Assisting teachers in their COVID-19 response: How this model framework can help reshape thinking around digital teaching and learning.

A conversation with Dr Nicky Dulfer, course co-ordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, educators have moved almost all face-to-face teaching online in the space of weeks, representing a profound change for teachers and the sector at large. Online education expert, Dr Nicky Dulfer, shares best practice knowledge and ideas to help educators redefine the way we think about their online classrooms.

Student at desk

Understanding how online learning can be transformative

Dr Dulfer points teachers towards Dr Ruben Puentedura’s acclaimed "SAMR model" to illustrate how the learning experience can take on a completely new dimension online, and can tap into students’ own lived experience of the world.

When used as a substitute for face-to-face learning, she explains that online education has the ability to deliver similar results, in much the same way as sketching can be done on an ipad instead of paper.

But when used in a more transformative way, online education has the unique ability to harness the power of the internet and provide a genuine sense of authenticity for students.

It empowers them to have more control and input into their education – whether it be through adjusting the pace of their learning, or through driving discussion in collaborative group sessions.

The SAMR Model explained

Developed in 2010, the SAMR Model categorises four different degrees of technological integration into the classroom.

At the bottom of the model sits ‘Substitution’, where technology acts as a direct substitute, with no functional change. Dr Dulfer gives the example of a word processor replacing pen and paper, or a computer being used as a calculator.

The next step up from this is ‘Augmentation’, where technology is still a direct substitute, but with the addition of a functional improvement. So returning to our word processing example, it might be the addition of a spell check, or in a contemporary context it might be adding a TED Talk.

Moving further along the scale, we have ‘Modification’ where technology allows for more significant task redesign. This is where teachers and learning designers think about what they want the student to learn, then consider how the technology can help them to learn in a more effective way. This might be asking students to create their own video or setting up a blog.

The final step is ‘Redefinition’ – where technology creates the opportunity for entirely new tasks which previously would have been unachievable in traditional face-to-face education. In Dr Dulfer’s own International Baccalaureate program at the Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education, this has seen students from all over the globe sharing their local context with authority, helping to develop a truly international program led by the student voice.

SAMR Model infographic

How can teachers apply this thinking today?

One of the great benefits of online learning is content can be delivered asynchronously – so students can take information in at their own pace.

This approach enables less advanced students to pause and replay content, ensuring they are able to fully grasp concepts before moving on.

Dr Dulfer notes "we don’t ever use our class time to deliver facts, figures or theory".

"Face-to-face zoom sessions are reserved for more high-quality learning experiences, where students collaborate and ‘run the conversation’.

Zoom rooms are a "place to clarify, a place to discuss. They are a place for everybody to bring their opinion and their experience".

Setting up reading groups where teachers curate the content but the students lead, is another great technique to promote engagement online.

Recording short, videos for students can help them apply concepts in an interactive way, and by captioning the videos, teachers can ensure everyone has the best possible access.

Dr Dulfer also suggests discussion boards are an underrated way of promoting interaction; while hypothetical situations and scenarios translate effectively to the online environment and really help to embed learning.

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Through experience, teachers can pursue more transformative approaches

Dr Dulfer’s own practice has been rethought and redefined, with each iteration building upon the previous.

She calculates it has taken her over five years to get to the point of redefinition – stepping into the more transformative stages of the SAMR model.

In thinking about the challenges for today’s teachers as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis and bring their classrooms online, she stresses that it is "absolutely ok for people to be operating at the Substitution and Augmentation end of the SAMR model".

"But, she urges if teachers want to get the most out of online learning, the earlier they shift their focus and transforming the thinking, the better," she says.

Teachers have been presented with the opportunity to "make their learning authentic, to make it real and to involve genuine student agency," continues Dr Dulfer.

When applying the SAMR model and redefining how we engage students in the digital world, teachers can transform their virtual classrooms into thriving, hands-on forums which give students a new-found voice.

And this voice – through the power of technology – has the unrivalled potential to be projected across the globe.

You can have things like student action groups when you are teaching normally in a classroom. Students get together and they work in teams. They establish a question that they are interested in researching, they do the research and they often write papers or get people in to interview and the like. What you've got in the online world is the ability for students to do all of this, and then publish instantly. You can't do that anywhere else. For example they can publish their own music. Think about what's happening on the internet right now with choirs. We're seeing kids who've been able to publish instantly and get thousands and thousands of likes. And teachers can really harness that.

Couch Choir - (They Long To Be) Close To You

There is the ability to have a real audience and to have an authentic think about things by going virtual. Climate change assignments stop being tiny little assignments that sit in the corner that nobody ever looks at. They become something that can be a published piece that students put on a website that maybe Greta [Thunberg] looks at.

Necessity promotes innovation

Whilst acknowledging the enormous challenges facing teachers and the education system as they respond to COVID-19, Dr Dulfer nonetheless sees the opportunity that this ‘enforced tech revolution’ can bring.

She hopes we emerge on the other side with change having become more achievable – where teachers get to the point of rethinking and redesigning their practice to meet the dynamic needs of a new generation.

“This is your chance as a teacher to redefine the way you think about teaching and learning in your classroom.”

Nicky DulferDr Nicky Dulfer, Course Co-ordinator, International Baccalaureate program, Melbourne Graduate School of Education

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This article is part of a series of articles from the Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education focusing on the transition to online learning.