a learning management system (LMS) prior to enhanced community quarantine, while others are now rushing to adopt various pedagogical and instructional delivery systems available. Some have decided to surrender to the situation and prioritize the health of their educational community.
E-learning in times of crisis: The CARE2 Framework
A post-COVID-19 educational scenario will most likely need to take into consideration the threats and realities brought about by the virus. With this in mind, the following principles are being shared as a way to help both the teachers and the students deal with the new normal in the education landscape.
The key concepts in learning in times of crisis follow the CARE2 framework, which is comprised of the following principles:
Connection & Compassion
Deciding on the resources and tools to use is a key step towards transitioning to an online or blended mode of learning. As educators, the pedagogical techniques in face-to-face classroom settings may not be fully replicated in the online space but this can be compensated now with a wide range of tools and applications available that can aid the teaching-learning process. These include videoconferencing and streaming platforms, learning hubs, or assessment tools, among others.
Read more: 5 Edtech tools to try out this year
Apart from choosing the appropriate teaching aids, teachers must also determine the ways in which they can communicate with their students. Whether it is via email, SMS, group messaging apps, or dedicated virtual learning platforms, teachers must ensure that all students are able to connect to any of the available platforms and resources.
Internet and mobile telephone connectivity and capacity may vary within the same area or country and especially across countries, and this needs to be carefully considered when deciding on the design of the online delivery of the course.
As students and teachers need to stay at home most of the time, it is vital to also strike a balance between attending to the needs of the family and being a student and teacher. We cannot expect the same time and resources to be allocated for learning alone. Devices and internet connection and data resources may have to be shared with other family members who may also need to study or work.
Careful consideration of the physical and mental state of the learners must also be noted. Some students may find it hard to transition to a virtual environment or others may face certain limitations in terms of various resources, physical or otherwise.
Teachers can help other teachers who are starting or adjusting to the virtual learning environment. Team teaching, mentoring and coaching can be done so that colleagues will be able to adapt faster. Institutional support is key if the school has dedicated personnel who can conduct webinars and other forms of training in order to phase in teachers and learners to distance mode of education.
Compassion with our students can also take on many forms. It can be listening to their concerns and provide advice or endorsing them to the school’s guidance personnel (who can hopefully do online counseling). Extending deadlines for assessments or allowing multiple attempts or late submissions will ease the anxiety of students who will have to contend with various requirements with other subject teachers.
Modifying requirements to suit the condition can also help. If before fieldwork is required or face-to-face interviews were the norm, allow for conference calls or emailed questionnaire responses from respondents. For lab experiments and other practical lessons, adjust to what students can do in their homes. Now is the time to exercise care and compassion as both students and teachers strive to survive the pandemic.
Read more: Transforming our schools through empathy
Accessibility & Adaptability
The saying “different strokes for different folks” also applies to the current pandemic situation. Teachers need to know if students have particular accessibility issues and concerns with the platforms that will be used to continue the teaching and learning process.
Some students may be anxious about the sudden shift and clamp down. Those with existing learning issues need to be assisted as well. It can range from those with certain physical conditions such as the visual or hearing impaired or those with diagnosed learning conditions such as dyslexia, or color blindness, among others.
It is best to level expectations and to let students come forward with a particular learning hurdle that they need to overcome. There are tools available that can facilitate this, from voice-assisted or -activated machine learning, to closed captioning functions, among others.
Teachers can help retain a semblance to pre-quarantine scenarios by agreeing on a schedule with their students. Virtual class sessions, consultations, and other activities can be calendared. Teachers and students need to prepare and design their learning spaces to make it conducive.
Because of the circumstances, teachers may need to adjust lesson plans, assessments, and competencies. We can, for example, adjust the number of times an assessment may be taken or give a longer lead time for lessons to be covered before an assessment is deployed.
Having multiple modes of lessons delivery and interaction can also be considered. If all students can access the internet then delivering a lesson synchronously is ideal but if not, asynchronous modes will have to be used. Lessons may be emailed or shared via the cloud or other data-sharing platforms. Lessons can also be pre-recorded and sent to students for them to access for a given period of time.
We cannot just have one teaching plan. As teachers, we need to expect the unexpected and have a back-up plan or even plans.
Adaptive learning also means that students can learn at their own pace or if they meet certain conditions. For example, fast learning students can move across the lessons quickly, while those who have some difficulty are given more chances to master the concepts or lessons. By providing personalized and customized learning paths, students with different learning levels and skills can thrive. The challenge of successfully doing this is to carefully plan and map the curriculum and content.
Relevance & Responsiveness
Learning becomes interesting for students if they see that it is relevant to their lives and situation. This is where the integration of course concepts and principles to real-world scenarios and situations is important.
During this quarantine period, students will be relying heavily on news and information from media organizations, social media feeds, friends, and peers. It is imperative for teachers to strive to connect the current situation with the content and context of their lessons. Whether it is about the scientific nature of the virus, the economic impact of the quarantine, to various industries, to crisis communication and management by national and local governments, there is a lesson to be taught with what is happening.
This also means that teachers must understand the areas of interests and concerns of their students. There has to be a mutual understanding of what may be important for the teacher and what interests students. The middle ground will be the area of shared relevance.
Teachers must also be mindful of the pace in which the students are coping with the situation. We can look at it from their point of view or adjust how we interact accordingly. We may need to give them space and time. What works could be agreeing on a schedule on when to communicate synchronously or asynchronously about school or subject related matters. In this way, a routine is developed and students are not always on their toes waiting with bated breath on whether the teacher will post a note, question, or assignment.
Educational & Entertaining
Learning is meaningful if it is both educational and entertaining. Teachers can use games or can gamify the learning experience. I like to adopt popular game show formats in my assessments, whether in-class or online. It could be simple four-pictures-one-word types to anagrams, word clues, or puzzles. Templates are available if one wants to make tests look like popular game shows like Jeopardy, The Wheel of Fortune, Who Wants to be Millionaire? or local shows like Game Ka Na Ba?
Apart from these, allow students to create artworks, videos, and photo collages to help them learn and understand concepts. Sharing videos and reading an article and listening to an online lecture are staples in a virtual learning environment. But we can always enhance it with other pedagogical approaches and available tools. Students will surely enjoy learning if it is educational and at the same time entertaining.
Despite these challenges, learning must never stop. We need to find ways. But it has to be balanced with the welfare of the educators and learners as well. For this new learning system to progress, schools must partner with stakeholders and communities in order to achieve inclusive education. There has to be an enabling environment that is open to dialogue, cooperation, and collaboration.
Learning must continue but with careful consideration of the new realities brought by the pandemic. We need to look after each other, our families, our loved ones, and the students entrusted to our CARE.
Marco is Associate Professor at De La Salle University-Dasmarinas, Philippines. He has over two decades of teaching experience and more than 10 years of teaching online. This paper was first presented on April 3, 2020, in a webinar entitled “ETC: E-Learning in Times of Crisis”, organized by the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC).