Let’s Talk About Clearing Pathways After the Pandemic

Of all the things that future generations may look back upon with wonder, one will likely be that in 2021 we still judged a student’s intelligence based on what she could retain solely in her own mind.

What is the pandemic preparing us to talk about? There are likely multiple topics we’ve pushed aside over the years and allowed to fester. We had that privilege. Perhaps we no longer do, or at least won’t once the pandemic is over.

The first topic has likely been a concern since the early days when teachers and schools first started giving grades – cheating.

Cheating has been in the news a lot lately as K12 and colleges of all kinds ended the fall semester. And of course learners have been completing assignments and assessments from different physical locations – some in the classroom and some not. When we can’t physically see each other we often assume the worst. Even West Point is involved in a cheating scandal.

Undoubtedly students of all ages are using all the tools available to them and the utilization of many of those tools is currently considered cheating. But tools to get an advantage have always existed. Money and power have always granted unequal access to success in school. Private tutors, purchased “study guides”, powerful parents, all contribute to an unequal playing field.

The internet is just democratizing this access to knowledge and support. In the past, a less privileged student may have been limited to his teacher, a textbook, and maybe a family member to support his learning. Now, there is a world of tools and support at that student’s fingertips. Wolfram Alpha and Grammarly or something like them will always exist from this point forward.

These tools – and the desire of young people to collaborate – are not going away. Also, these tools and the ease for students around the world to collaborate will become faster and cheaper every year.

My intention in this post and others is not to share solutions or even fully-vetted thoughts, but rather to point a light toward topics that the pandemic is preparing us to talk about.

As K12 leaders we need to talk about how we are allowing “cheating” to be defined. Cheating still exists of course. We don’t want students using someone else’s work to demonstrate mastery of a standard, that is lying and lying hurts everyone and our society as a whole. However, we want them to demonstrate their ability to learn from each other and elevate the knowledge of their peers. We want them to demonstrate their ability to vet information online and utilize all the resources available to them.

I worry though that if as K12 leaders we stay behind the curve related to how we learn and collaborate in 2021 and beyond, we will be punishing behaviors our students will need to be successful in the future.

I want a positive-sum future with more pathways to success than most of us had as students, and I worry some of our current paths are cluttered with remnants of of the past. These remnants look at public education as a negative-sum, finite game, where for every winner there must be at least one loser.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

What are your thoughts? What other topics may the pandemic be preparing us to talk about? Share in the comments or tag me on Twitter.