TWO WEEKS ago, I finally presented my first online lecture and discussion at UWI, St Augustine.
For most of the last 12 years, after an invitation from Bruce Paddington, I’ve taught a class called Film 1101 – Introduction to Photography at the university’s Film School.
It’s a semester of coursework, with a strong emphasis on hands-on learning that evolved from a class that I taught at the John Donaldson Technical Institute in the late 1980s developed under the leadership of Carlisle Harris.
Some of the slides in my current decks actually date back to that era, when the class was taught with trays of Extachrome slides.
There has been a lot of adaptation and evolution from coaching students on darkroom film loading to last month’s shearing change, when I had to step back from an established pattern of teaching to consider how to continue the second half of a course disrupted by the national isolation regime.
Working with UWI’s teams on this has been a lucky break. The university implemented an actual Open Campus (disclosure: my wife works there) more than a decade ago to develop distance learning initiatives and I was trained on its digital course support systems 11 years ago.
Plugged back into the UWI online course support system, I had to do some studies of my own to understand how the digital learning systems worked, how messaging and UWI’s mail system could assist with student and teacher accountability and, finally, how to re-engineer my established course lectures and student expectations to an increasingly constricted physical reality.
The second half of my course has always been based on an "apply and guide" model. Students create a themed photo collection, and I review the work as it is created, delivering lectures and individual discussion meant to spark stronger visual thinking and clarity as we progress.
As it turns out, that model can be made to work well with UWI’s online learning tools. It’s early days for me in this process, and after spending a full week of thinking about how to adapt a classroom course to the current circumstances, I remain unsure about how to redesign the first half for the future. At the start, I am very hands-on and offer personal guidance.
If I’m this hammered by this change to a one-semester-long course, how will the rest of the education system adjust?
Even with the support of an established e-learning environment, experienced staff capable of delivering support and systems that work, switching abruptly in mid-course from one learning model to another has been jarring. It’s been a bit like changing a tyre while the vehicle is still moving.
After three weeks of working through this, the Government’s lack of forward-thinking strategy for education is deeply worrying.
The response from most of the schools operating under the management of the Ministry of Education has been desultory at best. They weren’t ready. Nobody was ready.
Planning has been hampered by the spotty deployment of technology infrastructure in schools, the nostalgic leadership style of Anthony Garcia, the current Education Minister, and the sharp jerk stops that successive lockdowns have wrought on the school system.
Given the demolition of the chalk-and-talk mode of education, the Prime Minister should be moving to make better use of the more progressive Lovell Francis as czar of a major e-learning initiative that acknowledges the reality present in the vast majority of schools, their teachers and students, and designs systems that accelerate necessary change in learning paradigms.
There’s a bumpy ride ahead and in primary and secondary education, we haven’t even tumbled the engine yet.
Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there