Teaching in 2020: “Just what should one do as a teacher?”

This seems a reasonable question. One who is entering the field of education should expect that someone who has expertise in education can give a clear and complete answer to that question. Ask any real expert in teaching and learning that question, and you will get an answer that begins with “it depends.”

  • “What exactly do we mean by ‘learning?’”
  • “What is your curriculum?”
  • “Who are your students?”
  • “What future do you anticipate for your students?”
  • “What future do students anticipate for themselves?”

These (and many others) are all questions that will determine the actions teachers should take.

As we have moved to remote and online teaching, the question for those of us who support those who learn in virtual spaces has turned to converting every course to technology-mediated methods. The result is that faculty with disparate needs and whose curriculum requires students have specific experiences (experiences that may be unfamiliar to us and that may be contrary to the affordances of technology) are asking our advice.

This experience has confirmed my suspicions: Proclamations of what teachers should do; especially those embodied in rubrics, models, and templates; are generally inappropriate for many faculty and students.

As I approach the work of designing technology-mediated teaching and learning, I do believe there are certain “things” all teachers should do, but the things that can be applied to all faculty are very few and they are very broad. Some of the rubrics for “high quality online classrooms” that are available to professional in my field include dozens of items. Certainly, these can be helpful, but the reality is that when we seek to attend to that many aspects of the work, they become checklists. We ask, “has this been done?” and we hope to answer “yes” so we can move on to the next item. Little attention is given to the rationale or the implementation.

I prefer a few design principles to guide the work of creating courses that find teachers and students separated in space (and probably time). My principles can be counted on a single hand:

  1. Make sure all students can access the materials you post online.
  2. Include as many interactive activities as you can.
  3. Make sure your course is easy to navigate.
  4. Prioritize time to give feedback to your students.

Teachers who adopt these four principles and design and refine their courses to meet these four characteristics will reflect what is contained in the more sophisticated and word-rich rubrics, models, and templates; and they will understand what they are doing without translation.