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Richard E. Ferdig is the Summit Professor of Learning Technologies and Professor of Educational Technology at Kent State University. He works within the Research Center for Educational Technology and also the School of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum
Studies. He earned his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Michigan State University. He has served as researcher and instructor at Michigan State University, the University of Florida, the Wyzsza Szkola Pedagogiczna (Krakow, Poland), and the Università
degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia (Italy).
At Kent State University, his research, teaching, and service focus on combining cutting-edge technologies with current pedagogic theory to create innovative learning environments. His research interests include online education, educational games and
simulations, the role of faith in technology, and what he labels a deeper psychology of technology. In addition to publishing and presenting nationally and internationally, Ferdig has also been funded to study the impact of emerging technologies such
as K–12 Virtual Schools. Rick was the founding Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer Mediated Simulations, is the current Editor-in-Chief of the
Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, and also serves as a Consulting Editor for the Development Editorial Board of Educational Technology Research and Development.
Unlike Spring of 2020, this fall we have the opportunity to prepare for distance learning as students return to the classroom. But many questions still remain—will students return to the classroom or remote learning, or both? Will educators be ready?
What can school leaders do to help educators prepare for blended or remote learning? Join our timely discussion with remote learning expert Dr. Rick Ferdig, an educator with over 20 years’ experience in blended-learning instruction, as he discusses
how to help educators plan for a school year unlike any others we have experienced.
Discussion topics include:
Please join us for this important discussion.
Narrator: Welcome to EDVIEW360.
Rick Ferdig: We talk about this summer slide. Now, people are talking about the COVID slide. If you have a school that basically spent March to June doing nothing but repeating content they already addressed before, and now they're coming into fall with an uncertain plan for what's going to happen, they're going to be significantly worse off, and that's what worries me. I think the answer that I would give school leaders to prepare for the fall is pedagogy. Eighty percent to 90 percent of the kinds of skills that are required in an online environment are things that teachers are doing already. When we have a chance to engage with teachers and we walk them through this process, they get done with this learning process about understanding the nuances of K–12 online blended instruction, and they always say to me, they go, "Well, wait a minute. It's not that much different." It's not too late to start professional development toward quality pedagogy and online practice.
Narrator: You just heard Dr. Rick Ferdig, a K–12 blended learning and remote learning expert with over 20 years of experience. He is also the summit professor of learning technologies and professor of educational technology at Kent State University. Dr. Ferdig is our guest today on EDVIEW360. Here's your host, Pam Austin.
Pam Austin: This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW360 podcast series. We're so excited to have you back with us. I'm conducting today's podcast from my native New Orleans, channeling the heart of Voyager Sopris Learning® in Dallas, TX. Today, we are honored to have with us Dr. Rick Ferdig, an educator with more than 20 years’ experience in blended learning. Welcome, Dr. Ferdig. Thank you for joining us today. We're so pleased to have you with us. You just recorded a webinar with us yesterday. Tell us how that went.
RF: Well, first, Pam, thank you so much for having me. It's a joy to be able to spend some time talking about blended and online learning. I was really excited about the webinar yesterday. I know that school leaders, teachers, staff have so many questions going into this uncertain time. And, so, it was just such a joy to be able to spend time with them and give them some advice and tips and tricks. And, specifically, based on things that we learned during the spring, great remote learning experiments. So, it was really a really an enjoyable time.
PA: So, right up your alley. And so good to hear.
PA: Tell us a bit more about yourself and your journey to supporting virtual and blended instruction.
RF: Yeah, I really appreciate that question and not because I like to talk about my past or my history, but because of the fact that it really tells the history of what we know has worked or what we've studied in K–12 online and blended instruction. So, I would say probably in the mid-90s, I started exploring, researching the impact of technology on teaching and learning, focused on all the way from preK to postsecondary and even outside of K–12 and postsecondary into medicine and business and so forth. And that was about that time, 1995, 1996, that K–12 online and blended schooling actually got its start.
So, 1995, 1996, some of the first virtual schools took hold. What was interesting is probably for the first 10 years or so, most of those schools were really closed off to outside research. And if you go back historically during that time, there was these big debates about public education and whether or not we could have schools, whether they be private schools or whether it be charter schools. And. so, there was a concern that if people kind of dug deep into these K–12 virtual schools, that somehow, they would pull them apart and they would be unsuccessful. So, it wasn't really until probably the mid-2000s that virtual schools started opening themselves up to kind of being examined as that we could study best practices. And, so, I would say probably for the last 15 years, we've been kind of really digging deep into finding best practices towards K–12 online and blended learning.
And, again, what's interesting about that journey is when COVID hit in the spring, I think there were a lot of people who just thought that...They would even come out to me and go, "Hey, Rick, have you heard about this thing called K–12 online and blended instruction?" And I just kind of had to laugh because for a lot of people, they did think it was new, not having any real idea that it had been happening for 25 years and that we've been doing really intense research on it for the past 15 or 20 years.
PA: It's great to hear that you were venturing into know, to understand, take a look at those best practices in K–12. I want to ask you another question. In your opinion, what was the biggest challenge educators faced this past spring in remote learning? Because as you said, it seems like a whole new thing. How can school leaders learn from those experiences as well?
RF: Yeah, so it was a real...Well, actually I was just going to say it was a struggle to watch this spring, but let me change that answer. Let me say that it was actually both a blessing and a curse to see what happened in the spring. And let me try to differentiate. So, because K–12 online blended instruction has been going on for so long, there were a lot of schools that were well prepared for COVID. So, they may have taken a week or two off, some didn't even have to take time off. And they were actually able to easily transition to a remote approach. They had spent time in preparation in a number of different ways. For instance, they made sure that they developed a culture of professional development and not just a onetime beginning of the school year kind of thing, but actually a sustained culture of ongoing situated and just-in-time professional development. The other thing they had done was they had looked at the research and they understood the kinds of competencies that teachers and administrators needed to be successful in these environments.
And, maybe, I don't know if I want to say most importantly, but they actually had had their teachers spend time in online learning as students so that they would understand what it was like to be a teacher in those environments as well. So, those schools did amazing and actually didn't really miss that much of a beat. Then, you had the other schools that really struggled, as a matter of fact, AIR just came out with a national report of public education and found that 30 percent, particularly with low SES or high urban, high rural schools, actually spent that time between March and June, essentially only covering or repeating the content that they had done the first part of the year. And the reason is they just weren't prepared for this. They had no training, they had no understanding. And, so, at one level they either did nothing or what they did is they tried so hard and so fast and so quick to try to buy into technology instead of understanding the deeper pedagogical practices that went into that.
And, so, to me, that preparation was the biggest challenge that they faced. I think what school leaders can learn from that is just the willingness to develop a culture of sustained professional development. And some people look at me and go, "OK, wait a minute. Today is August 27. And, so, we're stuck in a situation where schools, in some cases have already started, it's obviously too late." And I say back to them, "It's not too late. We have no idea what's going to happen this fall. We might have a cure tomorrow. We might have a vaccine tomorrow, or we might have a mass outbreak again and we might be back for all schools being remote learning. It's not too late to start professional development towards quality pedagogy and online practice."
PA: Wow! Yeah. I could see what you mean by a blessing and a curse because we've had some schools that have enhanced their culture. Others who've changed the culture and in others who're not aware of what needed to be supported in relation to virtual instruction. It's so great that we're able to shine the light on and understanding what works in a virtual environment. As an educator whose specialty is remote learning, what's the biggest issue educators will face this fall?
RF: I get that question asked a lot, and it's a great question because people don't want to have the same repeat of spring. And there's a lot of answers that I would give that might be expected answers. So, for instance, that professional development is a challenge that they'll face. How do they better prepare teachers? People might talk about the technology and technology access, and we can come back and talk a little bit about equity. Those are all things that are important, but what I'm going to throw to listeners that I think is so incredibly important and so overlooked is this idea of teacher confidence. So, teachers went through a really difficult time in the spring, emotionally draining. Not only were they dealing with their own life situation, but they were also responsible for educating kids who were going through really challenging times.
Parents who were losing jobs and being in home situations where they may or may not have access. It was emotionally draining and confidence was at an all-time low. What we learned in the spring was that when teachers confidence was low and administrator confidence was low, and you could tell this by the things that they would say like, "OK, we know this is a horrible situation. We know that online learning is really bad. We know that you're not going to enjoy this." Well, guess what happened? We had really bad outcomes. And teacher confidence was a big part of that. Conversely, where teachers had confidence, they would say things like, "Look, this is a new experience. We're going to get through this together. We're going to learn some new things. We're going to be able to do some things we didn't do before. This is going to be a great learning opportunity." Well, then, we had positive outcomes.
So, now, going into fall, you have this situation where teachers are already emotionally drained. You have this emotional problem of not knowing what's going to happen, which again always takes a toll on people. And, so, how can we actually build that confidence? And I think the best way to do it in the way that really school leaders really need to pay attention is helping teachers understand that it's not about the technology. Yes, we've studied online learning at the K–12 level. Yes, I can tell you that there are nuances to the kinds of things that a teacher has to do online, but 80 to 90 percent of the kinds of skills that are required in an online environment are things that teachers are doing already. Student differentiation, assessment, classroom management. Now, again, I get the fact that we do them differently in these online environments, but the reality it is, is it's not that teachers are somehow learning, not only a new technology, but a new skill. They already know how to do these things. They are already well-qualified teachers.
And I think if administrators can build that confidence up, they're actually going to have higher-quality outcomes for both teachers and students. And I always tell people this, about the confidence. They say, "Oh, is it really that big of a problem?" It is. A Gallup poll was released on Monday that showed that public confidence in public education was 10 points lower than it was last year. And part of this is not only do teachers not have confidence, but students are starting to lose confidence, which leads to worse outcomes. And the public is starting to lose confidence, which is not a good situation for our K–12 schools.
PA: All right. I have to tell you as an educator, one of my worst lessons was when I was not confident in what I was doing. So, definitely, I can affirm what you're saying just from experience here. So, you make a better situation for teachers, for students, and parents when you use technology as a tool. Now, I'm not done with you yet. I've got another question for you. How can school administrators support educators as they prepare for online instruction and the remote learning environment?
RF: Yeah. This is such a great question because school leaders don't want to leave their teachers unscripted. They really want to be able to support them. And I would say a couple things are really going to help teachers. One is to support the professional development. I know I keep saying that, but the reality of it is that when budgets get cut, when teachers are already busy, this idea that they're going to spend time learning something new is something that often gets ignored. And the reality of it is part of building that confidence that we talked about, is about feeling like you're prepared to do something.
And, then, another thing that I would say, and this is a way that school leaders can really support their teachers, is to understand that even though our kids walk around with...They use TikTok and they're always on Pinterest or they're Snapchatting their friends, we have this impression that they know how to use technology for learning. And the reality of it is they don't. And, so, providing orientations for students in best practices in remote instruction, and then doing the exact same thing for parents, leaders can support this by providing whether it be helplines or whether it be orientation or whether it be even some professional development for parents about how to best support their kids can actually better support the teachers.
PA: As I was listening to you discuss that very last point, I thought about the beginning of the school year, how teachers always have routines and procedures that they have in place so that students can understand. It's the same in a virtual environment. There are some routines and procedures, and there are some things that I need to teach you and then having the parents aware of that as well. I've got another question for you. What about those schools having in-person classes right now? They started the school year there, do you think many schools that started this way may switch to online learning later in the year? And, if so, how do school leaders help educators quickly make that jump to remote learning?
RF: Pam, one of the things that really concerns me about hearing teachers or school leaders talk about the fall is they talk about going back to normal and they talk about if we can just get a cure, if we can just get a vaccine, we'll be able to all go back to normal. And the thing that really concerns me about that statement is that, we've been asking teachers to use innovative tools and technologies to support their instruction for a long time, even if they're not online, even if they're not blended, even in a solely face-to-face environment, to be able to use instructional technologies and we know a lot of interesting things when teachers do use innovative technologies. So, for instance, their communication is enhanced. Their ability to assess and differentiate instruction is enhanced. Their ability to provide meaningful and engaging experiences are all enhanced.
So, we know that those things work well when teachers are willing to do those. In spring, when COVID hit, we got this great experiment where all of these teachers that were unwilling to use technology all of a sudden were forced to use it. And, so, the concern about kind of going back to this normal, if you will, is this idea that all of that technology is going to go by the wayside. And I think what we want to do is we want school leaders to work with their staff to be able to capitalize on this interest that was peaked for remote instruction or at least technology-enhanced instruction. So, right now, if I'm a school leader in a face-to-face class, I don't know...My hope, my wish, my prayer is that none of them have to go back to remote because of COVID. I pray it goes away. But what I'm doing right now, if I'm in a face-to-face classroom is I'm preparing my staff that that may happen. And not only that may happen, but they need to be able to capitalize on those instructional technologies to be able to enhance their instruction.
If they do that, then when the jump happens, if the jump happens to remote learning, it's not like they've gone from zero technology to all technology. It's that they're just shifting a little bit of their approach. And, again, when we have a chance to engage with teachers and we walk them through this process they get done with this learning process about understanding the nuances of K–12 online blended instruction and they always say to me...They go, "Well, wait a minute. It's not that much different." And I say, "Exactly, the pedagogy is the same. What we're trying to get you to do is use these different tools to be able to enhance your instruction." And I think face-to-face programs that get that and prepare educators for doing that, will have a much easier jump to remote instruction. Lord forbid that we actually get forced to do that later in the year.
PA: Thank you, Rick. Some words jumped out at me as you were talking. Capitalize on what you've learned about technology, right? Enhance your instruction. The fact that the pedagogy doesn't change, but the method that you deliver the instruction is what changes. Those are some powerful words and phrases there. Thank you for sharing. When I ask you about students who may not have access to technology tools such as computers or iPad or the Internet. We were having discussions about some students using an iPhone to access the work or using the tools that the teachers have available. What alternative methods or resources or suggestions do you have for ensuring that these students receive instruction?
RF: This is a million dollar question, maybe a billion dollar question. It's the equity question. And if there's any bad news or worst news out of COVID when it came to education, it was that the equity issues were really...There was a spotlight on the differences between the haves and the have-nots. I will say that if there was any good news out of that, it was the fact that people had been talking about it. Researchers had been talking about the problem for a long time, and there was finally enough evidence, hopefully enough evidence for politicians and school leaders to start making some decisions and some strategic purchases to be able to address some of the equity issues. So, I'd love to say that I have an easy answer for that question.
What I will say is that there's a pedagogical relationship with equity. And, so, when COVID hit, there were a lot of schools that made decisions to deliver content in ways that encouraged an equity issue. Let me give you an example. There were schools that thought that they had to be in front of their kids, six to seven hours a day and so they would buy into Zoom or Google Hangouts or Teams or whatever the product was. And they would actually force their students to be synchronous six to seven hours a day. Now, there's so many pedagogical problems with what I just said, but let's just say you even went with that as a pedagogical strategy.
The problem is you have no idea what students have access to. You have no idea, the Internet speed, the device capability and you end up with a situation where you're forcing students to do something you don't know they have access to. Or another issue is that teachers would use products that were set for desktops or set for laptops, or they had such high graphics, or they use such large videos that someone with low Internet capability or someone with a smaller device couldn't get access to those things.
So, I would say the best advice we have is to really focus on the pedagogical perspectives and understanding how that impacts your end user. Now, here's another tie to that and this is something school leaders can do right now. School leaders need to work with their teachers to develop relationships with families. This happens typically, kind of naturally sometimes, but for better, sometimes for worse as teachers get to know kids and get to know parents or caregivers. But again, unfortunately as kids grow older, it happens less and less. When COVID hit, most schools were completely unprepared to understand or address what technologies or what Internet access their families had. And, so, what they need to do now and again, it's not too late is to spend time understanding if we have to go remote, what does that look like in my district? Who has devices? Who doesn't have devices? And, then, they can actually make pedagogical decisions and strategic budget decisions for equitable issues, equitable access based on what they know works and what they know people have in their district.
And, unfortunately, when spring hit with COVID, most districts were just unprepared to answer that question. I would love to say they learned from that and coming around this fall, they know exactly what they're facing. But sad to say, I've talked to some districts already that have...They still have no idea what people in their district have access to.
PA: All right. Thank you, Rick. That was great. I do want to know, what will be the impact of the varied learning experiences students may have this year? When we talk about equity just now, and we know those experience will be varied across the country. What will the educational landscape look like after another year of remote learning?
RF: I'm nervous about this and I'll tell you why I'm nervous. I've heard people talk about what does a gap year look like? What does it mean if this year we're going to be hit with COVID again and we're going to go to remote? We just need to stop right now and just cut our losses and just wait until we can go back to "normal." You keep hearing me use that word normal as if there were such a thing. The problem with such a statement is that there are schools that in the spring saw no real loss in what their students were doing. No real loss in outcomes. Now, again, I'm not naive. I'm not trying to sugarcoat it. Obviously, kids not being able to go to graduation because of COVID or have graduation parties. I understand there was an impact, but specifically when it came to learning, they knew enough about pedagogy and about online and blended learning to be able to make progress.
Unfortunately, some schools didn't and so the answer to what's the impact of these varied learning experiences, in some cases is going to be there're almost none. As a matter of fact, I would even argue that you have a bunch of districts who were not using or not necessarily using technology-enhanced instruction the right way who used this spring and summer to learn. And their content and content delivery is actually going to be stronger in the fall than it would have been before. Unfortunately, there's a lot of schools that that's not going to be the case. Whether it be because of equity issues, whether it be because of a lack of preparation, whether it be because of pedagogical differences within the district or...And, again, that's tied to preparation as well. So, I don't think there's one answer to the question. I think the answer is that some schools are going to be fine, maybe better than they would have been. And I think that there's obviously going to be schools that are worse off.
We talk about this summer slide. Now, people are talking about the COVID slide. If you have a school that basically spent March to June doing nothing but repeating content they already addressed before, and now they're coming into fall with an uncertain plan for what's going to happen. They're going to be significantly worse off. And that's what worries me. We've talked about the digital divide before, we've talked about changes between the haves and have-nots. The biggest thing we're going to see in a year or two is that that gap is going to significantly grow and that scares me.
PA: All right. So, it's all about professional development for the teachers, making a plan, moving follow up with executing that plan as well, right? Thank you. Thank you for that insight, Rick. We are nearing the end of our podcast. If you could tell school leaders, the most important thing to make sure educators have in order to prepare for this fall, what would it be?
Well, there's not really an easy answer to that unless I go back to the pedagogy and understand what the teacher is trying to do. And if I took a group of teachers and actually walked them through understanding how to design instruction, based on those pedagogical practices, they would all of a sudden start to recognize that there are times where I don't really need all of my students online. I could do something asynchronously. There are times that I could flip my content either for blended or even for online instruction and face-to-face and make recorded presentations that students can do that their own time. Then, when I bring them all together, again, face-to-face or online in a synchronous format, I'm making better use of my time.
There are times where people are so caught up in having everyone there at the same time. And then when they realize that pedagogically, they really need smaller focus groups, they realize it's OK to bring three or four students in at a time rather than trying to bring a whole group in. So, the bottom line for preparing for fall is to really revisit a pedagogical understanding of teachers so that regardless of whether they're online, face-to-face or blended, they understand what it is they're trying to do and what it is they're trying to accomplish. And, then, they can go to the technology and say, "Let's find the right technology to fit that purpose." So, if I say to everyone, "Oh, we have this online whiteboard tool. Everyone needs to use it." Well, why? What am I using it for? Versus if I say as a teacher, "Hey, I really want to have a brainstorming activity. I really want to have a mind-mapping activity. What could I do when I'm in small groups? What kind of tool could I use for mind mapping?"
Well, that's a much different kind of conversation. And that's what I felt was either missing in the spring or what I felt high-performing schools during COVID did well. They help teachers refocus on their pedagogical perspective.
PA: Good. Excellent. So, it's all about lesson design and what's good for students. All right. Got another question for you. How do you think this shift in learning will change education in the future? We know what's happening now, what's your opinion on what would happen in the future?
RF: I think there's two things that are likely to happen. One, and I mentioned this talking a little bit about the history of online instruction in the United States at least. It faced a long, uphill battle. People didn't see online learning as legitimate. They didn't see it as useful. They didn't see it as completing the same objectives as face-to-face learning. They just thought that it was a step down. Unfortunately, some people because of failed experiments in the spring will still see it that way. But I think that there are a lot more people globally who are starting to recognize that online learning is a legitimate opportunity. It's not for all kids all the time. And I don't think that all schools should go online permanently regardless of what happens with COVID, but I think that people are now accepting that online instruction can be a legitimate, useful way to provide training or education for not only K–12, but also postsecondary and professional learning for that matter.
So, that's a real positive, because that's something we've known for 15, 20 years from the research, but it's nice to see that being played out in the public space.
RF: That's my guess at what would happen. Now, my hope is a little different. My hope is that teachers recognize that there is promise in technology-enhanced instruction, and that technology can provide some affordances that not using technology you wouldn't be able to do the same things. So, for instance, I might be able to take virtual tours of places that...I would never be able to bring students to Egypt, but I could do a virtual tour of the pyramids. Well, OK, that sounds pretty rudimentary but the fact is that there were a bunch of teachers out there that never did that until they were forced to do it in a great COVID experiment of the spring 2020. So, my hope is that this change in education will be one that will support and appreciate the role of technology. Now, as a technologist, people probably expected me to give that answer, but believe it or not, I'm not one of those people that's technology for technology's sake. I think that there are specific uses for technology.
And that's why I say we moved from very little technology to all is technology. I think that we start appreciating the ways in which technology can and cannot be used to support instruction.
PA: Kind of expanding the use of technology, filling an educator's backpack with more tools to use. That's how I look at it. Well, Rick, this has been great. Finally, if you could wave a magic wand and change anything in the world of education, what would you change and why?
RF: So, I'm going to give two answers to this question. The first one is what I would say a more pie-in-the-sky answer that I don't know how this gets solved, but if I really could pray for one thing and have it changed, it's the equity issue. It breaks my heart to know that there are children out there that do not have access to things that are going to set the stage for what they do for the rest of their life. As excited as I am to watch high-performing schools provide students with high-quality content, regardless of whether they're face-to-face or online, it breaks my heart to see that there are schools that can't do that, that there are kids that don't have access to those same things. If I could pray for one thing, that would be what it would be to make it so that kids had equitable access.
Now, I hope that's obtainable, but let me tell you another one that I would pray for that I think is maybe a little bit more obtainable in the near future is that all schools would take professional development, teacher professional development seriously. We, unfortunately, are in a habit of teachers get a degree, they're required to do continuing education credits, but there's no real strong sense of who's doing what or why or how and again, when budgets get cut then teachers become unscripted for the kinds of challenges that they face, whether it be related to online learning or student differentiation or even the social-emotional aspects. And that's the one thing that got ignored during COVID is, kids were going through all these difficult times. In some cases, these teachers were the only consistency they had in their lives. And, so, how do they deal with social, emotional aspects during something as difficult as COVID? Again, I think that's probably a little bit easier, obtainable because the school leaders can start to take that more seriously.
PA: Yes. I agree with you a 100 percent on that one. Well, Rick, thank you for joining us today. It's been a pleasure speaking with you. Please, tell our listeners how they can learn more about you and how they can follow you on social media.
RF: Thanks so much, Pam. It's been a joy speaking with you. And, again, anytime I get a chance to talk to school leaders or teachers, I always just pause to thank them. I'm convinced that no one really understands what they do anyway, and how much they do for our kids. Let alone how much they've had to endure the past six months. So, just to listeners out there, thank you for the work that you've done and that you continue to do. I would encourage the listeners to contact me and follow me. My website is www.ferdig.com, F-E-R-D-I-G.com. I post books there, free books, free resources that we've done, articles we've written. They can also find me at the Kent State website, kent.edu/rcet. And, then, they can also follow me on Twitter at @rickferdig, R-I-C-K-F-E-R-D-I-G. And I would encourage and look forward to engaging with your listeners.
PA: Right. Thank you, Rick. This is Pam Austin, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.
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