After the sprint, the looming marathon

“So little time
Try to understand that I’m/ Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same”
(Everybody’s Changing, from album Hopes & Fears – Keane, 2004)

Indie rock band Keane have long understood the plight of the modern teacher. Educators everywhere are moving from the pandemic-forced panic to get everything online, and looking to longer term plans for recovery and revival. The 400-metre sprint is over; now an ultra-marathon looms.

There’s quite a difference between the sprint and long-distance events, though. You can run for a bus, or dash for shelter from a sudden downpour without any training at all. You might be panting for breath, a little sweaty perhaps, but you didn’t have to don your trainers five times a week to prepare for it.

A marathon is a different beast. As a survivor of three 26-mile/42-kilometre suffer-fests, I can say from painful experience that without good guidance, planning and tracking your progress, you can end up hobbling along a drizzly London street after five hours of slow torture, cursing the fool (you!) who signed up for this.

Research to fuel your recovery

Many teachers and education managers I’ve talked to recently are feeling the ‘marathon effect’; they did the sprints, hauled online courses into shape and learned new systems and techniques to keep students engaged. With continued uncertainty about future modes of learning and teaching, they’re now faced with a longer, more exhausting road which keeps twisting and turning. And the finish line? Don’t even ask.

Even the most resilient of us need to stop, check in and review progress before lacing up the running shoes and chugging another double espresso. Helpfully, many institutions have been tracking how students and teachers are dealing with the move online, and we have a growing body of research to analyse and learn from.

The two reports I’ve mapped below were produced by Every Learner Everywhere, Digital Promise and Tyton Partners. You can find the original report for the map below here. This first one gathered responses from more than 1,000 undergrad students in the US who had been studying in person, and were moved online when the pandemic hit:

The second report shares the teacher/faculty experience of the shift to online, again from a US perspective. For this one, I created a screen recording so you can see the themes evolve as I put the map together:

You can find the link to their full report here, and my completed map below:

Mindmap of survey findings

What I especially liked about these two reports was their link back to recommended practices for learning and teaching online. Some institutions are entering new territory, but the ‘training rules’ for this ultra-marathon are rooted in techniques and approaches we know work well from previous research and practical experiences. Now we have to trust the training plan, take a deep breath and re-set our expectations for the long haul.