You've been holding your pen wrong your entire life

I am left handed. The world of education is not set up very well for lefties. I spent much of my life awkwardly trying to adapt my way of doing things to match or mirror right-handedness. I had to learn to use right-handed scissors because those were the only ones provided in school. To write properly, my paper had to be placed in the opposite direction to the papers of my righty classmates. When computers came onto the scene, I thought my troubles were finally over because keyboards are handedness agnostic. Then I learned about a mouse and a trackpad that were usually on the right requiring right handed dexterity. Imagine the educational gymnastics I had to engage in all the way to a PhD as a lefty!

Why am I sharing this walk down memory lane? The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world of traditional education in to a tailspin. Essentially the "right-handed" world of education has become "left-handed". Running schools as we have always taught is impossible right now. We can't keep teaching the way we have always done it. Challenges associated with the need to keep people safe have pushed schools into the realm of non-traditional education have been loath to acknowledge at all, let alone as legitimate. Now, becoming more non-traditional may be the only path schools have to survival.

So what does that have to do with a holding a pencil and left-handedness? Dynamic adaptability! I was born left-handed. Nothing could change that. To survive and thrive in a world primarily set up for the more common right-handedness, I had to learn to adapt quickly. I had to learn to observe things like the placement of paper and then mirror it. I had to build strength and coordination in my right hand to be able to use a mouse or trackpad. I had to learn to use right handed scissors. In sports, my left hand was always dominant, but I was able to learn to play tennis and hit a soft-ball right handed. Sometimes the adjustments were very uncomfortable and took a lot of practice, but with persistence I got good enough to perform well.

Notice that I didn't have to abandon being left-handed (that would have been impossible anyway) but I learned to adjust my environment, tools, and skills to be able to function well in both left-handed and right-handed worlds. Schools are going to have to learn to do the same thing.

Higher-ed is in an especially difficult predicament right now. Traditional models of education have been generally sustainable, even with the massive successes of non-traditional schools like Western Governors University attracting thousands of students a month. However, with COVID-19, the sustainability of traditional models of education is slipping away.

Schools that have already added some online programs have taken the first step, but there is so much more to offering robust education in online environments. These changes need to happen quickly -- faster than most will be comfortable with.

A place to start is the the recognition that you may have been holding the pen (your construct of what constitutes good education) the wrong way this whole time. What you do to make education effective on a campus in a physical classroom can be done well online. What you may not yet be comfortable with is that it really is possible to largely replicate what you do in a face-to-face in an online classroom. The brilliance of what you offer to students doesn't change. How you offer it does.

Dynamic adaptability - the ability to assess a situation needing adjustment and doing so quickly -- is going to be the defining characteristic of schools who survive the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. You might feel like a left-handed student in a right-handed world for awhile, but you can do this!

#classroom #online education #writing utensils

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