As we enter our second year of the pandemic and as most of us look forward to another semester of remote teaching, it is important to recognize that there are two paths that we can take. The well-worn path is to continue to try to replicate systems of education that have the effect of turning students into widgets and serve to alienate them from their learning. Alternatively, we can address this challenge by pivoting to more humanized forms of teaching and learning.
Like much of the planet, our students are feeling alienated, isolated, and alone. School is a part of their identity at this stage in life and that identity is centered on the communities that they create or join in college. At some institutions, these communities are firmly centered on learning. All human communities have suffered during this trying time, but perhaps none more so than our communities of learning.
We have heard time and time again that students are unwilling to endure yet another semester of online learning. Enrollments are down at the vast majority of institutions but they are down particularly at institutions that serve the most vulnerable among our students. This should not come as a great surprise.
Students need help creating positive communities of practice more than perhaps any other group. I have taught at both elite institutions and community colleges, and the critical difference separating those students lies not in intelligence, but in their exposure to good learning skills and strategies. Informal communities of practice are critical to developing these traits. At institutions with a high percentage of experienced learners, these communities can form organically. However, this is not the case everywhere. Even before the pandemic stripped us of our informal spaces, at ironically-named “community” colleges, you still had to work hard at the social aspects of learning to be effective.