We're only three months into 2020, yet the world has already witnessed enough challenging times to last for the entire year: the massive bushfires in Australia, the volcano eruption and the earthquake in the Philippines, the floods in Jakarta, the powerful storms in the US and Western Europe and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic.
I live and teach in the Philippines, a country that is also affected by typhoons about 20 times a year, by monsoon rains that cause flooding and also by man-made disasters such as armed conflicts in some regions. I may be exposed to more disasters than the average educator, but believe me when I say, there are no winners in these situations. Every aspect of life can be — and usually is — negatively impacted by natural disasters. Education makes no exception.
When disasters strike in the Philippines, classes are suspended in the affected areas. And suspended classes mean students spend days without learning. Schools are required to make up for the lost instruction time by managing extra school days after things get back to normal. More often than not, these make up school days are done on Saturdays — a time when students would rather spend with their family and friends.
From my experience, there are a number of challenges that teachers and students experience when make-up classes are needed:
- Rescheduling classes - teachers must organize a common schedule in which all students affected by class cancellations can be gathered to attend the make-up classes.
- Finding a classroom - once a common schedule is found, the next hurdle is finding a vacant classroom that fits with the schedule to hold the make-up class.
- Getting everyone to attend - since this is a make-up class, Higher Ed students are not obligated to attend, but for students of basic education attendance is mandatory.
We are seeing how the education process is disrupted and brought to a standstill in many countries right now. Instead of panicking, there's a better solution than rescheduling classes to make up for the lost time.
Making education disaster-proof
That is why as a teacher who experienced these unfortunate events firsthand, I am an advocate for a Disaster-Proof Education. Disaster-proof education is a proactive measure that makes teaching and learning continue amidst calamities both natural and man-made. It’s a measure that also avoids taking extra days for make-up classes.
Education technology helps make this happen in my own classroom. There are many digital tools for teaching and learning that are available to supplement learning anytime, anywhere, even in the worst-case scenarios.
Read more: 5 Edtech tools to try out this year
One of these many platforms is a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS allows teachers to create and deliver content that can be easily accessed by students. It also allows you to monitor student engagement and participation, assess student knowledge and track their performance, even outside the four walls of a classroom.
A good LMS coupled with a good pedagogy is the perfect formula for a disaster-proof education. However, the key is in finding the right tool and the right pedagogy at the right time.
The PIE - Plan, Implement, Evaluate
I want to share with you some of the best practices I have developed over the years. For more efficient online teaching and learning, I use the PIE process - Plan, Implement, Evaluate - which provides three concrete steps that any educator can integrate into their own classroom or school.
Planning is key for the successful development of a disaster-proof education. In the planning stage, it is important to consider the following:
- Clear objectives - what are your goals and what are you trying to achieve are important questions that need to be addressed.
- Assess your school’s capability - it’s important to know your school’s technological and pedagogical capability to deliver and implement remote teaching and learning.
- Identify barriers and constraints - consider learners’ access to technology and internet access at home.
- Get to know your students - it’s important to know your student’s learning styles so you can develop the right approach.
- Teacher readiness - capacity building for teachers on the use of technology that aligns with pedagogy and content is a critical factor. We need to make sure that teachers are ready and well equipped to deliver a virtual class.
After planning comes implementation and here some of the important factors to consider at this stage:
- Content availability - Make sure that your content is readily available and accessible to students in the digital platform that you are using. It also helps when your content aligns with your technology and pedagogy. For example, if you are offering blended learning, you need to have an LMS that supports this type of instruction.
- Use the right tools - Have a look at what digital tools you already use and evaluate their potential to be used for remote learning, such as your school’s LMS. However, if you aren’t using one currently, I strongly suggest you ask these questions before choosing one:
- Is the LMS easy to set up and implement?
- Does it offer a free trial?
- Does the LMS provider offer full support and assistance to users?
- What do you need and what are you trying to achieve?
- Does the LMS possess the features that you are looking for or want to have?
- What are the technological constraints and barriers between the users and the school?
- Choose the right learning activities - Learning will be virtual and remote, and you want to make sure that the platform and its features can support these activities. Some of the virtual activities that work well in my class are discussion forums, debates, wiki and online group activities for class participation and engagement, online exams and web-conferencing, group chat, online free form assessment, among other activities that are available in the virtual class.
Lastly, evaluate for success!
Evaluation is the most practical way to know if the implementation of a disaster-proof education is successful. The three important keywords in evaluation are: Guide, Monitor, Adjust:
- Guide the teachers, students and other stakeholders such as parents on the processes and what to do.
- While learning happens outside of the classroom, it is important that you monitor both teachers’ and students’ progress. It is also important to develop an effective feedback and support system, especially if learning happens remotely or at home.
- And finally, adjust. Make the necessary adjustments or improvements in your implementation. Upgrade, innovate, create and update as often as needed.
Disaster-proof education for everyone
Amid the disasters we are facing today, while most schools are closing down and temporarily suspending classes, teaching and learning can continue using different digital tools for education. More importantly, we can make education disaster-proof with a little creativity and a touch of technology.