Promoting Transformative Change in Teaching, Learning and Assessment in A Digital Age

By Melody Buckner, PhD, Associate Vice Provost, Digital Learning and Online Initiatives, University of Arizona

Melody Buckner, PhD, Associate Vice Provost, Digital Learning and Online Initiatives, University of Arizona

Change is difficult even in the best of circumstances. However, we are constantly evolving to survive. This is how we succeed. Yet our educational system seems to have remained stagnate with lots of resistance to innovations. We may shift here and there in small ways but considering how far our society has pushed into the digital world our classrooms do not reflect this change. One item that really demonstrates this point are the blue book exams still sold in university bookstores. Really? Every time I see a stack of these dinosaurs I just want to scream. I have actually stood by these booklet stacks and asked student to give me their opinions on this outdated modality of demonstrating their learning. Most shrug their shoulders and stay, “Well, this is the way it is done”. When I ask faculty about the blue book exams, they state reasons like, “it prevents cheating” and “handwriting is a good skill”. I get those points because I can barely read my doctor’s handwritten prescription but when I think about my past couple of visits to the doctor, I remember receiving a prescription printout, or they send the prescription directly to the pharmacy. My point is the world has evolved and moved into a digital age while education is still assessing students with blue book exams.

Then in spring of 2020, education was forced to go digital and the industry was really not prepared to make the shift. Students and faculty suffered. There are lifelines available to grab a hold of but there is still resistance. With reluctance most have adapted and were able to pivot their teaching and learning strategies into a digital landscape, but why was there no anticipation or planning for this kind of shift, why did it take an emergency to force education to even thing about digital strategies and the bigger question, “How can we move forward from here and not retreat to our old ways once the we are on the other side of the pandemic?”.

Keep in mind, this will be a cultural shift even more than it will be a technology one. The place to start making this paradigm shift is in early educational settings. I believe all K-12 schools need to have access to a Learning Management System (LMS). Yes, there will issues with access and those issues are very important and need to be addressed. However, having one place where student, faculty and parents can go on the internet for official documents and experiences is as fundamental to student success as the physical classrooms. Having an active digital environment for our students also presents an important opportunity to build on digital literacy skills. Planning, professional development and patience should all be part of this equation as we make this paradigm shift from total physical presence in the classroom to a blended approach. If our students in the K-12 schools are engaged and successful in virtual learning environments, then the leap into the next level whether it be higher education or industry will be a much easier one.

Higher education is not off the hook on this shift either. While most institutions of higher education have access to an LMS, in many cases the LMS it is not being used effectively or even at all. I am amazed when syllabus, assignments and grades are not posted electronically in a college course. We are supposed to be preparing our students for the future and yet we are not properly mirroring what is happening once they leave our institutions. Most employees are not handed a notebook and directions on paper on their first day but are given a computer and expected to know how to navigate this environment. Higher education should be on the cutting edge of our society not lagging behind with outdate modalities and methods. The exploration of intelligence agents, gaming techniques, augmented and virtual reality for teaching and learning should be at the forefront of our university campuses with educational researchers and technologies as guiding lights.

What are our next steps? How do we lean into bringing about changes for education and not retreating back into our old ways because they are comfortable or perceived as “better”? We must start by taking small but bold steps into new worlds of technology driven with a thoughtful human element. There are plenty of technologies available but not all are a good fit for education. We must like any good business or government, look to our audience, assess their needs and discover ways to assist them to success. Preparing students for tomorrow’s world with today’s tools, not yesterday’s techniques is the way for us to move forward.

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