Resilient pedagogy: The professional development opportunity educators need now more than ever

Resilient pedagogy is an emerging instructional philosophy with extremely timely implications for this current moment in education and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Though facets of resilient pedagogy have long been practiced by educators in the form of classroom differentiation, and though other frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) inform resilient pedagogy, Rebecca Quintana and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have attempted to define a more expansive type of differentiation by building upon these approaches to instructional design and extending beyond them, bringing to the forefront the need for instructors to be agile and intentional in all educational contexts, but especially in moments of crisis and change.  More than just a fancy synonym for differentiation, resilient pedagogy can be defined as “…the ability to facilitate learning experiences that are designed to be adaptable to fluctuating conditions and disruptions” (Quintana & DeVaney, 2020, para. 8). Resilient teaching is an approach that “take[s] into account how a dynamic learning context may require new forms of interactions between teachers, students, content, and tools” (Quintana & DeVaney, 2020, para. 8), and those who practice resilient pedagogy have the capacity to rethink the design of learning experiences based on a nuanced understanding of context (Quintana & DeVaney, 2020).  The key to resilient teaching is a focus on the interactions that facilitate learning, including all the ways that teachers and students need to communicate with one another and actively engage with the learning material (Hart-Davidson, 2020). 

“Teachers often plan carefully for delivering content…but when it comes to planning interactions, we can easily take this very important component of learning for granted.”

(Hart-Davidson, 2020, para. 5)

In 2020, Rebecca Quintana and the University of Michigan released a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) via Coursera titled “Resilient Teaching Through Times of Crisis & Change.”  The MOOC is available in a free, open access format and offers a flexible learning structure which makes it accessible to any educator wanting to engage with the topic. The registration process is simple, and as an asynchronous online learning experience, there are no time constraints on when a participant must register or when a participant must complete the course.  Though the course is aimed at educators who may need to rethink how they teach in the immediate or near future due to the ever-changing circumstances of the pandemic, the course creators “…expect it will remain relevant to instructors who are faced with disruptions and change to their teaching for any number of reasons and must quickly adapt their course designs” (Quintana, 2020). Furthermore, though this MOOC course is especially relevant to the higher education environment, the principles of resilient pedagogy can absolutely be applied in any type of classroom by any type of educator.

Interested educators may engage with the course casually by reviewing videos (thoughtfully ‘chunked’ into appropriately consumable lengths) and reading materials in whatever order and pacing–and to whatever depth–feels pertinent to their needs.  They can choose to purchase the full course and engage in all aspects of the learning experience, including submitting assignments and completing checks for understanding.  In this format, participants can receive a course completion certificate at the end.  This type of engagement may be especially helpful if participating in the course alongside colleagues in a more formal professional development venture.  My personal engagement has been decidedly less formal.

The course content focuses on three key components of resilient pedagogy: designing for extensibility, designing for flexibility, and designing for redundancy.  This three-principle framework helps flesh out the meaning and potential of resilient pedagogy while also serving as a practical guide to course design.

  1. Designing for Extensibility means that a course is designed in such a way that it has a clearly defined purpose and essential, unaltered learning goals, and yet the basic essence of the course content can be extended with new capabilities and functionality as needed.  This may involve the introduction of new tools or a change in format, moving fluidly from synchronous to asynchronous modalities, etc.  
  2. Designing for Flexibility means that a course is designed to respond to the individual needs of learners within a changing learning environment.  In a nod to the UDL framework, designing for flexibility means that a course is structured to meet a variety of student needs and learning styles, even before knowing specific individuals in a given class.  Flexibility will require a learner-centered approach with multiple means of engagement/expression and considerations for student needs which may arise within variable class sizes and modalities.  A course designed for flexibility will also allow instructor expectations and assessments to flex in response to these needs.
  3. Designing for Redundancy, simply put, means having contingency plans in place. Designing for redundancy asks instructors to analyze a course design for possible vulnerabilities.  For example, how will students accustomed to synchronous virtual meetings be given the opportunity to engage in course activities if their internet access becomes unpredictable?  In this design approach, instructors look for alternative ways of accomplishing goals with the hope of eliminating “single points of failure.” This is, of course, incredibly important when learning is situated in a time of crisis or emergency.

These three principles of resilient pedagogy do not stand alone. Rather, they inform one another and will naturally overlap in the instructional design process.  The MOOC contains excellent examples and practical applications of extensibility, flexibility, and redundancy throughout, but Rebecca Quintana and her team aren’t the only academics talking about resilient pedagogy, and examples of resilient pedagogy implemented during the pandemic can be found outside the MOOC.  For the reader who might be thinking about resilient pedagogy for the first time, here are a few examples of what resilient pedagogy may look like in practice:

  • Educators on a staggered schedule or a hybrid return-to-school plan may put together an in-person and virtual lesson plan that can be running at the same time on the same day with students engaging with the same content in two different modalities (Watson, 2020).
  • Instructors may create a spreadsheet for a course which helps track various contingencies and needed adjustments for various modalities: in person, hybrid or hyflex, and fully remote (Quintana, 2020).
  • Resilient pedagogy involves reducing complexity in any way possible.  This can look like establishing a predictable weekly pattern for remote students, having fewer due dates, simplifying assignments, etc. (Tange, 2020). Resilient pedagogy in practice means educators can scale up or down as needed according to student needs, understanding that crisis situations almost always call for some sort of scaling down. It’s OK to pair a course down to its most essential elements.
  • Resilient pedagogy requires an emphasis on feedback and interactions vs. assignments and grading.  Grading fewer assignments while also providing more opportunities for ongoing feedback increases the opportunity for interactions between instructors and students while also lowering the stakes for all parties (Watson, 2020).  It also keeps educators from getting stuck trying to stick a “square-pegged” assignment or assessment into a “round hole” of a specific digital tool, modality, or crisis context, simply because this assignment has always been done as part of the course in the past. 
  • As another way to emphasize the importance of interactions within a course, resilient pedagogy prioritizes small group interactions over and above large group instruction (Watson, 2020).  This can take many forms in both synchronous and asynchronous, online and in-person formats.
  • Resilient pedagogy requires educators to consider the use of digital tools carefully within their course design. If, for example, they are using a particular tool on which the success of their students rests, instructors may dedicate time within their learning activities to help students learn how to use that technology and not make assumptions about their students’ digital literacy (Gardiner, 2020).

Though the application of resilient pedagogy may feel particularly prescient in this current moment of crisis, resilient teaching will benefit students and instructors in all circumstances in the long run, regardless of the circumstance.  At the end of the day, resilient teaching forces instructors to examine student engagement carefully and intentionally and develop a student-centered mindset.  It also helps instructors design a dynamic course once, so that they’re using their time and efforts efficiently and making their courses as resistant to disruption as possible (Gardiner, 2020).  Resilience has been an oft-discussed trait that ‘successful’ students possess, but perhaps it’s time to shift that focus on to educators.  Successful educators must be resilient themselves.  It’s not only necessary for this moment, it’s the right thing to do for students in all contexts moving forward, and the “Resilient Teaching Through Times of Crisis & Change MOOC is a great place to start.

“If it seems like resilient pedagogy is in line with calls for us all to be making learning more inclusive and accessible, it certainly is.”

(Hart-Davidson, 2020, para. 17) 

References:

Gardiner, E. (2020, June 25). Resilient Pedagogy for the Age of Disruption: A Conversation with Josh Eyler. Top Hat. https://tophat.com/blog/resilient-pedagogy-for-the-age-of-disruption-a-conversation-with-josh-eyler/

Hart-Davidson, B. (2020, April 6). Imagining a resilient pedagogy. Medium. https://cal.msu.edu/news/imagining-a-resilient-pedagogy/

Kaston Tange, A. (2020, June 8). Thinking about the humanities. https://andreakastontange.com/teaching/resilient-design-for-remote-teaching-and-learning/

Quintana, R. (2020).  Resilient teaching through times of crisis and change [MOOC]. Coursera. https://www.coursera.org/learn/resilient-teaching-through-times-of-crisis 

Quintana, R., & DeVaney, J. (2020, May 27). Laying the foundation for a resilient teaching community. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/learning-innovation/laying-foundation-resilient-teaching-community 

Watson, A. (2020). Flexible, resilient pedagogy: How to plan activities that work for in-person, remote, AND hybrid instruction.  Truth for Teachers. https://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/truth-for-teachers-podcast/resilient-pedagogy-hybrid-instruction-remote-learning-activities/

3 Replies to “Resilient pedagogy: The professional development opportunity educators need now more than ever”

  1. Katie – I appreciate your post on resilient teaching. The following statement resonated with me: “The key to resilient teaching is a focus on the interactions that facilitate learning, including all the ways that teachers and students need to communicate with one another and actively engage with the learning material.” It reminded me of why I use a dialogic/interactive teaching style. This approach focuses on the interactions with students, and allows them to have “voice” in class sessions. The lecture format does the opposite, and retention of material is said to be lower than when students can interact with the material and each other. I also agree that we must consider student learning preferences when designing curriculum. Incorporating multiple means of engagement/expression is important to student success! As an example, I tell my students they are welcome to interact in Zoom sessions by speaking up verbally or by using the chat box. They are free to send comments to everyone or just to me to be read anonymously. Thank you for providing this valuable information!

  2. Hi Katie, I appreciate the detailed evaluation on Resilient Pedagogy. This is the first time that I hear/read about it. I agree with you that “the principles of resilient pedagogy can absolutely be applied in any type of classroom by any type of educator.” All lessons can be enhanced with extensibility, flexibility, and redundancy. I find your blog very interesting, insightful, and relevant to the present circumstances in education. I look forward to learning more by following the link you provided. Thank you!

  3. Katie, great post and now I want to explore Resilient Pedagogy further! The quotes you chose to highlight are really compelling. I am especially fond of the last one about RP in line with calls for more inclusive teaching. I also appreciated the emphasis on simplicity with flexibility to scale up and down as necessary for your students. I thought you did a wonderful job explaining the core design principles for RP and the concrete examples really helped for understanding. As I make plans for the scope of my professional development next year, I am convinced I need to incorporate RP in that work! Thank you for sharing and being a great critical friend this module.

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