Covid-19 ONLINE LEARNING: The jury’s verdict? Mostly BAD, so why and what can we do about it?

(Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3hQhfkn)

Sometimes there are things we just need to remember. Our own history as a young person should never be diminished by the modern world. Somehow young ‘techie’ people today think that we as humans should be less involved in the learning process, because, hey, technology or AI can do all this for you. But don’t forget, we are still human, just like the person in front of you is human. And we humans have got some patterns that make us special (and for the foreseeable future are really not going to change). The element of ‘specialness’ is simply the ability to feel, and technology can inadvertently destroy this. So what can we do?

The first thing we need to say is that we mustn’t abolish technology for ‘real’ learning, on the contrary, we need to know how teachers can help students ‘feel’ their learning online, and this is where the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the average teachers inadequacy in terms of delivering great lessons through technology.

Firstly, be clear that I’m talking about teaching adults not children, they are another post another time.

Here are a few bad online learning experiences that have been seen in the last few months:

  1. The student enters the zoom class to show that he has attended, turns the picture off then leaves for 2 hours and does what he wants.
  2. There is complete chaos in the online classroom as everyone talks at once and the teacher doesn’t know how to manage them
  3. Everyone cheats in their exams because the teacher can’t see them do the exam.
  4. The teacher uses only the video part of the zoom to capture them standing at a whiteboard in their living room
  5. The teacher only talks to the people who are on the first 5 videos in front of them.
  6. The teacher is trying to teach with lots of emotion and feeling through the camera and the students don’t seem to react or care, like they did in a real classroom.
  7. Everyone (teacher and student) sees this as a temporary thing and so suffers through these lessons with the view that the real face to face lectures will resume soon.

…and I’m sure you can think of more.

So, what I see in most of these points above, is the teacher attempting to deliver the class, but just doesn’t know how to use the technology to make their lesson amazing and manage their students behaviour.  Having seen these things in action, I can tell you that there are many things that technology can do for you as a teacher that can help students ‘feel’ the lesson well.

Assuming you are using some form of conferencing software, (e.g. Zoom) here are some suggestions to improve your teaching and student performance:

  1. Understand that your software has many tools for you to use that will make your student and teaching experience amazing:
    1. Use and interact with the whiteboard in the technology not the whiteboard in your living room
    1. Upload materials to the conferencing programme and present it on the screen for the students to see
    1. Use the writing/drawing/highlighting tools on the programme to make points clear
    1. Upload pdf’s of texts/audios or videos and pictures from the internet and play them through the software
    1. Mute everyone, unless the teacher is going to ask one student a question, then unmute them
    1. Teach the student how to raise their hand using the technology, all students will be watching their own screen and seeing who is going to answer the question. The teacher then responds by unmuting them and letting the person talk, then muting them again.
    1. Use Google classroom to manage students and their assignments, as well as making available to them the additional materials to cover that day.
    1. If the teacher wants the students to talk to each other to discuss certain things, the software enables something called ‘breakouts’ where the teacher enables certain people to talk to each other only and only the teacher can enter monitor discussions.
    1. Manage attendance through Google forms.
    1. You may want to start with WhatsApp groups to make your simple classroom but try to move away from it as soon as possible to an education management platform like Google classroom, because the last thing the teacher wants is students having the teachers personal number.
  • Set some clear rules for how the online class will work, and stick to it:
    • Cameras on is a compulsory requirement
    • Engaging and answering questions in the class are compulsory requirements
    • Completion of assignments and deadlines can be managed through Google classroom, and must be met as it will be a compulsory requirement
    • Plagiarized work submitted is still a punishable offense whether you are learning online or face to face
    • (Your school) should provide a technology orientation lesson of 15 minutes for groups of students starting their online course, just to make sure they understand what the compulsory requirements are.
    • Let attendance be taken through a form on Google classroom, managed by the school registration and administration officer.
    • Set some online classroom rules that must be followed:
      • Clothing requirements for the class, e.g. everyone must wear a shirt and trousers, etc. Just because they are now doing their course in their bedroom doesn’t mean that they should be sitting there in bed with a bare chest!
      • Make it clear to all students that though this course is delivered to them in their home, they must understand that this is actually a ‘public’ classroom and all the same requirements and courtesies should be followed as if they were sitting in a normal college classroom, e.g. no smoking, drinking of alcohol, cursing, fraternizing with others in your house, should be tolerated.
      • A lateness and attendance policy needs to be in place and adhered to
      • Penalties and punishments should be in place for those not abiding by the rules of the college
  • Make it clear that the tidiness of the room behind the student is irrelevant, as now the software will enable you to change the background of the video so only the student can be seen. This can make it more fun for the student to change their background of their video, and therefore encourage the students to keep their cameras on.
  • Teachers need to be given training on how to enhance their lessons and understand that that energy they gave to their face to face classes is lost in cyberspace, but if they know how to use the conferencing software well, this kind of energy can still be recaptured and managed.
  • In terms of online exams, there are a variety of options:
  1. Declare that all exams will be an open book exam done in front of the camera
    1. Make the course assessment internally assessed based on assignments only or 50% internal assessment and 50% final exam with automated results to be reviewed and adjusted by the teacher if necessary before publishing to the student.
    1. Remove all exams and do only presentations as assignments
    1. Put exams through an officially recognized testing centre, e.g. Pro-metrics
    1. Make exams online and scale them for the ‘cheat’ factor
    1. Make all exams delivered by a partner establishment in different countries and they also must follow the guidelines and rules that the college set out
    1. Abolish all forms of online assessment period
  • From the school management side, I think the owners need to understand that people will expect the online courses to be cheaper. If the price is the same as face to face classes there may be a problem selling them.

The student will understand that the only real overheads for the school to pay now are the salaries for the teacher, the admin/tech team behind them and the host conferencing fee. Plus, they will also know that the numbers of students will now not be 10-20 in a class but possibly 100s or even 1000s in one class.  What price the school decides to charge is of course up to them, but the cheaper the better.

One important question to ask is – What do we remember most about our childhood education? The teacher we had!  (Be that good or bad!) And that feeling is not going to change for the time being. Here is what schools need to know about online learning:

  1. The school needs to know that the teacher must adjust their lessons to use technology properly.
  2. How the school trains both the teacher and student on the properties and policies of the online learning is extremely important.
  3. Understand that regular reviews of staff and student feedback is the cornerstone to any steps forward.

Nothing will change a face to face interaction with a real live teacher, but also schools have to understand that there are plenty of students who will never be able to have these kinds of experiences, due to other commitments or financial/family situations. This being said, these people will still desire (and be entitled) to get a ‘near face to face’ experience from learning online. The only thing the school needs to know is that they need to make a commitment to managing their teacher training and student expectation.

A recent statistic from the US showed that only 4% of Educational institutions took COVID-19 as an innovative opportunity, the rest just either tried to deliver sub-standard online lectures to current students or laid off most of their staff with the view to maybe reinstating them when the whole thing was over.

Problem is, looks like COVID-19 is here to stay …well for the time-being anyway, and those schools that did/do put in the time and energy now, will reap the rewards long term.

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