Spark53:53552: Pandemic Lessons in Education Technology
One day, while teaching her 1st grade class, Sharon Saw heard a story from a student that she knew she needed to share.
“He’s like, ‘Did you know I can eat a whole box of popsicles on my own?'” the Edmonton teacher recalled.
“And I said, ‘That’s a lot of popsicles, my friend.’ And he says, ‘Yes, and then I have diarrhoea.'”
Saw was “laughing out loud”, but couldn’t hear or see anyone else doing the same. That’s because it was a pandemic-era lesson and everyone was on screen in a virtual meeting. Maybe some reactions were muted or off-camera. Maybe some kids just didn’t know what diarrhea meant.
“So I thought, you know what? This would make the perfect TikTok video,” she said. Spark.
With username sharonbeteaching, she opened a new account on the very popular micro-vlogging platform among young people. She uploaded a video with herself playing both herself and the popsicle-eating student.
He took off. Since then, she’s made dozens of school-centric videos on TikTok and amassed more than 47,000 followers.
Teachers using TikTok videos have exploded during the pandemic as educators seek new – and remote – ways to educate and entertain their students. The hashtags #teacher and #teachersoftiktok accumulate billions of views on the platform, according to Wired.
And a 20Thanksa21 post on the official TikTok blog highlight some of the most popular TikTok teachers in the United States, some with millions of followers worldwide.
For Saw, it quickly became more than fun classroom jokes — virtual or otherwise.
“I started branching out into posting some of my lesson highlights or things I would do in my online class, like the songs I would play on the ukulele, or like classroom management strategies or new technology applications that I have tried with my students that have been quite effective,” she said.
“And even to this day, I still use them in my classroom.”
Bonnie Stewart, an associate professor and digital education expert at the University of Windsor, says educators have picked up pandemic-era tools that improve their work in the classroom, but have stopped using other apps. or platforms that were mostly substitutes for what they could do in-person.
Some of these tools “leave students flexibility, [or] even minimize the time they spend in class, but allow students to work together and collaborate outside of class,” she said.
Professors at higher education institutions, for example, keep office hours virtual so students don’t need to travel to the actual office if it’s not convenient for them. And many are putting their course materials online for students to view, whether they attended an in-person class or not.
Massive disruption of education
Saw’s growing audience on TikTok isn’t limited to his local community either. Since then, she has been in contact with other teachers around the world, exchanging ideas for videos and lessons.
The collaborative efforts helped navigate the new reality that Saw and his fellow teachers found themselves in during the pandemic, after lockdowns suddenly reshaped the education landscape.
“Teaching during the pandemic was very difficult… We were navigating this unfamiliar reality every day, not knowing what was going to happen the next day,” she said.
“And so we had to reinvent the wheel with all of our lessons, adapt them to online learning. And every day you just pray and hope your computer doesn’t crash.”
Prachi Srivastava, an associate professor at Western University in London, Ontario, describes the pandemic as “the biggest massive disruption to education in human history that we have seen.”
At the start of the pandemic, Srivastava worked on a map of school closures around the world. The figures she found were staggering: 90% of all schools in the world have been closed, affecting nearly 1.7 billion students.
“It affected about 92% of all learners, so we’re really talking about a whole generation here,” she said.
As a teacher of younger students, Saw never actually features children in her TikToks or other social media skits.
According to Wiredthe Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in the United States does not explicitly prohibit posting recordings taken during lessons online, as long as they do not contain information that could inadvertently identify a minor against his or her consent.
In Canada, guidelines for the protection of student information and privacy are overseen by the province or territory.
Ontario’s Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA), for example, states that when using online services in the classroom, educators “ensure that these services do not inappropriately collect, use or disclose student personal information”. However, it doesn’t have specific guidelines for using social media platforms like TikTok, which aren’t primarily used as educational tools.
Guidelines from the Ontario College of Teachers state that social media can provide “innovative opportunities for teaching and learning,” but also advise educators to “keep interactions professional, like you you would in the classroom, and create a positive presence online.”
This is just a new issue in the ever-changing landscape of digital privacy as it relates to education.
As Stewart notes, simply turning on a webcam during virtual classes during the pandemic could raise privacy concerns, as it can provide a window into a student’s home situation that would otherwise be kept private.
And that’s to say nothing about the ever-present question of what data apps and platforms use or collect while we rely on them for communication.
Saw, however, is grateful for many of these tools – as long as they are used consciously and responsibly for the benefit of her students.
“I think what it would have been like if I had to teach during a pandemic like 50 or 60 years ago. And I don’t think I would have survived,” she said.
“The fact that we were still able to deliver a whole curriculum and give these students the education they deserved during a pandemic…is pretty impressive to me.”
Produced by Olsy Sorokina and Nora Young.