Habi Education Lab is a design and research group that started out in 2014 as a professional development group for teachers, working to bring more creativity in education. While we’ve since branched out to make well-designed learning experiences accessible to a wider range of learners, one thing remains the same: our belief that teachers are the changemakers that we need for a better normal in education.
But even changemakers can get stuck sometimes. The pandemic exposed a lot of problems in our systems and when problems are so deeply rooted it can be challenging to move forward.
One of the things that we discovered as we got closer and closer to the beginning of the school year is that many teachers still feel anxious about transitioning to remote learning. Schools might have closed physically in the early days of the pandemic, but teachers never stopped working behind the scenes, attending webinars and online professional development workshops, drafting contingency plans, and revising curricula.
Attending webinars was the foremost activity teachers relied on for upskilling and preparing for remote teaching, followed by doing their own research, experimentation and exploration of different tools and platforms. But often these endeavors leave them with more questions, and the belief that there’s still so much more that they need to learn before they’re ready.
While the support systems available to teachers has been extensive, the same cannot be said for students. Those who experienced the abrupt shift from face to face learning to online delivery were left feeling uncertain about remote learning and the role of their teachers in online learning environments. In spite of the continuing efforts of teachers to implement more student-centered approaches before the pandemic, many students still see their teachers as the source instead of facilitators of their learning. Many of the calls for a full academic freeze actually came from students who felt like they couldn’t learn in a remote learning setup, and those who empathized with their peers who needed to resort to #PisoParaSaLaptop crowdsourcing campaigns on Twitter and Facebook just to be able to enroll in the coming school year.
The path ahead is most definitely a challenge and while there are so many things about our future that remain uncertain, one of the ways that we can move forward is by holding on to the idea that whatever changes we make to our educational systems must be done with the human in mind.
When you ask a teacher what their goals are, it’s almost never a goal for themselves and it’s hardly ever something as simple as seeing their learners master their subject. A teacher’s goal is often connected to something larger – the desire to see their learners not only succeed in the world but to be part of building a better one. It is this desire that has kept many educators going even in the face of uncertainty and criticism, and working with these educators has helped us stay optimistic and hopeful about the future of education.
Among these educators include the teachers of DepEd’s Alternative Learning System, who we engaged in an online training of trainers workshop so that they could roll out training on Blended Learning among their ranks. And while the teachers initially came into the workshop awed by the different tech tools that we introduced to them, like Mentimeter, Zoom, and Padlet, we like to believe that they came out of that workshop firm in their belief that they still had the ability to design and facilitate powerful, flexible, and inclusive learning experiences regardless of the tools available to them.
The idea that learning can happen anywhere with the right mindset is something that we tried to hold on to as we designed Module 0 for Miriam College. Module 0 was born out of the realization that while teachers were preparing for the coming school year, nobody was helping students get ready for the transition. Gen-Z students are often referred to as “digital natives” so many of us assumed that they would have no trouble transitioning to a digital learning environment. When we talked to different students however, we learned that that wasn’t the case.
We designed Module 0 as a self-paced course that the students could use as their space to play and discover what worked and what didn’t work for them in a remote learning environment. The course included prompts for reflection, videos on growth mindset and digital citizenship, and opportunities to hear from and collaborate with their peers. The course came with the one underlying message – a well-designed learning experience remembers that learners are human first before they are students.
What struck me in working with these teachers and students is the realization that the way forward lies not so much in identifying the gaps and trying to bridge them; it’s in identifying our strengths and using them to bring about the changes that we want to see moving forward.