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Covid is chance for ELT sector to “reinvent”

English language providers can harness the positives from Covid-19 and use them to reinvent what and how they deliver, according to change and education experts speaking at the English Australia 2020 virtual conference.

Educators are reflecting on the role technology will play in how education is delivered in the future, and what they need to do to drive this. Photo: Pexels

“This year saw an urgent need to make a shift to online teaching... and what was achieved was nothing short of miraculous"

Speaking on the theme of ‘Resilience and Rebuilding’, technological change management expert Andy Hockley acknowledged the work of the ELICOS and higher education sectors in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“To move forward it’s important to ask what we can learn from what has happened”

“This year saw an urgent need to make a shift to online teaching… and what was achieved all over the world in all educational contexts in little to no time, was nothing short of miraculous,” he told attendees.

“Students, teachers, student support staff, tech support, and academic managers worked together to practically build something out of nothing. It was overwhelming, exhausting, supportive, compassionate – and imperfect.”

He said providers who undertook “emergency remote teaching” have had a range of experiences including being met with compassion, training and support, experienced learning through necessity, trialled new tools, and witnessed technology develop rapidly in response to the emerging needs.

Hockley described the situation to date as ‘crisis response’ as opposed to change management or crisis management but now it is moving into a new phase.

He believes English language providers will need to reinvent what and how they deliver to their students in a post-Covid world.

He said for institutions to be able to ‘bounce back’ they need robust systems, a culture of working together and openness, and the capacity to resist, absorb, respond and even reinvent if required.

“To move forward it’s important to ask what we can learn from what has happened. Do we want to build on the change, and what do we want to build on the change?” he explained.

Along with the technical changes, the crisis and the response to it has given the sector much to consider about how accepting it is of change in general.

Hockley said now is the time to reflect on those learnings and consider where the gaps were in change preparation.

At the centre of any future plans much be a culture of openness and readiness to innovate, he added.

“A lot of us gained that during the crisis and it’s a question of keeping that alive. Maintaining honesty, openness, being open to creative solutions, listening and focussing on classroom and staff needs and creating from there.”

While institutions focus on their response, educators also are reflecting on the role technology will play in how education is delivered in the future, and what they need to do to drive this.

International trainer and material writer Lindsay Warwick said the pandemic has allowed teachers to develop new skills and gain a greater understanding of the benefits and challenges of using technology in education, and now it’s important to use this knowledge to create long term plans.

“What we haven’t been able to do over the last few months is plan with forethought. We’ve been doing what we must to get through,” she said.

“Whatever we do I think we need to do it with a lot of consideration. I think there are benefits to be had from online and there are obviously very clear benefits of face to face, which we’ve come to appreciate more than ever over the last few months.”

“At the centre of any future plans much be a culture of openness and readiness to innovate”

Warwick said she believes demand will increase for blended learning options with a mix of face to face, digital, live content and self-paced learning.

While research suggests this approach can improve outcomes, result in higher engagement levels and contributes to developing digital skills, a considered and balanced approach is vital.

Warwick says there needs to be key decisions made about each of the elements including what level of control the teacher and learner has, how and how much technology will be utilised, what is suitable to be delivered in a synchronous or asynchronous format, and how to implement blended learning effectively.

These decisions must be based upon two factors: the outcome teachers are seeking and the ability of the learners, Warwick continued.

“We need to bear all those things in mind and think in a principled way about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

However, Warwick said there are practical things teachers can do right now that will help develop.

“Keep a reflection diary and regularly ask students and make a note of what they say about how they’re learning and what they’re struggling with and what solutions you may have come up with because once we get back to face to face we may have forgotten.

Now is a chance to find out what learners want and have the opportunity to do some experimental research. Research blended learning and try out tech tools so we are future-proofing learning.”

Blended learning requires a delicate balance but ultimately Warwick said she believes the benefits that can be reaped are worth it.

“It can extend learning beyond class time and the four walls so brings the outside in. And extends opportunities to learners who can’t travel to us,” she added.

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