In this blog post, I am collecting my thoughts as well as links to other people’s thoughts and writings about how to teach online from a perspective and position of compassion for learners. This information was originally collected on Twitter.
Additionally, this notion of “compassionate pedagogy” is not limited to online teaching and learning but perhaps is applicable to all of teaching and learning.
Going back to at least 2014, educators around the world have started to discuss how to embrace compassion as an essential component to their teaching.
Since then, it appears that more educators have been researching and writing about this approach. I’m just starting my exploration of this topic, so I’ll share what I’ve seen people saying on Twitter.
For me, this aligns with Dee Fink’s work on a more student-centered approach to teaching that informs his backwards design approach. It also relates to the user-centered design approach seen in computer science, information studies, and communication.
These alignments explain why I am interested in this pedagogical approach. As a communication scholar, I focus more on a dialogic model for effective communication, one that seeks to work with my communication partner to arrive at understanding — as compared to a transmission model approach that may focus more on just getting the message out and being heard rather than being understood. I wrote about my approach to communication in my Fractured Fandoms book, which is also discussed here as the communication toolbox.
With this context, I present the next section, in which I present my thoughts on how to teach online to improve learning in remote distance experiences. Along with my thoughts, from Twitter, as written out, I’m sharing other tweets and stories that support my approach.
Online Teaching and Learning with Compassionate Pedagogy
This pandemic could be a make-or-break moment for higher education in the 21st century. The technological disruption of online teaching is getting its biggest test of concept since institutions really started investing in it. And the ramifications could be widespread, longlasting.
The most important aspect to remember: Online teaching is not just content delivery.
If your institution wants you just to post material for students to interact with and then do something for you to summatively assess, then you are not teaching. You might as well be replaced by a robot. For other ideas, check out my posts on online learning communities at here.
If that is how you treat your physical classroom, then you have another problem — lectures without student engagement might as well be just TedTalks on YouTube. Yes people can learn from lectures, just like they can from documentaries, and books, and websites.
Teachers are not just content delivery media. Books, documentaries, TedTalks, websites may just be such media; all have their purpose and utility depending on different situations. But one-way communication of information, with summative assessment of retention, is not teaching.
Teaching is more akin to game design. It requires back-and-forth, formative and summative assessment in relation to the acquisition and usage of information to make correct decisions given the nature of the situation being experienced.
Games are content delivery media, yes, but good game design structures the learning experience to start with the easier knowledges and skills as a foundation to build more advanced ones. Along the way, acquisition of knowledges and skills are applied to game experiences to succeed or fail in the gameplay situation.
Learning from failures improves success later on, and success allows for progress and increasing acquisition of more complicated knowledges and skills. Teaching is game design: teaching is dialogic, engaged interaction for a common purpose of moving from foundational to advanced. And, no, I am not saying to replace teachers with games. No one game can do everything a good teacher can do, no matter how good the game is. What I am saying is that we cannot think of teaching as just one-way communication of knowledges and skills. Teaching must be dialogic.
Which means your online course cannot just be watch, listen, read content and then take an exam. That structure can be overseen by a bot. That stays at foundational level knowledges and skills. Like any course, online teaching needs to get students to more advanced levels. Course design needs to include formative and summative assessment. It needs interaction between teacher-student and student-student. The online space must continue to be a community and a safe space for students to fail and learn from their failures — alone and together.
Thus, the online teaching and learning environment is best designed from a compassionate pedagogy approach. That means having compassion for our students and ourselves. We are more than just teachers and students. We are all humans. We need to remember that. We need to approach how we design our online teaching and learning environments with compassion for each other.
Here are some thoughts, advice, experiences from other educators and education scholars — both to give ideas but also to give suggestions on who to follow for more. One such discussion is more intended for K-12 education, but it does contain some underlying pedagogical considerations all educators should keep in mind: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/55941/how-to-develop-culturally-responsive-teaching-for-distance-learning
This compassion has to extend beyond the teleclass, beyond online teaching and learning, and into other areas of the students’ life, as other aspects of the students’ life impact their learning. Especially when schools think about not having students physically present on campus, there are many considerations to make: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/03/11/how-close-colleges-without-hurting-vulnerable-students.
And it has to be done throughout the term. When we all transitioned, we may have had compassionate pedagogy on our mind at the beginning, but we cannot waiver from it. Indeed, once you start down the path of compassion, you cannot really get off of it.
As a communication scholar, my main compassionate pedagogical advice is this: When teaching online, communication is so important because these spaces only exist because of communication. Be clear in all communication; go step-by-step what they should do; be patient because miscommunication will happen; answer questions without judgment.
Not Just About Students…
Courses cannot be “simply” shifted online without a major disruption to the students’ learning experience. That disruption could lead to many students suddenly underperforming and deciding to leave. If they can learn the same knowledges and skills through some other content delivery media that won’t cause them to go into massive debt, then why attend college?
If online courses rely too much on what is basically indistinguishable from autodidactic approaches to learning, then students would only need to go to college if technical certification is necessary for a particular career.
Higher ed institutions that do not support faculty labor in the design and implementation of such online learning communities will only expedite the death of academia. Why pay for scholars/teachers when millions can be taught by an AI running them through the same MOOC?
Teaching is about more than just content delivery. It involves a mentor relationship or a communal experience. Institutions that do not acknowledge this reality put their students and faculty at risk, and in doing so build a shaky foundation for the future of any human civilization.
This pandemic could be a make-or-break moment for #21stCenturyHigherEd. The technological disruption of online teaching is about to get its biggest test of concept since institutions really started investing in it. And the ramifications could be widespread, longlasting.
Here are reports of how colleges and universities are preparing for their Fall 2020 terms.
So, how do we get through this? By innovating, learning from each other, and listening to our students and each other: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lucielapovsky/2020/04/30/the-virus-has-demonstrated-that-faculty-can-be-full-partners-in-changing-the-higher-education-business-model/#6613cef62109.
Here are some resources and ideas to help us do those things, in a collaborative and compassionate way, as well as perspectives on the need to not simply return to normal given how many students were not being served by “normal” teaching and institutions.
Resources and Advice
No Return to “Normal”
Now is the time to look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked across all instruction, regardless of the learning environment. For so long, climate change has been our largest concern for how it might disrupt our lives. This pandemic, however, has also become a great disruption in many areas of our lives. In times of Great Disruption, we should take the opportunity to more critically evaluate “normal” or “natural” — given their nature as social constructs that we embody and enact — because the Great Disruption illuminates the cracks in those normalized systems and the people who suffer in those cracks.
Now, then, is the time to consider what would work better — not best, as that’s impossible — for more people. To critically analyze the problem, listen to those we serve, be open to possible solutions, be willing and comfortable with experimenting, develop means to assess changes, and never lose sight of our mission. Below are some ideas for how to do all of this, such as a “HyFlex course model” to design courses that are more flexible to mixed reality teaching.
Continuing the Conversation
As I learn more about this topic and find more advice and ideas, I will keep updating this blog post. So if you come across any resources, teachers, and/or scholars that I should be aware of, please comment here, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet me @MediaOracle.