Emergency Driven Remote Learning
This week, K-12 and higher education institutions worldwide embarked on an experiment. Our emergency response to move to emergency remote learning is more treatment than strategy. Only time will tell what effects this shift will have. The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way we view many things, and in this uncertain time, it forces educators to drill down to what is fundamentally important for students to learn during these crises. Think pieces abound with best-practice lists and criticisms of what solutions are available. Responses are primarily written in response to the grief and uncertainty so many are feeling.
So what role does academic integrity play in this situation? Some see an opportunity to focus on the challenges inherent to course design and best practices to prevent cheating behaviors. Others warn of predatory companies, who offer widespread contract cheating and an easy way out. Then, some extol the virtues of proctoring software and other measures guaranteed to weed out dishonest behavior.
While the importance of continued education and the promotion of academic integrity remain at the forefront of our minds as practitioners and researchers, I offer that we take this time to expand our conversation around academic integrity. If, at our core, we espouse the values of academic integrity, then our current situation offers opportunities to think about the topic in ways we may not regularly consider.
How do we honestly relate to students in such a trying time, and how do we as educators encourage students to be honest with us? Some of these truths are difficult and mired in anxiety, fear, and worry. Collectively we are under strain and stress personally, academically, and professionally. How do we name that struggle and respond to it? How are we responding to student need that honestly provides a solution to the challenges our students are facing. Responding to this crisis requires fewer curated responses. Authenticity is a choice, and one of the few things currently left untouched.
The American Research Education Association showed one such example of honesty when canceling their plans for a virtual conference. As difficult and disappointing as the notification was (for my presentations included), there was honesty in recognition of our limited, collective ability in this challenging time, and the importance of reflection. The Association’s meaningful statement on the process behind the decision felt sincere, and while this does not negate the disappointment and loss, there is room for grief, and an appreciation for honesty that is not rooted in one’s ability to deny the challenges we are facing in education minute by minute.
K-12 systems have been turned upside down to create a remote environment dependent on trust. Trust demands that school systems continue to support unique student needs, and in some cases, provide the technologies needed to support online learning. More than this, we recognize that these school systems are not only foundational in the lives of children for their academic rigor. These schools provide community and family for many. At their best, a place to feel safe and valued. Superintendents and other school leaders are working tirelessly to maintain some semblance of that trust, while also recognizing the limitations of our current intervention. For higher education, trust that administrators are acting in good faith when making difficult decisions, that faculty will adapt their coursework not to be a mirrored copy of a face to face seminar. However, something new altogether and trust that students will respond, despite adversity to this new way of communicating, is necessary.
What is fair in this scenario? Are grades and assessments fair? Are accommodations equitable? What is fair in the uncertainty? What are supports provided to students at various stages of their education, staff in different functional areas, and all manner of faculty and teachers? As our political representative make meaning of fairness related to financial reprieve, we find ourselves seeking a definition of fairness that we can live with–an impossible task in this situation.
While fairness is in short supply, our ability to look beyond ourselves is not. I find it helps to spend time learning and gaining inspiration from those who make sacrifices in difficult situations to help others during this time. I think of research on a pedagogy of care (Noddings, 2003; Rose & Adams, 2014), a framework that centers on meeting students where they are and adapting to need. In this time, how are we respecting others in the fullness of who they are? For the student searching for work, thrust into a home environment where their place may have shifted in the family? For the staff member managing anxiety and fear while being there as a resource for their institutions, for the caretakers, who no longer have a separation of office and personal responsibilities. How do we hear the challenges of others?
There are many questions, perhaps too many in this post. While there are a few answers, I know that we have a responsibility as participants in a system of education at this time. Our institutions, for many reasons, have chosen to course forward and not shut down. How do we define rigor and expectation? How are we holding others accountable? How are you responsible for the content and learning outcomes, and how do we create an expectation of responsibility. Revised courses and learning outcomes represent a new agreement to our students, but we must take the time to show them what the new expectations are.
I hope we dare to learn from the remote learning intervention and realize that while nothing will ever be the same, our growing pains present an opportunity to sit with our failures and successes, moving forward with greater integrity. We may not recognize it as such, but progress continues even in triage.
Keep safe, and take good care.