The Challenges of Online Teaching – 2
My second semester of online teaching is about to end. With the 3rd wave of coronavirus onslaught happening here in South Korea, our university might decide to still not hold face-to-face classes for at least during the spring term of the next school year. Yes, there’s a light at the end of the dark Covid-19 tunnel – immunization is on its way. Pharmaceutical companies have announced the successful development of a vaccine. However, the distribution of the said vaccine to different parts of the world may still take months.
Online classes are more challenging than conducting actual classes in the classroom. This was my (indirect) response when asked whether I prefer remote learning over teaching in person. The difficulties are not too much on pedagogy for remote or face-to-face, teaching is teaching. The things you do as a teacher are pretty much the same and they boil down into the following – planning, instruction, and assessment. As I pointed out in another essay, “Online or otherwise, when you are a teacher, you should teach. You ought to find a way to achieve the objectives of the course/s you are teaching, cover the topics enumerated in the syllabus, motivate your students, discuss the lessons, give assignments, and evaluate learning.”
Why then that I consider online teaching more challenging than actual teaching in the classroom? After almost two semesters of doing online classes, there’s much I can share about it.
First and foremost, it forced me to account for how much I have invested in learning technology, especially those that relate to teaching. Well, I may have not taken any computer and information technology-related courses but I have taken advantage of the free access I have to the libraries and computer laboratories of the schools where I taught and learned what I needed to learn. Google and YouTube taught me a lot as well. In short, using the application and technology required to carry out online classes for me is not, generally speaking, a rocket science. There were some things I learned on the fly and there were other things that I learned by not hesitating to ask the help of a friend and colleague when I had to.
As I pointed out in another article, “With or without COVID-19, the ability to use technology in the classroom – to apply all available technology resources to education – is something that teachers should have trained themselves to do a long time ago. The use of technology has become an integral part of being a 21st-century teacher. There’s no way out of it. Schools should have made it a basic requirement for the teachers they hired. The abilities to create, evaluate, and effectively utilize information, media, and technology are required 21st-century skills. Teachers are expected to possess them.”
Secondly, online teaching would challenge teachers’ creativity and resourcefulness to the hilt. The one thing I missed so much about holding classes in the classroom is using the blackboard/whiteboard. I write a lot of examples when I explain grammar points and discuss vocabulary. Using the “annotate function” of the Webex screen while doing a PowerPoint presentation would allow only a few examples to be written. I resolved this by not clicking the slide show of the PowerPoint and split the screen into two where on one side is the PowerPoint slide that contains the information I am discussing and on the other a blank Microsoft Word document where I write the examples I want to write while discussing.
The students also need participation points which they could get by answering the questions I asked while I was doing my presentation. Calling on just one student (or a few) to answer a particular question would not give other students an equal opportunity to answer thus depriving them of a fair chance to earn participation points. This I resolved by asking the students to answer my questions using the “chat text box” of Webex. I would pause for a few seconds after asking my questions to give everybody an equal opportunity to answer and after the class, I check their answers and record their points.
I also created an electronic portfolio for each of my students and had to improvise with my assessment methods. I explained the aforementioned in detail here.
Lastly, with online teaching, I have to stretch my patience.
I require my students to turn their video cameras on during my online classes. Failure to heed would mean expulsion from the class. This I did when I got an assurance from our supervisor that doing so does not constitute any violation of university guidelines or existing laws of the country. I am not violating students’ privacy when I require them to turn their video cams on.
What’s the use of attending online classes if the students’ video cams are off? You will not somehow be able to monitor if they are really there and what are they doing. Yes, I can randomly call their names to check but should they respond how sure I am that it was really them responding and not someone else. And do I have to stop instruction once in a while just to randomly call names?
But there were also a variety of problems I encountered when their video cams are on. Some would have the ceiling or wall of their rooms shown instead of their faces. Some I would see obviously talking to someone else in their room or doing something else instead of paying attention to what I was discussing. They know my policy as their teacher. They know that if they do things that I deem inappropriate, they will be “moved to the lobby.” I would accept them back should they request so.
What I consider the weirdest when doing classes online is that sometimes I feel like instead of teaching I was delivering a monologue. Thus, I make sure that I ask questions not only to elicit their participation but also to re-establish my connection to my students in case that after I talked for (probably) too long, their mind veered away.
It is really difficult to know how many of the students are really listening during online classes. It is hard to know if some of them were actually watching a movie while I was teaching. I tried requiring them to turn their microphones as well while our online class was ongoing to discourage them from playing music or watching movies but the noise coming from different sources is just unbearable for all of us. Besides, they can simply use earphones if they don’t like me to hear the video of whatever they are playing while we’re having our online classes. So, I stopped requiring them to turn their microphones on.
I would tell my students once in a while that I am aware of the realities of online teaching and I have fully embraced them. I just have to do my part as their teacher and I would do no less. They are adults and they have a choice of whether they do their part as students or not.
At least in each of my classes, a few would be regularly answering my questions either by “raising a hand” or by using the “chat text box” to write their answers. The majority may be quiet most of the time but it does not mean they are not interested. Thinking that there are students like them expecting me to deliver is what keeps me going.