Future Now: Upskilling Today for Tomorrow
In these uncertain times one thing is certain; the way we work will change. The need for social distancing has already led to remote working wherever possible. However, in education, face-to-face interaction is such a defining characteristic of teaching as we understand it today. Clearly, this presents the profession with the need to future proof its skills to make sure it is prepared for the forthcoming changes in teaching practices.
There is a distinction between reskill and upskill. Reskill means to learn and acquire new knowledge and skills whereas upskill means updating our current knowledge and skills.
The key areas that require upskilling are first and foremost communication, but also managing our working practices in these changing times.
The ways in which we communicate will be different. Not only with colleagues, but also with our students. Never before has digital technology been such a lifeline to ensure that students can continue with their studies. In the past, technology predominantly offered an alternative to face-to-face teaching to ensure equal opportunities, to promote self-study and to enhance classroom-based learning using fliplearning activities. Now, technology will be how we communicate with our students.
Fortunately, there are many real-time digital platforms that we can utilise to help replicate a group learning situation, or a one-to-one tutorial. The ones being adopted, if not already in use are Google Classroom, Youtube, Facebook, Skype and Zoom. Their features include ways in which activities can still be real-time and collaborative. Also, in these times of increasing isolation these will become a vital way for teachers and students to interact socially as well as educationally. These real-time features can also, importantly, help teachers to monitor the well-being of their students.
A lot of communication will still be carried out via email, especially work communication, so we need to make sure that our communication is excellent. We need to be able to convey what we mean clearly and concisely
Clearly this presents issues. Most teachers are used to working from home, but not all the time. Teachers are used to working with colleagues and this provides them with a support network and ways in which to spread workload across a team. In an open-ended remote context, teachers need to consider their own well-being as well as that of their students. Working remotely may increase our own feelings of isolation, so we need to ensure that we are getting the support we need from our colleagues.
Remote working requires us to be self-motivated and organised. Maintaining a balance between work and home is vital when working from home. Setting up a schedule so there is a clear division between working hours and our own time at home is essential, otherwise we can end up working continuously!
Needless to say, technology is the priority for upskilling:
- Get to grips with new software.
- Experiment with different ways to best achieve a positive experience for ourselves and our students; a positive experience that meets the educational needs and social needs of all.
- Try to create a timetable for your students whereby the unfamiliar can become familiarised using technology; for example, continue to have regular tutorials (group and/or one-to-one) if this was something you did routinely before the Covid-19 pandemic. This can help normalise aspects of their education in these unprecedented times.
The main ways in which we are working and will increasingly work means we are not only upskilling ourselves as teachers, but we are also equipping our students with these skills by working with them in these new ways. These digital skills are more than likely going to be required in the future, beyond the current lockdown situation. It is possible that even work-based learning found in most vocational qualifications will have to adapt to a more digital experience such as virtual reality. It is likely that we will move towards artificial intelligence-based assessment systems as already piloted in some institutions.
Using the time we have now to develop our own practices using digital technology will ensure that as teachers we are prepared for the inevitable changes in how we work, but also that our students are prepared for the workplace of the future.