Everyone is talking about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) these days. News outlets feature grim commentary, no matter which channel you flip to. The panic is palpable—we are seeing people scramble through grocery stores, stockpiling to provide themselves with a semblance of protection.
As an educator with more than 25 years of experience, I’ve never experienced a challenge of this magnitude—universities and schools have closed, mandating faculty and teachers make an overnight switch from teaching in classrooms to teaching online. Many of us are quite unprepared, despite most universities attempting to offer resources. Many of us have simply never effectively taught online.
In the world of PA education, the prevailing belief holds that clinical education involving competencies simply cannot be taught virtually. Many PA educators worry PA students will be robbed of the quality education they deserve. But is it possible virtual teaching may have a place in PA education?
Amid the fear over Coronavirus, our students are undoubtedly more frightened than we as educators are. Many students are finding themselves suddenly displaced, having been required to leave their dorms and university housing. The education they were promised now seems distant, almost elusive for the time being. How will this impact their future? If educators are experiencing doubt about our ability to successfully provide online education to our students, I can only imagine the degree to which students’ confidence has dropped as they wait in isolation.
During this crisis, we must look at the fundamentals and reflect on why we became educators. The love of learning and our love for our students must spur us forward to find ways to reengage our students; perhaps we’ve grown content and forgotten how to do that. But our students need to see and know we are here for them. Over the next few weeks, communicating with our students virtually or through synchronous methods is essential to helping them.
This is also a prime time for us to realize what is most important: we must change the internal framework that forces students to meet certain standards we’ve mentally created for them to reach. Instead of maintaining a standard that cannot be met in the same fashion as before, we need to become the conductor and orchestrator of their continued learning—despite all the seemingly insurmountable barriers.
To begin, remember to be kind to yourselves as educators. Most of us are not likely to master online teaching within the next few weeks. Let’s give ourselves some leniency from perfection. Instead, choose to do the best you can to gently push students forward and continue to achieve the learning outcomes you set forth for them. Whenever possible, supplement your posted lectures and assignments with virtual chats and video conversations; this is paramount to maintaining strong connections.
This is a time to face your worries about academic dishonesty. You may not be able to generate exams with the highest degree of security at the moment. Instead of coming down heavy on your students, appeal to their moral and ethical standards; assessing their knowledge must be steeped in individual honesty.
Get flexible with your students when it comes to assignments and exams; flexibility is going to be necessary. Crucial conversations about some of the lessons learned during this time can be applied to your students’ respective fields of pursuit. (In my field, PA students have a unique opportunity to learn about the impact of a pandemic and why public health is so vital, for instance.) Applying real-world problems to the learning opportunities will enrich your students’ collective experience. Consider using a chat board about key lessons learned from both a professional and personal viewpoint as another way to connect.
This is an opportunity to regain an appreciation of the fundamentals of facilitating learning in creative ways. Use this time to reflect on how our love for our students can translate into a beacon of light for them. Educators are humans, too; we have our own fears. And it’s certainly alright or your students to know we’re dealing with this crisis the best way we know how. But it’s important to remember, like any dark time in history, people rise to the occasion and often find an internal strength and fortitude. If we can help our students find their own strength and determination, we’ll have provided them a better lesson than any classroom instruction could have offered.
I may not know the best approach to dealing with this crisis, but I am maintaining a comforting sense of mental peace. We must calm the chatter and fear, choosing to take time for introspection. When we reach the end of the Coronavirus crisis, I believe we will be stronger as a society and as individuals. I pray we will be able to look back on this experience and remember the heroism and courage exhibited by our fellow educators and students alike.