The period as a whole is a rather long-lasting phase that people have adjusted to within their means. However, the impact will be of a longer duration as we as a society have only got through the initial phase and we are not returning to full normality any time soon. Even if an absolutely reduced school operation has already begun (as of mid / end April 2020).
In essence, it could be a total of 3 - 4 difficult months. Therefore, the implementation of the new ideas outlined here is necessary as soon as possible.
Over time, all those involved adjust to the situation as best they can. Therefore, it is important for the school and education sector to establish the necessary routines in the context of digital learning and to develop them in the long term - as shown here.
An initial improvement occurs when the majority of all current restrictions are lifted.
Peak only in May
The effects could continue to be felt until the end of the year, although the peak could be passed by the end of May: The epidemic may even peak in May before leveling off relatively quickly.
Improvement from the end of June
From the end of June, there would then be a significant improvement in the general situation (with regard to the pandemic). The more intensive effects could still be felt into the summer - August / September.
In other words, it could take longer than planned because the peak has not yet passed. It is possible that the schools will remain closed for regular operations until after the summer holidays.
After that, the curve slowly flattens out and regular operation returns in greater numbers. In combination with the parallel required digital learning, a total period of 8 - 9 months can be achieved, with further opportunities for digital learning through the new ideas, innovations and possibilities.
We may be dealing with a wave-like progression. The effects can be significantly reduced by the measures we have described. It is possible that we will have another wave of infections in the autumn.
School attendance in exceptional cases
In cases of existential threat, it should be possible for parents to return their children to school with a declaration of consent from the end of April / beginning of May. The prerequisite should be that the children do not belong to the risk group and also do not have family members from risk groups in their direct environment.
Another reason should be to avert psychological damage to children when this threatens to become too great. In most cases, the damage is probably caused by a perceived lack of contact, multiplied by a disturbed closeness-distance relationship between child and parents.
The time until normality prevails will in many cases be several weeks beyond the gradual reopening of the schools. This is individual for each school, which is due to the fact that schools or teachers provide their students with different content. Digital assignment sheets, for example, can be checked, discussed and improved in a timely manner. At schools where the supply is analogue or via the mere sending of non-editable (scanned) PDFs, performance monitoring is downstream.
Unless results can be sent in continuously, it will not even be possible to check them until the schools reopen. These teachers will thus be busy for a long time dealing with old topics - if they do this at all. Unfortunately, these topics have no real value at that point, since the topics were already dealt with several weeks ago. This problem is especially true for elementary schools.
The epidemic is possibly the impetus for a complete renewal of the existing (worldwide) school system.
The trigger for this is probably that parents are more concerned with the teaching content of their children during this time. In addition, parents' demands increase as the crisis continues. The same applies to parents' understanding of what their children are - or are not - learning in schools.
As a possible scenario, the previous school system will only have a transitional justification in the long run, mainly to take care of the students. The development goes towards a free, dynamic and digitally flanked learning system.
This renewal of the school system is a longer process that will take at least the next 5 years.
There is unlikely to be a critical phase after the epidemic subsides, as the school system is basically in the process of reinventing itself - or rather, conquering the digital space and free learning through experiences now made.
The transition from the classical to the new school system will probably take place in several waves so as not to overburden the pupils and institutions.
In the future, universities will focus more on practical applications, experiments and research. In the future, the previous content (lectures) will increasingly be taught via suitable teaching platforms.
In educational institutions, how and when they resume operations must be decided on a case-by-case basis, as some educational institutions are confronted with at-risk groups and some rarely if ever.
Teachers and support staff should, wherever time is available, pay strong attention to the development of media literacy - for themselves and for students, so that they can meet them on an equal footing.
Push digital learning
In addition, the elaboration or further development of a concept for digital learning should definitely be pushed - a possible blueprint for this we have described in our Part 3 pointed out. Teachers in particular should make a significant contribution to the development of a learning platform, as they are "on the front line" on a daily basis. At this stage, they can provide "live" support in developing and implementing such a concept.
Determine communication channels
Coordination with the parents should also be carried out in the current phase, which is still continuing. The aim is to find out how best to work with the children as a team (teachers and parents):
What support do parents want in learning at home specifically.
Provide material and by what means.
Possibly make "safe" home visits if parents can't cope.
Provide video conferencing for existing class groups so that children can continue to interact socially.
Joint teams with the school authorities
There should also be a closer interlocking between the school authorities and the schools and teachers in order to enable more practical relevance and a better exchange. All that is needed here is to form cooperating teams for specific tasks, which is no problem from a technical point of view - e.g. via Microsoft Teams or similar solutions. After the crisis, these teams should aim to improve the school system and optimise processes.
Schools can / should cooperate with each other to build up common content (content pools), so that not every school has to create, digitise and integrate the required content itself. In this context, it is also worth remembering the possible direct cooperation with providers of textbook publishers and content platforms (content), so that content can already be fed directly via these partners in the beginning - and later increasingly. In this context, it is important to regulate the necessary licenses (rights and fees, if applicable). In addition, teachers from the same subject areas should coordinate their content at online conferences - if necessary, they should also form permanent working groups (teams).
Pupils of the 6th to 8th classes could take over senior telephone partnership. On 2 - 3 days a week, joint (video) phone calls could be made in order to create closeness for both sides. This would reduce the stress factor regarding isolation, which has a negative effect on the immune system.
School canteens and caterers: home delivery
School canteens and caterers could offer home delivery to ease the burden on families and parents. This would help to preserve jobs.
The remaining reduced teaching time could be used to "clean up" and reorganize the technical infrastructure.
In case of emergency: Premises
Schools can provide premises in an emergency - especially gymnasiums. These could be used for mobile hospitals.
Educational institutions can establish themselves as further education institutions in this time and should use this chance. The new target group here is parents, to support them in teaching children or to flank them - similar to the "tutoring principle", which would also lead to a better quality market for tutoring.
The existing online infrastructures of innovative educational institutions could be used to implement this idea. Educational institutions without such a structure can offer learning topics according to our blueprint of an optimal learning platform (see part 3) - initially still with the aforementioned rudimentary tools and later with a mature online infrastructure (LMS).
In our previous part "What measures can German schools and educational institutions take to maintain educational operations in the short term", we emphasized how important it is now to further develop the existing solutions and learning portals. To this end, we referred to our solution approach as a "blueprint" that provides orientation for further development and can be applied to any technological platform. The decisive factor is to promptly implement all four core elements contained in the blueprint in a solution- or platform-specific manner, to constantly expand and further develop them. The result of this process is ideally an optimal learning platform. Let's get started!
The very simple analogies described here can be adapted in existing systems or transferred to completely new systems/platforms that are adapted to this from the outset. The focus is on the creation of virtual and intellectual spaces that are opened up by the learner. In these spaces, the aim is to achieve a constant gain in knowledge through interaction - in other words, action-oriented Learn. This "journey of understanding" is documented in each virtual room so that the learner is shown which areas they have already accessed. The ideal is to display a kind of graphical "puzzle" that completes itself quantitatively over time and also indicates the learner's qualitative level of understanding.
The elements outlined in our 2nd part "What measures can German schools and educational institutions take to maintain educational operations in the short term" will also be implemented in these rooms at the appropriate points.
1. top level: learning spaces
On the top level, students open up the "learning spaces" already mentioned. These rooms have the function to offer transparency to the learner and to show connections. Such spaces can be set up and used in the short term in existing or to-be-created systems / platforms. In the long term, these spaces should be equipped with established gaming analogies (gamification).
The incentive system of adventure games (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventure) has been developed and proven over many years and is simply transferred to the learning area. To avoid misunderstandings: it is about adopting analogies and incentive systems from gaming - and not about developing learning portals as pure learning games.
It is good and important to speak here of spaces that the learner should open up. According to the motto "go in and discover what is contained there". Thus the learner can pursue his interests and inclinations. Through the parallel further and further "completion of the exploration of the room", the motivation grows to also open up a room completely and above all well. Whereby good means: maximum learning effect. In this process, the desire to really know a room well also arises and grows. This results in a lower loss of learning, through motivation, curiosity, incentive and ideally also fun. Again, we use the analogy of an adventure game principle: you have to move attentively through all the scenes (rooms) and you have to "collect" everything important to pass the adventure (as good as possible = good grade). Also as a gaming analogy, there are also exams and competitions on our ideal learning platform, which you have to pass as a learner in order to progress or to get a high "score" (= good grade).
This type of learning follows a constant up and down: something new is explored, finds its way in, is developed more deeply, solidifies and is finally verified. The developed and completed contents and tasks are documented in parallel in the system/platform in order to map the learning progress - analogous to the success of the game.
This room analogy can be implemented right now via DropBox, Box.net, Google Drive, OneDrive, OneNote, Evernote, or similar. A learning portal (LMS) is not a prerequisite - but will be necessary in the further course to become future-proof. Important at the beginning is a parallel documentation (logging) of the learning journey (see above) to show the learner and the teacher / lecturer the learning progress. In the beginning, checklists via Dropbox Paper, Google Forms, Microsoft Forms or similar applications can be used, in which the learner simply ticks off the completed tasks and thus creates transparency for him/herself and the teacher/instructor.
In the later final solution, the feedback should be automatic and via the completion of a visual representation. In principle, as in our puzzle analogy above, in connection with points - or a so-called "scoring" or "ranking". Here students can see, if necessary, how far "fellow students" are on their way in direct comparison in the individual rooms. At least the comparison should be possible in an overview to see how far other "classmates" are. The idea here is cooperation and not competition, because there should be an incentive to help each other. Along the lines of "Say, how did you do that?" - which works mutually, because one student is better or further along here and vice versa.
2nd instruction level: Description
On the instruction level, existing contents and rooms are linked via instructions. Instructions are essentially learning instructions and application examples for the respective rooms. These can also be realized by the systems shown above. For example, with Dropbox it is possible to create simple folder descriptions.
3rd content level: teaching materials
The content level is to be understood as the existing analogue or digital teaching material of the teacher or educational institution: this can be directly integrated, as it is already available - based on the respective curriculum.
Direct access should be given to teaching material providers and existing independent learning platforms in order to feed in or make available content accordingly, as most teachers already obtain their material from here.
If there are no learning videos of one's own, one could also think about cooperating with already successful learning video portals (e.g. LearnAttack by Duden) and YouTube teachers in order to include their videos. Why not set up an advertising-free and free streaming platform for learning videos that is jointly operated by German schools! This would also better preserve equal opportunities - see below.
More ideas for expanding the school and education sector can also be found in Part 4, which we will publish shortly (it is likely that this has already been published at the time of reading - see the general overviewof our project "Optimal digital learning during and beyond the crisis"..
4. level of knowledge: expertise
The knowledge level defines the knowledge in the heads of the teachers / lecturers that has not yet been integrated into the content level. This knowledge must be prepared and integrated against the background of the structure shown here:
Graphics / Pictures
In addition to our "blueprint" described above, we have developed the following further ideas.
The good old new Classroom
Of course, the traditional way of learning must not be forgotten if one wants to enable holistic learning - especially since purely digital learning is not sufficient. For the future, it is important to (further) develop physical-digital hybrid learning systems. It would already be easy for schools and educational institutions to transmit the usual learning units / workshops from the physical classrooms LIVE (streaming), so that learners at home can easily participate in the lessons. Those who can't be there live work through the recording, which is also wonderful for review and digital reference. This would also help to ensure equal opportunities - see "Equal opportunities" below.
The possibility of social exchange remains important, such as the good old break meeting in the schoolyard or online via social meetings between students. The latter would even be possible on a supra-regional, transnational and international level - see also the idea of "Language tandem with native speakers" in our Part 2. This idea could also be extended to other subjects / departments in order to learn / work globally with each other at an early stage.
A teacher becomes more of a helper for many children / students instead of just one class based on the ideal learning platform to strive for. He develops a personal connection and acts more like a mentor or a confidant, e.g. to accompany and discuss personal development.
Many great and dedicated teachers, who have a fantastic knowledge of digital learning and at the same time care for the children holistically and individually, need to be identified and built up as "Mavens" (innovative experts). The aim is to help all teachers into the "digital saddle". Thus, the existing expertise could already be used in a timely manner to bring the entire teaching force up to an elevated level. And it makes more than sense to engage the people who are already in the teaching profession.
After the crisis, there is no need for external consultants for whom the state has to spend a lot of money and who would inevitably work past the practice - unless they also come from the active(!) education business. It is much more sensible to apply the current experiences already now and to develop further and future training programmes from them. Here, the focus must remain on the current experience and must not become too theory- and research-heavy. This would drag out the process too much and, due to a lack of practical relevance, would meet with too little acceptance and fail.
An idea that goes beyond this is to offer teachers a kind of "Internet & Digital Driver's License". This would take the pressure off them to acquire the necessary knowledge privately. In addition, there would be transparency regarding the current skill level of each teacher. This licence should be renewed or extended in a certain cycle (e.g. annually).
The tasks for the test to obtain the driving licence are to be created centrally and apply to the entire teaching staff in Germany. One could even introduce an EU driving licence that is valid for all countries or is required in each country in order to be allowed to continue teaching at all. The exams can be done online.
It becomes difficult when students do not have appropriate devices or internet at home - or a quiet learning environment in their extended family. Here again the weakest would be disadvantaged. The state would have to provide the appropriate resources so that all the pupils concerned can learn at home or in appropriate facilities.
Alternatively or in addition, learning spaces for digital learning can be created. These can be located in the afternoon in the schools or in local learning rooms for pupils from the immediate vicinity. These should be equipped with Internet access, workstations for socially disadvantaged families and optional childcare services. Why not create an alliance of leading and innovative IT companies that provide a wide range of devices, software, applications and platforms in novel "learn hubs"? If the industry is brought on board, there will be no reason to complain about a lack of young talent in the future. In the transitional period or even permanently, companies could also provide unused workplaces or take on "learning sponsorships".
Learning to learn
The current situation offers another opportunity that should be seized. In the context of new and innovative content, the latest findings should also incorporate learning to learn.
We have developed further highly interesting approaches to this, which we have prepared in an extra paper "Learning to Learn", which is available on request.
The central component of the paper is the brain in its essential learning processes and how these are maximally elicited and sustained.
Here, the relevant neurobiological basic functions in their optimal application are considered as well as state-of-the-art procedures.
We describe an "ideal state" possible today, which is realizable via a "neurobiological learning maximum". Here, the learner of any age group and socialization is made accessible to quasi "optimal states". In addition to psychological methods, this is also achieved through a trend-setting application of neurofeedback - up to brain-active frequencies.
We also describe the optimal design of learning tools from a healthy combination of rudimentary methods and current or future media possibilities.
The structure required for this is to be understood as a minimum, without structurally overloading the realisation of learning. On the basis of our findings, it is necessary to construct the appropriate learning environments for the different target groups (children, adults, etc.) and to take social factors into account.
Mental movement - in the sense of action-oriented learning situations - is another central component that we have defined. This includes the following coordinated elements within a specifically defined framework in each case: Mental activity based on curiosity, desire and the given learning repertoire. Followed by rest phases, internalization and self-reflection.
The model defined on the basis of our data ensures a harmony or synchronous cycle of successive FLOW and REST / EASE phases: The electrifying learning state / implementation flow state (recursive) and the relaxed "rest" phases. These are embedded in the respective superordinate time construct: e.g. a daily schedule based on a monthly or weekly plan and in detail a timetable with time-independent blocks.
For us, the "teacher" is more someone who is responsible for implementing and adhering to the model - like a kind of (role) play leader.
As further points find consideration:
The necessary free space for thinking and thoughts.
A breeding ground of well-prepared learning material, involved teachers and parents and a broad social understanding - e.g. that wrong learning environments and wrong learning styles make people ill.
Clearly defined learning content - also through joint planning by teachers and students (= higher acceptance).
Planning the right learning environment based on all the components defined in our concept or all the resources and knowledge currently available.
First of all, the 1st part described current situation a good starting point - because necessity is known to be the mother of invention. The principle applies: it is better to do something than to do nothing at all, even if one overshoots the mark. For example, the uncoordinated "flooding" with tasks to students by individual teachers - without consultation among themselves.
After this first phase of the crisis, it is now necessary to bundle and structure the further possibilities. For this, a "blueprint" is needed, similar to our solution approach, which we describe here in the further course. The special feature and quality of our solution lies in the fact that it is geared towards a future optimum of digital learning - beyond the crisis - and does not pursue a political agenda.
Basically, all parties involved can continue to work as before in the crisis. In parallel, however, it is necessary to bring either our or another far-sighted solution approach on the path of implementation, which defines as a basis it a suitable learning platform!
Learning platform as a basis
The aim is to use an existing digital learning platform that fulfils the criteria described below - or can be extended to do so in the short term. The focus is on digital classrooms as a common, central "storage location" for learning material and as a starting point for video conferencing. The current class group should be divided into self-sufficient learning groups that support each other (size approx. 5 pupils). These can also be supervised more easily by teachers and lecturers. In general, the aim is to maintain the regular routine and not to soften structures in the daily routine. For this purpose, educators should work out the optimal measures so that the impact of the crisis does not become even greater.
Teachers use a system of rules to check whether and how students have worked:
A kind of well-intentioned control system so that no student "falls behind."
This is necessary because many students are not always able to learn on their own and cannot focus on a task alone.
This is where a teacher/instructor needs to be able to intervene if the system provides them with appropriate feedback.
The platforms needed at this stage must cover the following areas (see Part 3):
Individual video-based learning units
Video Calls in the Group
Group Learning Chats
Contact students individually by telephone: Telecommunicate with instructors via relevant media for a committed period of x minutes per week.
Access via collected hyperlinks to archives of software and learning materials that might be relevant for learning units to be completed (beyond the learning plan, if applicable).
Extensive media literacy training for students and participants
Social digital meetings for exchange between students (in class).
Pupils teach pupils
Older students can teach younger students - according to teachers' specifications - and grow themselves in the process. This would also be possible internationally and would be particularly suitable for languages - for example as a language tandem with native speakers.
The human being in the center
It is primarily of great importance to put the cohesion of teachers / lecturers and students in the center. We humans need honest contacts, at best physically. If this is not possible, then the best possible platform-based "virtual image" must be created. Here we must hope for the support of parents and relatives, as this cannot be taken for granted.
The merging of schools / institutions - if necessary also on a city-by-city basis - should be made possible and promoted. Not every school is allowed to "cook its own soup" and must benefit from existing competences and structures.
Furthermore, those responsible should also ask the platform providers whether short-term training of teaching staff can take place in order to be able to use corresponding applications optimally. Providers could also make free licenses available on a transitional basis. An interesting overall package could be put together here: setting up a platform in a timely manner and giving teachers a jump-start.
Likewise, reputable tutoring providers could be involved.
Now it's time to share knowledge and make it available!
Such platforms would have to be set up as quickly as possible, if they have not already been started, in order to maintain teaching operations. The distribution of tasks via e-mail and the associated lack of structure must not be allowed to continue! The introduction can take place in waves. This serves the better understanding of those concerned, so that pupils and parents are not overwhelmed by a one-off flood of information.
Outlook: Making teachers "fit" across Europe
Perhaps one could get the entire German - or even European teaching staff "fit" in this sense within half a year. There are already masses of useful and easy-to-learn applications/platforms that have been documented and tested accordingly. If every teacher is familiarized with the four core elements of communication, webinars, information generation and information distribution in half a year, this would be a very big step towards navigating the "tanker school" in the right direction - this would also take a big mental load off the teachers.
In an international comparison, Germany is not optimally positioned in terms of digital education across the board - even if the will to do so is certainly there. Now, the crisis is bringing a forced dynamic to the topic of eLearning. The more farsightedly one acts out of this situation, the more likely it is that this crisis can be used as an opportunity to be in a much better position in the future.
Every educational institution and every teacher improvises as best they can - within the respective possibilities, skills and tools (tools) that are available. Schools and institutions that already had an existing eLearning-solution (LMS-system), use them as consistently as possible.
Overall, the work may not always be didactically clean or of high quality - which cannot be expected in the short time available - but work is being done!
School management and teachers
In large parts, there is an excessive demand on school administrators and teachers, as they have to implement their "teaching mission" via a digital intermediate medium on the one hand - and parents as mediators on the other. A central body that develops the optimal strategy and makes it available is missing.
On the one hand, many teachers are very well prepared for the current digital Homeschooling prepared. There are no problems working with digital classrooms or with video calls. On the other hand, there are many teachers who are completely overwhelmed with the sudden crisis situation. This has nothing to do with age. Rather, the personal readiness is decisive in how far the use of digital teaching and learning methods can be applied in the critical phase.
Parents and children
Parents and children are sometimes overwhelmed by the flood of information that teachers give them with the best of intentions. This results mostly from the fact that teachers do not or cannot coordinate with each other. Digital learning is not yet a matter of course. It is advantageous that children (pupils) are fundamentally curious and usually approach the matter in a playful manner.
For parents, school is also always a form of childcare, which now has to be organised in ambitious homes. This creates a lot of extra work for parents and, if possible, relatives: general care, lunch and help with school material and homework. Thus parents become the substitute teacher, assistant and controller of the learning progress. To ensure that sport is not neglected, parents must also keep an eye on this.
In some families there are - despite the extra workload - also very positive effects. People talk to each other more and spend more time together. In other families, negative effects dominate, as some parents are not really interested in their children and thus do not (can not) invest time in a reasonable educational and occupational offer for their OWN children.
Parents themselves, of course, face their own personal issues and fears: Corona Virus, job and existence. In extreme cases this - in connection with the currently restricted freedom of movement - unfortunately also leads to cases of domestic violence. Often the learning environment described above is not created in these families and often the necessary technical basis is not given. There are still households in which the Internet, computers, Tablets or smartphones are not available to all family members, or only to a very limited extent.
Some classrooms and teachers in primary schools are very well equipped with digital learning media and hardware. This mostly location-bound infrastructure is of little use to individual pupils at home, of course.
Special software for students of higher grades provides a group-oriented, dynamic elaboration of learning content and the building of high-level human group values. In the context of the pandemic, here too it is not possible to switch overnight to a digital classroom with all participants, for example via chat, with all the requirements.
For educational institutions, the equipment with learning systems is rather average and the staff often only knows how to handle the hardware and software in a bumpy way. Learning units as videos or even simultaneously in chat can be counted on one hand. Up to now, online education providers have tended to be regarded as competitors. These in turn currently have a clear advantage in terms of their infrastructure - but not necessarily in terms of the content currently required. A first idea (1) on this: Partnerships of traditional and online education providers have great potential for the future.
Things look better at the universities. They have been experimenting and working with digital learning for some time now. The first universities are already streaming "live from the lecture hall".
The ideal way to learn is currently neither conventional nor digital. The motivation to learn is in danger of (further) declining. Even an improved structure of digital learning does not change this much. The idea is too widespread that digital lessons must look or be structured in exactly the same way as in school.
In addition, digital learning is not yet equally suitable for all pupils, but only from a certain age. Not that young children cannot do this. However, digital media in excess are not really in line with a good and brain friendly overall cognitive development. And what about our fellow human beings with physical and mental limitations?
At the end of the day, school is also the space for social interaction. Learning and building respect for others and oneself are fundamental to successful schooling. This currently seems to be made more difficult over distance and through digital communication channels. This is where online groups and one-on-one conversations can help to do damage control. Many schools and teachers are already practicing this in an exemplary manner.
In the next part of our project "Optimal digital learning during and beyond the crisis". is concerned with the question "What measures can German schools and educational institutions take to maintain educational operations in the short term" - in other words, initial innovative ideas to develop the current situation in a constructive and future-oriented manner.
The current Corona crisis is affecting the education sector differently - depending on how far the respective institution is in its eLearning implementation. This crisis and the change must now be actively and strategically shaped with a view to the future.
As of today, we will start publishing our results on the following questions on a daily basis. We have implemented these as part of our optimized idea development (ideation) for crisis management and innovative future orientation. Further information can be found on our website:
NEURONprocessing is a platform where we offer high quality IDEAS development (ideation), train professional IDEAS developers and IDEAS teams - as well as provide the necessary software for IDEAS development and IDEAS dissemination.