The Long Summer Slide of 2020

It is known as "summer slide" - the learning loss many students experience during the summer break from school. The topic is often associated with younger students in K-12 but if you have ever taught college students or adult learners (especially in sequential courses) you have also seen it occur.

In 2020, the typical two-month recess became six months for some students because of COVID-19 class cancellations and possibly less-than-ideal attempts at online learning.

Will we see a greater slide this fall than in other years? Will a high school student whose second half of French II, Algebra, or another course be really prepared for the next course this fall? I have friends who teach in secondary schools who fully expect in the fall to have to spend the early weeks (months?) reviewing and catching students up on work before moving forward. They did this in past years, but expect a greater need for remedial instruction for fall 2020. 

When students are not engaged in learning for an extended time, they slide. It would be true if they skipped a semester of took a gap year or were ill for several months. From what I have read, this is particularly true with math, science, language, reading, and any sequential course that builds on a prerequisite.

There has been a lot of research on summer loss the past century which shows young people can lose up to several months’ worth of school-year learning over the summer break, and some studies also show that older students have greater gaps. It is particularly concerning that summer loss seems to be greatest for low-income students for a number of reasons.

There are those who question the whole idea of summer slide, but in my 45 years in classrooms (secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels) I have seen that loss when students returned in September, even in their work and study habits. 

What is the solution? The standard answer is to keep students engaged in reading and educational activities. But every parent will tell you when school ends motivating students to do things that closely resemble schoolwork is very difficult. Plus, this year many parents were doing more schoolwork support the past few months than ever before and also want a break.

College students might be wise to use some free MOOC offerings to supplement courses from this past semester or to prepare for fall. But again, after a semester fully online, more online learning may not be very appealing.

Image by Paula Deme from Pixabay

Converged Learning

Multi-modal courses that combine online and on-ground (classroom-based, face-to-face) students have been around for more than a decade under a variety of names. Hybrid, hybrid-flexible, HyFlex, blended are all terms used for course designs that allow for some flexibility. 

Most campuses now offer online and on-ground sections of some courses. Some schools offer a hybrid course section that meets on both modes. At New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) their approach has been called "converged learning." Particularly in this time of closed campuses and pandemic response, the transition to fully remote learning has been uneven on many campuses. At NJIT and many other campuses K-20 they are both preparing to welcome students back to campus in the fall and also planning for the possibility of a limited return or remaining fully online.

The goal is to deliver high-quality education in an environment safe for all members of the community. Technology-enhanced learning definitely is part of any of the possible scenarios campuses will find themselves in for the fall 2020 semester and possibly in the years that follow.

I started working at NJIT in 2000 and the university already had almost two decades of experience before the online wave of the 21st century had fully formed. NJIT created the virtual classroom in the 1980s and moved like many other colleges through the correspondence model to instructional television to content on VHS, CDs and DVDs.In 2013, converged learning became their educational model in an attempt to break down the distinction between face-to-face and remote learning.

In true converged learning, students attend the same class at the same time either in person or virtually. It allows faculty to see, interact with, and work synchronously with all students "attending class." Ideally, students have the same educational experience regardless of their physical location. Unlike registering for a course labeled as online, on-ground or hybrid, students can make that choice for any class session.

NJIT did not abandon its more traditional online learning initiatives which can accommodate students at different times and distant locations. New Jersey has been hit very hard by the pandemic and though the situation has improved and we hope to see further improvement throughout the summer, the number of students physically classrooms this fall could be reduced. The converged learning model allows students (perhaps especially those with preexisting conditions or concerns about in-person attendance) to choose when to be in a classroom and when to attend class remotely.

There has long been concern about how the academic standards will be consistent in online versus on-ground versions of a course. Converged courses have course content and learning outcomes that are independent of delivery
mode. Registration is the same way whether they want to attend by coming to the classroom, logging into the class from their dorms or nearby apartments, or joining the class from another city, state or country. Admission, registration procedures, and costs are the same regardless of the location from which they attend the class. Those in the classroom
experience the delivery of the course content as they would in a traditional class — except they are joined via synchronous streaming by other students who are taking the course from a distance, anywhere in the world.

This approach does require additional resources - from video in the classroom to teaching assistants. For example, at NJIT offline digital learning include Computer Assisted Design technology in programs of the College of Architecture and Design, Adaptive Learning software in mathematics, chemistry, and other areas. The university has needed to move further than before into the computer scoring of essays and other written forms, the automated grading of exams, and the asynchronous class management in all classes. (NJIT had been using Moodle earlier as its LMS and has now moved to Canvas.) 

   download free pdf of book

This convergence of the physical campus and the virtual campus seems to be - particularly at this unusual time - to be a logical consequence of the technological transformation in higher education.

Hybrid-flexible course designs have been used successfully for more than a decade at many higher education institutions around the world with a wide variety of courses. Some schools call this “HyFlex,” The initial impetus for developing a Hybrid-Flexible approach is often a need to serve both online and on-ground students with a limited set of resources (time, faculty, space).

It is far better when the multi-modal delivery solution gives students the opportunity to choose which mode to participate in from session to session. Students then do create their own unique hybrid experience.

The free book noted here and materials online at NJIT and other campuses will give you a sense of how these flexible designs are evolving.

The change in pedagogy required of faculty in converged learning is a whole other topic to be explored and certainly builds upon what has been learned in the past decades of online learning and from the more recent use of MOOCs.

Apps in Education 2011 to 2020

In 2011, I made presentations at several colleges about the use of mobile apps in education and teaching in an "app world." At that time, apps were a big topic in the tech world but not a big topic in education. That presentation (it is on my Slideshare site) included the slide below where education doesn't even appear as a category unless you consider it to be part of the 5% of "other" app consumption. Clearly, games and social networking dominated usage at that time and they both still garner a high percentage of app use.

app use chart

How we were using apps in 2011

Showing this slide to college faculty reinforced their idea that apps are not for education. Of course, in 2011 apps were also not for common banking and financial use, medical records, and other "serious" computing.

That has certainly changed. But has it changed for education?

Reviewing my own 2011 presentation predictions, I said that I thought apps would come to education in three waves: Adoption, Adaption, and Creation.

Adoption was schools and educators adopting existing apps that had some education features or were designed for education. The obvious one then and now was apps for learning management systems. Blackboard was the first I used but now Canvas and all the other players have them. Adoption was not immediate. The two colleges I worked at then both chose not to offer the mobile version. Faculty could not see how you could possibly take a course on your phone. But I had a graduate student that year who told me that she did her coursework for me on her phone in her free time while she was at her night job. We were using Moodle and she just resized the web pages. I couldn't see how that worked but I knew an app would have made it better.

The second wave was adaption - using apps not specifically designed for education in courses. That was being done by individual teachers as they discovered and bought into the app world. Adaption requires some pedagogical changes. Mobile devices still were not acceptable (even banned) in some classrooms in 2011. It was the rare faculty member who said "Take out your phone..." and asked students to use it for class. 

Now in this time of the pandemic, it is clear to schools, teachers, students, and parents how "educational" phones or tablets can be. Schools are supplying tablets the way we once supplied laptops. But even laptops are using apps. I'm sure app downloads are up in the past two months. App versions of Zoom and others have become common tools not only for educators but or personal use.

That move from personal to professional (business or education) use is critical to adoption or adaption/adaptation. As teachers started using their phones and apps more in their everyday screen time, the move to use them for teaching became easier.

apps in education

Something that made faculty fearful in 2011

Those 2011 audiences weren't sold on using apps in the first half of my presentation. They weren't using apps for themselves. Some did not have a smartphone. But they were hearing "There's an app for that" from friends, colleagues their students and on television commercials. They knew it was coming.

I caught their interest when I shifted to talking about why - even though I was an app evangelist - apps are NOT online courses or would virtual schools in the near future. (I find that educators generally like the status quo.) There was an article I pointed to that was headlined “My Teacher Is An App.” A provocative headline but the article did follow my point that things were changing but we wouldn't be there for quite a while.

The article said “In a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school, states and districts nationwide are launching online public schools that let students from kindergarten to 12th grade take some—or all—of their classes from their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. Other states and districts are bringing students into brick-and-mortar schools for instruction that is largely computer-based and self-directed.”

That was not common in 2011 and still wasn't common in 2019 - but it is a lot closer to being true in the spring of 2020.

I wondered then if apps would be driving curriculum or would curriculum be driving app development. I'm pleased that the latter seems to be generally the case now.

I asked the audience if they believed that this reliance on smartphones and apps will "produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it because they will not practice their memory. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many Socrates on the things without instruction and written word, will, therefore, seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with since they are not wise but only appear wise.”

Those in the audience who did agree were right in line with Socrates in 340 BC since those were his words on his belief about the dangers of the written word. Socrates was wrong about the adoption of the written word into education.

My third wave was just beginning to form in 2011. That was colleges creating their own apps. I had a few examples of colleges adopting and adapting things like parking and events using commercial apps and GPS to navigate campuses or scheduling apps for campus calendars, courses, or facilities scheduling.

But do schools need to create their own apps or just purchase commercial ones that can be branded? I looked back to the development of school websites as an example. Initially, most schools bought a package or a vendor but along the way many schools took it on as an in-house operation, perhaps using some commercial products - a combination of creation and adaptation. 

In 2011, may school websites weren't even dynamic enough ready for viewing on phones or tablets. But schools were creating their own apps and courses about how to develop apps were becoming a hot topic.

In 2020, there are plenty of no-code tools for app development (Airtable, Bubble, Zapier, Coda, Webflow) so that it doesn't take a wizard developer to make a fully functioning app. 

If you are a teacher or student at any level K-20, the chances are excellent that you are using apps in your courses and on your campus.

Should the Class Lecture Be Saved?

lecture hall
Photo: PxHere

Last semester in the Chronicle of Higher Education there was an article that asked, "Can The Lecture Be Saved?" This semester in the midst of shuttered campuses there has been far fewer traditional lectures. By "traditional" I mean the long ones you might have sat through in a 90-minute class or the dreaded 3-hour graduate class.

In general, I think lecture times have decreased in the past 20 years. Building online courses during those years, I have always strongly encouraged faculty to chunk their traditional lectures into shorter mini-lectures. Student attention spans have decreased, perhaps partially because they are used to videos online from YouTube stars to Khan Academy being 20 minutes or less.

Faculty have also been told that lecturing is bad. Educators have gone through "flipping the classroom" and “active learning” and have been told that they should not be the "sage on the stage" but rather the "guide on the side." Still, a lecture can transmit the knowledge level that even Bloom knew was necessary for learning. He believed that knowledge “involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting.” A lecture is one way to deliver that.

That Chronicle article says that faculty should not feel guilty about doing some lecturing., but the secret is to make it interactive. Part of that means that instructors break up their lectures with other activities that reinforce what students learn through the lecture, and also encourage them to apply it. A term used is "interactive lecturing."

In my discussions the past two months with teachers in high schools and colleges, the sense I get is that their online classes are very much not lecture-based. When they do present content via video (and for some just audio) it is shorter than a "lecture" and less formal. 

The article focuses on how Claire Major, a professor of higher education administration at the University of Alabama, arrived at her own teaching style. Some of what she recommends is on this interactive lecturing quick reference chart (pdf).

The structure she tries to use for each class is a good, simple instructional design to consider online or in a physical classroom.

She includes "bookends" to begin and end class. I liked using a 5-minute writing task at the very start of class (sometimes as students entered the room). I learned this many years ago as the "anticipatory set" of the lesson. It might be a question to gauge their knowledge of one of the session's topics or it could be to be at Bloom's comprehension level by asking them to explain, summarize, paraphrase, illustrate to any other action to show that they can comprehend or interpret information based on prior learning.

Major's "overlays" are used to encourage students to pay attention during the lecture portion of the class. Like her, I sometimes used cloze activities (AKA guided notes) that could be completed by listening to the lecture. I knew them from my K12 teaching and brought them to a number of college teachers as a way to check comprehension as a self-check for students or for me to check their comprehension.

Similarly, her "interleaves" are activities during class to help students apply what they just learned. The "think-pair-share" exercise is hardly new to most teachers. Hands-on activities and group work easier in a physical classroom than online. But online you need to structure activities to be completed by students before allowing them to continue with a lesson. Most learning management systems and some screen capture and video programs have tools to include checks for comprehension points in a lesson.

Should the lecture be saved? Yes, saved for when necessary, and redefined.