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Rasing the Bar for Educational Video

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The challenge looming in the fall for schools that choose not to—or are ordered not to—reopen under the "old normal" conditions is to level up from emergency remote teaching (ERT), the improvised remote instruction we experienced in the spring. Conducting an ERT course is akin to the terrifying thrill of building an airplane as you are flying it, while teaching an online course is analogous to the confident professionalism of flying and landing a plane you were able to thoughtfully design in advance. 

Reconceptualizing a course for online delivery—and for which you have expertise teaching in person—is often a reinvigorating exercise in deliberately adopting a student-centric approach to the material. For most schools, plans to reopen will be less concretely defined 
than teachers and parents would prefer, but this wiggle room will be there for good reason. A wise philosopher (Mike Tyson) once remarked, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth," and the coronavirus is likely to punch us in the mouth again before a new normal emerges. Epidemiology will ultimately have a say in how students come together to learn for the foreseeable future. A prudent contingency plan for teachers is to design their courses to run well fully online and enjoy whatever in-person interaction can be done at a tolerable risk to all participants.

A few teachers I've spoken with were deeply disappointed with the ERT experience, and to them, I can only promise that teaching an intentionally prepared online course is a much better experience than what they went through and that there's significant value in teaching and learning online. My primary argument is that most postgraduation learning for both career and personal growth is self-directed and online. Teaching online courses provides an opportunity for a teacher to coach students in how to be effective self-directed learners who are trained with the critical skills necessary to assess the reliability of online resources. 

To help put that into action, I have a couple of rallying cries. The first is to provide rigor without rigidity. This concept delivers enough structure and demands in online courses that students accomplish much more than they could have done without teachers' coaching. However, the structure and demands are flexible enough for students who are dealing with living situations that require more of their time and energy throughout the day than a normal school routine and environment would.

My second rallying cry is to reduce PAIN. PAIN is a tortured acronym for PAraInstructional Nonsense, which is any source of frustrating meta-work that steals your time away from interacting with your students, whenever they are available, to assess their understanding of the material and intervene as needed. A major part of PAIN during ERT was having to do the lecture part of teaching at the same time as trying to do the "facilitate learning" part of teaching. Those competing interests are much more difficult to balance when you aren't physically present with the students while you're lecturing and can't read their non-verbal cues.

My solution for that is to lecture asynchronously. It's called that because the teaching in the lecture content is out of sync with the learning or at least the consumption of it—the teachers' portion is done when they're on their A game, and the students' part is done when they're ready to concentrate. Asynchronous video is a personable and proven way to creatively present content. There will always be some PAIN when gathering materials to produce an educational video lecture, but it's better when it's front-loaded during the summer. The non-interactive aspect of asynchronous content presentation is a feature, not a bug, as it affords students more flexibility and imposes minimally on their privacy. In addition, most "interaction" during a lecture is actually a charitable label for premature interruptions. If a teacher does not want to appear on camera, doesn't have time to appear, or teaches in a community with significant internet access issues, he or she can instead rely on that most ancient form of asynchronous self-directed learning that made civilization possible: the reading assignment.

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