Category Archives: COVID-19

The Challenges of Online Teaching – 2

(The Challenges of Online Teaching – 1)

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.

Notwithstanding Covid-19

Life goes on, with or without Covid-19.

Don’t misconstrue that statement as taking the deadly pathogen for granted. We can’t (and should not) do that. We can’t disregard the coronavirus. Many did and I don’t think I still need to tell you what happened to them and where are they now. May I just share the most current worldwide statistics: almost 62 million cases  and 1.5 million deaths (as of November 28th).

We will never know how many of those cases and deaths resulted from complacency and stubbornness and how many more will be added because of the same?

There are pharmaceutical companies who have reportedly developed the vaccine and are a few weeks away from distributing IT. It may take months before the vaccine could be distributed worldwide. We just have to stretch our patience a little bit more. What we have to deal with and endure during the past months is fatiguing. We have no choice but to hang on.

We have survived the first 11 months of the onslaught of this pestilence and we have to continue taking the necessary precaution in order for us to stay alive and safe until the vaccine gets rolled out to every continent in the world.

In the meantime – life should go on. We cannot afford to stop living because of the ongoing pandemic. We should not stop with our worthwhile personal and professional pursuits. We don’t have to stop dreaming.  We should not cease doing what we ought to be doing in order to improve our lives.

While we should not disregard the dangers that the Covid-19 brings forth, we could not afford to cower in fear as if the world has already ended. The last time I checked, the earth is still rotating in its axis and  continue to revolve around the sun.

Consider this pandemic as the middle of the night, it’s eerie and quiet as the Grim Reaper called coronavirus walks around piling corps to a wagon. But the sun will soon rise again with its rays bringing hope.   

While we mourn the lives lost, we should not forget that there are people still alive and maybe counting on us. While we sympathize with those who either lost their jobs or closed their shops, the wheels of the economy should keep turning and we have to do our part. We need to perform our duties or essay the roles assigned to us.

We could not bring back the lives lost, but those alive among us still have the chance  to find another job and re-open their shops. When this storm hovering above us now eventually disappears, we can sift through the debris and start from there.

We would be presented with the opportunity to evaluate what happened during the pandemic and shortly before it for the purpose of learning from our mistakes and be ready should another pandemic comes along. Let’s make sure that next time (which we hope wouldn’t come), we wouldn’t be caught with our pants down.

Hope springs eternal. But you have to make a choice between expecting that tomorrow is better than today or it’s worse. That’s a decision only you can make. You have a choice, just like when you are asked to wear a mask, stay at home, and observe personal hygiene and social distancing. You can choose not to follow because you are a free man. But remember that there is something more valuable than freedom – LIFE.

A Test On Self-reliance

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There’s no better time to discuss this subject – self-reliance – than now that a health crisis is fiercely challenging the indomitability of the human spirit. As I emphasized in a previous essay, humans have always been the apex predator. Then came COVID-19. These microbes predate on us and suddenly we are made to play an unfamiliar role – that of the prey. Much to our chagrin, we have become the game of these microscopic parasites.

The coronavirus has put us to a battery of tests. We miserably flunked the first one – the test of preparedness. We were not ready when this deadly pestilence came. The statistics on infections and deaths clearly show that. Not that nobody saw this current pandemic happening. Many did but the alarms they sounded were either not loud enough or fell on deaf ears. We are now paying the price of our unpreparedness. We now have to bear the consequences of our complacency.

The next test is adaptation. COVID-19 is also testing our ability to adapt. This we cannot afford to fail. To adapt is the  only option we have now, at least until we have both cure and vaccine against the deadly pathogen. If we won’t, we perish.

Surviving the pandemic is the goal of adaptation. It is a personal responsibility. Each individual has to make a choice – take all the necessary precautions or naively say “come what may.” There are people who chose not to follow science-based  protocols set by the authorities to prevent possible infection. Should they get infected, they only have themselves to blame. God forbid that in their stubbornness and ignorance, other people, particularly their loved ones, would also suffer.

Surviving means not only avoiding getting infected but staying afloat in the dire conditions created by the onslaught of the deadly virus. It is not only a matter of  steering away from the deadly path of this infectious disease but also coping to the situations that emerged from its trail of destruction.

Overcoming the difficulties and challenges we are now facing  because of the pandemic require  all forms of toughness – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual (for those who, like me, believe in God). We may also need all the help we could get during these times.

But what if nobody would help? What if we only have ourselves to rely upon in order to survive? Can we shift our gear to self-reliance if we need to?

That’s the next test and perhaps the most crucial – the test on self-reliance.

When governments of affected countries had to implement extreme measures including declaring lockdowns, all socio-political  and economic activities grinded to a halt. People were forced to stay at home and couldn’t go to work to earn a living. Many got worried, particularly the breadwinners, because they had mouths to feed and bills to pay.  Lucky were the citizens of some countries who were given economic assistance  by their governments. Some governments don’t have the capability to do the same. Luckier were those who live in very rich countries whose pockets are very deep.  But were the dole outs provided by those holding the reins of government sufficient? Are the financial resources of even the wealthiest among nations unlimited that no matter how long it will take for the COVID-19 threats to dissipate they would be able to provide the needs of their people?

The next question we have to answer is – “Are we supposed to just rely on the relief package that our respective governments would provide?”  Here’s another – “Are we going to put our fate and that of our families in the hands of other people when situations like the current health crisis occurs?”

What if the coffers of our governments run dry? What if the usually generous countries would decide not to send aids to other countries because they would want to prioritize the needs of their own citizens? What if the philanthropists and their charitable organizations have nothing more to give? What if we have no friends, relatives,  and loved ones who would (and could) give us the assistance we need? What if we only have ourselves to rely upon because everyone else have their own problems and concerns?

Yes, when COVID-19 cases started to go down some countries lifted (or eased down)  their quarantine measures, economic activities resumed, although in a limited scale only. But as soon as that happened, as soon as more people and more people ventured out of their houses and  started moving to and fro for whatever reasons, statistics on infections and deaths  started to surge again.

So, in light of the aforementioned, what should the governments of concerned countries be doing? Would they choose to preserve the lives of their citizens or resuscitate their dying economies? Should our leaders choose the former, we go back to square one. We go back to being confined in our homes and not capable of earning a living. We go back to relying solely on the support from our governments. That is, if  they still have the resources to distribute to us.  But what if they have nothing more to give?

It is our moral obligation to put ourselves in a position that when everything else fail, we can at least have ourselves to rely upon and that we have sufficient resources to draw from come rain or shine. We should be thankful if our government, our neighbors, our friends, or our relatives would offer help during difficult times but it is our duty as a person with dignity to work smart and hard enough to ensure that even without the help from anybody we (and those who rely on us) will survive.

We have all spring, summer, and fall to prepare for the winter. We should not spend the first three seasons just watching the buds in branches of trees  become leaves  until they become dry and shriveled then fall to the ground. Till the land. Sow the seeds of the kind of crop you want to reap. After the harvest, don’t eat everything. Save some for the winter. Make sure that you saved enough in your barn in case the winter gets longer than usual.

 

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