While many of our colleagues and students around the World are dealing with the negative impact of Covid-19, it’s clear that this situation is making us rethink what is really important to society and hence education.
The response from even the most market-driven sectors has been about protecting human life and looking after each other. Hence, professions devoted to healthcare, and the provision of community services (e.g. waste collection, local shops etc) have been hailed as "key workers'', which is an irony considering their traditionally low wages.
In Higher Education similar challenges are emerging. One example is to question the notion of the ‘classroom’ being a specific architectural arrangement with physical attendance and interaction. As classes migrate online and we deal with the potential and limitations of technology, are we forgetting what really makes learning possible? Is it the technology? The content? The whole institutional structure of the university? Or is it actually a basic acknowledgement of fellow human beings, concern for their well-being, and the reaffirmation of working together as a community, including having a mutual respect, promotion of co-learning, as well as enacting shared values and objectives.
Indeed, the Students’ Union has praised the efforts of Anglia Ruskin University in keeping the schedules and routines, by creating and collating online materials that, although done hastily and under pressure, show commitment, responsibility and care.
This pedagogy of care is not a new idea; literature connects care with online communities and the diversification and cultural differences of our students, and the intersectionality of education.
So, in this post I’m keen to draw together the many conversations I’ve had with colleagues and link them with literature on care in education. A shared purpose is to step back from the urgency of online teaching and learning, and focus on the basic values of our work as educators. I believe that these key ideas can enlighten and guide us through the difficult times we are experiencing and help us to reconnect and realign with the heart of education.
While researching for this blog, I came across a number of articles that connected teaching with care and kindness, and many that related this to online teaching. For example, Kyei-Blankson, Blankson and Ntuli (2019) focus on the culturally sensitive teaching practices in online classrooms mainly in the USA and the UK. The notion of culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is defined as a “pedagogy that recognises the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning” (Ladson-Billing, 1994). Their notion of cultural diversity goes beyond the variety of race/ethnicity differences and includes profession, sexual and gender orientation, and the existence of hybrid identities intersecting all these defined and non-defined traits (Irizarry, 2007).
Add to this the differences in communication traits for students from high and low context cultures: typically, students from high-context cultures (e.g. Japan, China and Arab counties) communicate in ways that are implicit and rely heavily on context, non-verbal communication (e.g. body language), emotion, and the “personal” nature of relationships.
In contrast, students from low-context cultures (e.g. UK and European countries) prefer explicit messages, focussing on the facts and evidence, and the depersonalisation of disagreements.
However, these differences that are so palpable in traditional teaching, are less clear in online environments. Green et al (2017) found most students in their sample felt more connected to both peers and instructors in their online programme in comparison to other face-to-face programmes. This suggests that culturally responsive teaching may be easier to implement in online environments where rules are made in the virtual context, rather than in the myriad of information exchange and communication nuances of face-to-face teaching.
The notion of culturally responsive teaching seems relevant to us during this time of COVID-19 as cultural differences are exacerbated by the socio-economic gap of confronting the crisis in different environments. But this could be an opportunity to flatten the different complex communications experiences and create a university context of “normality” within our rapidly changing environment.
Some students are appreciating the ongoing schedules and routines of synchronous online sessions that give a sense of structure and control to their day. However, many others are balancing their new home-learning environments with caregiving, variable access to technology, different time zones, work or the economic difficulties of precarious work and zero-hours contracts which lend themselves more to asynchronous learning.
As a University and as teachers it is difficult to offer “solutions” to these types of complexities, but what we can offer is kindness and empathy. Natalia Pilato, in her article about Pedagogy of Care says that “caring enables us as educators to passionately engage in dialogue that fosters respect and inclusion” (Pilato, 2018:1). Further she talks about the art of education that includes love, hope, care and compassion. These elements resonate with my own approach to education as an art and its potential to change lives and make a difference.
Indeed, the mentioned authors insist that adopting a culturally responsive pedagogy is not assuming a person’s culture based on age, socio economic status, or any other category, but “making a conscious effort to connect with students on an individual level.”
So far, we may have tried to create this “teaching as usual” ideal, to provide a sense of security but it’s far from that. We need to consider the new realities of the lockdown for all of us and think of a Covid-19 responsive pedagogy. This new way of teaching would recognise the impact of the crisis, the enduring fear, and the new dynamics.
For example, one of our BA (Hons) Illustration students, Lizzie Knott, created a series of illustrations depicting her experience of dealing with depression during the lockdown. She’d been inspired by her tutor/lecturer Chris Draper (Course Leader for Illustration, Cambridge School of Arts) to “seize this COVID-19 opportunity and make some work about it” to deal not only with her own situation but help others too.
The buzz created by the artistic dialogue of addressing the crisis, reached the BBC News, and its 12.3 million followers, and revealed how art and authentic learning can really make a difference to the student and other benefactors.
This is an opportunity to return to basics and rethink what is the purpose and value of Higher Education; not only in relation to “employability” but to our students’ purpose in the world (their dharma).
COVID-19 is not only accelerating the way we work and teach but is challenging us to return to the basic principles and values of education. To question, what type of education are we needing now? If the key jobs are those related with care, how are we enhancing care as one of our learning outcomes? How is care a co-creating process of learning and teaching? How can we care for each other in our academic community? Beyond the questions of moving teaching and learning online and the associated technologies, I insist on reflecting on the “what” and the “why” through conversations, blogs like this, and returning to inspirational thinkers such as Paulo Freire, Gabriela Mistral, Rita Segatto, Bel Hooks, John Ruskin, John Dewey, Parker J. Palmer et al. Most importantly, this situation and its challenges must pave the way to finding creative solutions that are sustainable, and ethically and morally adequate for all of us in this learning community.
The intention of this article is to open a conversation and to learn about how everybody is coping with the situation, and the many innovative practices stemming from this crisis. While preparing for our “Exquisite Corpse in Education Podcast” with Andrew Middleton, Deputy Head of Anglia Learning and Teaching, the question of “how can we develop a pedagogy of care” became the focus of our conversation. Andrew said: “Teaching is an act of care” and when we move online the aspects of “changing” can be a fertile context to address such questions. For instance, a caring, learning environment is empathetic, personalised, human-centred and it listens.
I am taking the liberty of changing the “student-centred” jargon, for this idea of humanity, to also include the vulnerability of the lecturer as well as the student. Acknowledging the emotionality and the complexity of the situation and to recognise each other’s’ contexts may be a first step to fostering a culture or an environment of care. This means a shift from an emphasis on “content” toward an emphasis on “contentment”, and this can range from the initial courtesy of conducting online interaction, with easy tips such as: (1) allow time to ask how each other is; (2) set times of ‘availability’ to set boundaries and manage expectations; and (3) foster the community discussion of topics in the canvas board.
Let’s not forget about the Personal Development Tutoring, guidelines for good teaching practice, and all the pastoral care being offered by our committed colleagues across the Faculties, Students’ Union, Student Services, and Anglia Learning and Teaching. All of these can drive us toward deeper realms of co-creation, considering our immediate circumstances as a context for authentic learning, and the ultimate goal of “educating.”
Co-edited by Rebecca Leam and Andrew Middleton
Green T. Hoffmann M. Donovan L. Phuntsog N. (2017). Cultural communication characteristics and student connectedness in an online environment: Perceptions and preferences of online graduate students.International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, 32(2), 1–29.
Kyei-Blankson, L., Blankson, J. Ntuli, E. (2019) Care and culturally responsive pedagogy in online settings. IGI Global: Hershey, Pennsylvania
Irizarry J. G. (2007). Ethnic and urban intersections in the classroom: Latino students, hybrid identities, and culturally responsive pedagogy.Multicultural Perspectives, 9(3), 21–28. 10.1080/15210960701443599
Ladson-Billings G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy.American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491. 10.3102/00028312032003465
Pilato, N. (2018) Pedagogy of care: Embodied relationships of teaching and mentorship. International Journal of Education and the ARts. Vol. 19. (1.9). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.18113/P8ijea19si09