The Future of Teaching at Springfield Convent

A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic and at Springfield Convent in Cape Town we are still hopping on and offline without a clear view of which mode of delivery is around the corner.

It’s safe to say that this hybrid way of teaching is commonplace and here to stay. So how does this affect learning? Is this the future of teaching?

As teachers, we have all been forced to grow our technological skillset in some way or another over the past 18 months, and many teachers who have never learned online themselves, have had to switch instantly to teaching online This was a remarkable feat, to which most of us adapted quickly and intuitively. But we also found out just as quickly that it was exhausting.

We need to keep pacing ourselves

Well-known futurist Graeme Codrington said in a support video message for teachers at the start of 2021, that we need to keep pacing ourselves for a COVID-19 marathon. He also indicated that we don’t know when or how this pandemic will end – if it ever will. We need to be smart. And if the future of teaching has learners in it, we need to design our teaching around them.

So what do our learners need and want? I think they want learning that is personalised and that meets them where they are – online. As teachers, we need to reimagine our teaching, especially for delivery online.

Online learning makes learning more accessible, which means we need to give up the idea that learning can only happen in the physical classroom and help learners to take responsibility for their own learning. Teachers should encourage continuous learning and inspire curiosity as they prepare learners with relevant skills for a future workplace that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

Here are four predictions for the future of teaching:

1. The future of teaching is personalised learning

One big thing that experts in learning are talking about is the move to more personalised learning. In the school system, this is challenging, and it’s something that we need to keep exploring. A part of personalised learning is creating more learner autonomy and providing the individual learner with the ability to choose their next step.

To implement more personalised learning in your classroom start by allowing the learners to give you feedback about their learning in your subject. You could also look for topics or sections of the curriculum where they could work at their own pace, or in their own order of preference.

Additionally, including contextually relevant examples of concepts or new knowledge, or providing them with opportunities to reflect on how the content relates to their personal experiences, helps them to make a connection between theory and practice.

The future is personalised learning

2. The future of teaching is adaptive technology

As teachers, we need to consider the way we teach in relation to the rest of our learners’ lives. As we move forward as a society with technology, we need to stay open to change too. If technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) can be a vehicle for making learning more engaging, we need to become familiar with it and learn the necessary systems and algorithms to meet our learners where they are.

One institution that is offering AI as part of its curriculum is Haileybury, based in Australia, which offers online and blended learning courses. Their aim is to start to ask questions, explore ideas and start conversations that will make the real-world and near-future implications of AI in classes from Grade R to Grade 12 real and meaningful. In an article by Peter Thomas entitled An AI walks into a classroom, Haileybury teachers say that they believe students learn best when engaged in experiences that push them beyond the boundaries of a ‘course’.

While we may be a while away from using AI in our classrooms here in South Africa, it also makes sense to keep an eye on global technology trends that are informing the way we design our classrooms, curricula, and instruction for the future.

3. The future of teaching is digital

With a continued need to present lessons online (at least some of the time), we need to rethink our approach to online teaching. We can’t simply move lessons designed to take place face-to-face into an online space (and blame Zoom when our learners are not engaged). It’s not a sustainable way to teach or learn. The latest research in neuroscience and our understanding of how the brain works shows that learning doesn’t work in marathon sessions, but that we should be using spaced repetition to retain information.

If pre-COVID-19 you were spending most of your face-to-face lessons instructing, and then doing the same when you taught online, you might have felt like you’re talking to empty space – and perhaps you were. Our learners are exhausted too. We could all consider where it’s possible to talk less as we constantly reimagine what teaching should look like in-person, too.

There is also the idea that learning online is lonely. But part of our solution to teaching online is building social connections. Jennifer Hofmann says in a 2020 article on learner engagement entitled Get and Keep Learners Engaged in a Virtual Classroom, that learning happens during collaboration. We need to use the technology available to us, and give learners more opportunities to do the talking. This doesn’t mean random activities during your virtual lessons, but designing every part of your lesson to support learning in its essential form.

To create a more interactive classroom, you could introduce polls using Google Forms or, build engaging quizzes or games using Kahoot, or provide opportunities for learners to work together on problems or challenges in breakaway rooms, providing regular feedback on their learning experiences.

4. The future of teaching is learner agency

We want learners to be accountable for their learning, but we need to ask ourselves if we are giving them permission to do so. Are they allowed to take accountability for their learning and do we trust them enough? Dr Jane Bozarth says in an article on instructional design entitled Nuts and Bolts: Let the Learners Hold the Spoon, oftentimes learners are seen as wanting to be spoon-fed, but she challenges the reader by ending the article ‘Maybe it isn’t that learners want to be spoon-fed. Maybe it’s that we won’t let them hold the spoon.’ We need to consider how much of the learning we are controlling and move to become better facilitators than lecturers.

Learner agency diagram

So, how do we work smarter, not harder? I think this starts with reflection and asking ourselves: What is most important in my classroom? Is it ticking boxes and completing assessments? And am I limiting myself (and my learners) by how I view the curriculum? Do I have to do all the talking? What learning is most important in my classroom? When we put the learning experience at the heart of our classrooms, we find that the learners’ needs must come first.

We might need to learn new skills, and relinquish control, and the need to be talking so much, but we also might just find that we encourage continuous learning and inspire curiosity, preparing learners to take on and apply a world of knowledge by themselves.