Education in time of a pandemic: how to support teachers and students?

At the beginning of this month my daughter was still going to school, faculties had mostly ex cathedra lectures, and e-learning was still considered an option for enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. We were discussing the need to integrate digital technologies more heavily into education and the ways to approach it, while at the same time having a number of discussions on the importance of teacher presence in the classroom, and how technology can get in the way of interaction with a teacher – interaction that is crucial for the development of higher-order thinking. Finding the appropriate balance is not easy.

Suddenly we were facing the rise of a pandemic on European and global level, a pandemic which made us stay at home. Today, all schools and faculties have been forced to work online and are desperately trying to cope with this change. Although we are now talking about moving from face-to-face teaching to online education, are institutions and teachers fully aware of the difference between emergency remote teaching and planned and organized online learning?

In these challenging times, we need to come together in solidarity and sensitivity and specifically to support teachers and students, all of us working to get around new online environments and to provide the best quality education possible. This is why EDEN has gathered together its large community of expert practitioners and researchers to prepare a series of webinars titled ”Education in time of a pandemic #onlinetogether #covid19. The aim of our initiative is to help those who have always taught in a traditional classroom and are now being asked to rapidly regroup and start teaching online, but also to support those who are already in the process of transition to providing online education. In this series, we will be organizing weekly, practical webinars that start with a brief presentation addressing the webinar topic/question, followed by a question-and-answer session with webinar participants. The first webinar will be held on Monday, March 30th at 17:00 CET with Senior EDEN Fellow and distinguished expert, Dr. Tony Bates. Please join and contribute, and let our webinars be a place for gathering, discussing, sharing, and learning!

Although it now seems long ago, let me remind you of the Open Education Week (2-6 March), a global movement held at the beginning of this month. EDEN joined this initiative successfully: organizing EDEN Open Education Week with six high quality webinars, which took place with 32 distinguished speakers and moderators and 1,086 registered participants. Participants came from 50 different countries, including 22 countries from outside Europe – from United States to China, from Brazil to India – demonstrating wide geographical coverage and a substantial outreach. Now, more than ever, it is critical to share knowledge, know-how, and information with others, so new knowledge, skills, ideas and understanding can be built upon the old. So, please take a look at and share the webinar recordings, but also put your materials in open access to enable people around the world to access knowledge, modify and use the materials, and prepare new ones, so that education can be further personalized to individual user contexts or woven together in new ways for diverse audiences, large and small.

I take this opportunity to reflect on the European Commission Digital Action Plan Update that is currently in preparation and is expected in June this year. As a member of the ET2020 Working Group Digital Education: Teaching, Learning and Assessment (DELTA), we have received the information that a more strategic and ambitious approach will be taken in the plan, in continuity with current priorities and with widening its scope beyond formal education to non-formal and lifelong learning. EDEN has been an active member in the ET2020 DELTA, which organized two peer learning activities (PLAs) at the beginning of this year:

First, the PLA Zagreb was held in early February, concentrating on the topic of teaching in contemporary learning environments and developing the digital skills of educators. Discussion during the PLA emphasised that teachers, at all levels, live and work in an increasingly digital world where they are required to be digitally competent. Teachers have a great need for better knowledge about integrating ICT into education – and the current way of working in teacher education does not align well with the characteristics of 21st century environments, such as inquiry-based learning approaches that focus upon collaboration and social forms of learning, as well as the use of ICT in teaching and learning. Conclusions of the PLA stressed the need for teachers to continuously learn throughout all stages of their careers in modes of professional learning that best suit their context and their own professional needs.

  • The second PLA was in Copenhagen at the beginning of March and dealt with the topic of innovation and problem solving through technology, collaboration, and critical thinking. The PLA was organized during the Danish Learning Festival, the largest event in Denmark in the field of educational technology. This PLA continued the discussion on the importance of digitally competent teachers and on innovative use of technology to support 21st century skills development, including problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking.

All of these activities contribute to helping us enhance the quality of education in any environment, and due to the current circumstances, create an urgency to start progressive actions for working, teaching, and learning in online environments.

Many of you have asked about the EDEN Annual Conference which is scheduled in June this year in Timisoara, Romania. With this pandemic, it is not likely that it will be possible to personally travel and gather in this lovely city, which I had a chance to visit early this month. EDEN has been looking for the best solution to maintain our major gathering at the annual conference, and I believe that you will be very happy to hear that we plan to make the conference a virtual one. More information about our plans for the conference will be available soon!

The current pandemic has not only affected education, but also our work, socialization, everyday life, economy, and health care… I do not think that on one day we will be able to simply go back to our former way of life.  These challenging times have brought change for each of us, and now it is up to us to see how we can contribute, to be innovative and responsible, and to jointly work for a better tomorrow!

So please physically stay at home, but spiritually be present globally! We at EDEN expect and look forward to your contributions to this quickly changing education landscape.

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