Thinking Beyond the Pandemic

Change — especially big change — incapacitates me. I overthink. I freeze. I fall down rabbit holes of research on little details. Change is fundamentally disorienting. Forced change is even worse, because it comes with a kicker of resentment and wistful “if onlies.” Everyone once in a while, though, even I have to admit that change can widen horizons in ultimately positive ways, if we can remember to appreciate the view.

I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at my Pollyanna-ish take on pandemic teaching. I’m not suggesting that we’ll all discover a bone-deep love for online pedagogy or that we’ll magically start to feel comfortable delivering courses heavily or exclusively online.

But: This bizarre historical moment has forced our hand in requiring educators at every level to develop familiarity with technology that too many of us have found ways to avoid or minimize. The part that we may not want to admit is that those technologies offer us a chance to enrich our in-person courses too.

The State of Your Filing Cabinet Affects Learning, Online and In-Person

Take modules, for example. (Your LMS might call them “lessons” or “topics,” but it’s the same basic idea.) Modules are like file drawers for your course material. You could have a single, jam-packed drawer that contains all of your content. You could have a file drawer for Week One and another one for Week Two. You could just as easily have a drawer for Unit One (which extends over multiple weeks) and another for Unit Two, and so on.

Into each drawer, you could chuck a bunch of labeled file folders and call it a day. After all, whoever opens the drawer can figure out for themselves how the files are related and whether there’s a particular order or priority to your filing system.

A photograph of a very messy filing room, with files, boxes, and other items scattered everywhere

Nah, it’s cool. They can check the syllabus to figure out what they are supposed to complete and when.

Or, you could organize your file folders carefully, maybe adding a brief memo here that explains why you’ve filed these documents together or a post-it note annotation there to draw attention to a key concept or action step.

So, Which File Drawer Is Easier to Use?

I know which one I’d pick. And I know that it would take more time to set that file drawer up in the first place. But I bet it would the person using those files could be both more effective and more efficient as a result.

Thoughtfully-organized and annotated modules are absolutely critical for online learners to be able to navigate a course successfully, since they have fewer opportunities for you to “signpost” that navigation in person. The reality that educators need to confront, though, is that our face-to-face students would navigate our in-person courses more successfully if we used modules effectively.

Pandemic teaching is a nightmare. There’s no pretending otherwise. But while we scramble to adjust to the changes required to survive the next assignment, the next class, the next unit, we should also think beyond the pandemic about how we have a chance to transform our in-person pedagogy as result of this online trial-by-fire.

Published by Jaime Lynn Longo

I am a composition scholar, an educational developer, a practitioner of transformative education both in and out of the classroom, and an accidental instructional design evangelist.

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