Category Archives: Online Teaching

The Challenges of Online Teaching

After a semester of online teaching, teachers can now be asked which one they would prefer when classes resume after the summer break – to teach online or face-to-face.

Answers may vary depending on what kind of experiences teachers had during the recently-concluded spring semester or how seriously they carried out their pedagogical functions when their respective schools decided to deliver learning through the online platform.

Having gone through what I have experienced during the spring semester, I have much to say about online teaching. I could sum them up in one word – challenging. If I want to I could also say which one I would prefer when the fall semester begins –  online  or face-to-face teaching? But I wouldn’t for  it won’t matter. Why? Because whether  schools would still do online teaching or go back to the classrooms for traditional classes is not contingent upon which one the teachers (or even the students and school officials) prefer but what their  government leaders would tell the academic community to do based on the status of the current pandemic.

So, if the marching order is for me to teach online, I should follow – the way a good soldier would. The question to ask therefore should not be whether the teachers prefer to teach online or in the classrooms. The “essential” question is whether or not they are ready should the situation next semester warrants  that for the safety and well-being of everybody, most especially the students, they should teach online again.

When the current school year started, many teachers were probably caught by surprise when out of the blue their schools announced that classes would  be held online. Nobody saw the coronavirus coming. By the time COVID-19 started spreading in different parts of the world, schools already had plans laid out for this school year. Such plans were changed factoring the effects of what eventually became a pandemic.

The academe was left with not choice but to switch to remote learning.

Now, let’s answer the following question: Did the teachers really have only a few weeks to prepare for online teaching?

I don’t think so!

They had all the time in the past.

In one of my previous essays about online teaching, I asserted the following:

“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.”

Take it from HG Wells – “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” The landscape of education is very dynamic, it keeps changing. Most of the changes are driven by advances in communication and information technology. Teachers will be doing their profession a disservice should they not adapt. 

Based on what I have personally experienced, online teaching is very challenging. I actually consider it more difficult than teaching in the classroom.

Remember that online teaching will test not only the extent of your accumulated knowledge and skills in communication and information technology but also how you incorporate such knowledge and skills in pedagogy, in the major activities that teachers do – planning, instruction and assessment.

Online teaching is not only a matter of learning how to use video conferencing applications. Video conferencing is only the tip of the iceberg called online teaching. As I emphasized 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.  It will definitely test the limits of your creativity, resourcefulness, and patience.

A Difficult Challenge

elThis is about the most difficult challenge I faced when our university switched to online teaching due to the COVID-19 crisis. I had not much trouble with the technical aspects and logistics. I may not be a digital native but I know that the ability to create, evaluate, and effectively utilize information, media and technology are required 21st century skills that teachers are expected to possess. So, I tried my best to acquire them.

What’s the difficult challenge then?

Online teaching is still teaching. This is what I reiterated in a previous essay that I wrote. Teachers should find a way to achieve the objectives of the course/s they are teaching, cover the topics enumerated in the syllabus, discuss the lessons, give assignments, and assess learning. They should find a way to motivate the students and elicit their participation even if it is through online that they are teaching. Of all these things that teachers need to do when teaching using the online platform, what I found most difficult to do  is assessment. Determining whether or not students learn and measuring the extent of the learning they had is very challenging.

And here is how I navigated around that difficult challenge…

The university where I am teaching now provided us with two platforms to use for online teaching – Cisco Webex and E~Class.

We meet our students online through  Cisco Webex.  In addition,  the E~Class, a part of the university’s portal, allows professors to upload course materials in whatever electronic format, give assignments and tests, and communicate with students. It has functions that allow the submission of students’ assignments and other graded course requirements and the corresponding marking/grading of the same.

During the first week of (online) classes, I tried to check an assignment submitted by one of my students through E~Class. Going through the many steps to open, mark/check, and grade the assignment took time. With me handling more than 140 students and if each of them, in a particular week, will have an assignment or two, the checking/marking would be time-consuming. I figured it would be better and easier if the students write whatever course requirements I assign using MS Word  for the reason that the said word-processing application has an “Insert-Comment” function that would allow me to directly mark/check  the students’ paperwork without clicking on too many buttons.

So, I asked my students to use MS Word when doing their assignments instead of doing them directly in the assignment section of the E~Class.

After that, I directed the students to send their assignments to me through email and not through E~Class anymore.

Then I discovered that such was not a wise move.

During the first week, my G-mail account was flooded with emails from students and I found it too difficult to organize their assignments and sort them per class. A few of my students  even used HWP and PDF. I had to tell them to use MS Word only for I could no longer find time to find out if HWP and PDF have that “Insert-Comment” function that MS Word has.  I got worried that I probably made the process of marking/checking course requirements and returning them to students more difficult than just doing everything through E~Class.

I summoned the gods and goddesses  of creativity and resourcefulness.

They responded.

I recalled that a friend sent to me some documents before through Google Drive. That was the first time I used Google Drive. I called that friend and asked if it is possible to share with a person a Google Drive folder/subfolder  and both of us (only) could access that folder/subfolder. The answer was yes. My problem was solved.

I created a Google Drive folder for each of the classes assigned to me this (spring) semester. After that, I created individual subfolders for each member of the class. It was tedious but it is the best way I could organize the assignments (and other requirements) of my students.

Individual Class Folders

Individual Class Folders

In the process, I had to require them to create Gmail accounts  so creating (and accessing) the Google Drive folder would be easier. As a result, starting the second week of the semester, they were not sending their assignments to my email anymore. The flood of e-mails in my G-mail account subsided. All they need to do is to open their Google Drive folder and drag and drop to the subfolder we are sharing whatever I require them to submit.

If they want to know their scores and whatever feedback I had for them regarding their assignments, all they need to do is to open the subfolder (we are sharing) in their Google Drive folder. I realized then that I just created something similar to a digital student portfolio.

Capture

Individual Student Subfolders Inside a Class Folder

In the past, I require students to maintain a portfolio. I asked them to submit to me a folder (South Korean students call it “file”), with their name, student number and class code. In those folders, they keep the results of their quizzes, exercises, tests, and other graded activities. I keep in my office those folders and bring them to class when we meet so they could check their own scores and see how are they performing. It enables them to track their own progress. They can literally determine weekly how many of the 100 grade points they need for the course they already have. That’s possible  because at the beginning of the semester I give my students a grade checklist/guide  and transmutation tables and teach them how to manually compute their own grades. So, I make sure that I mark/check  their quizzes, exercises, and whatever I require them to submit before our next meeting. If I also need to communicate something (related to our course) to specific students, I would insert notes in their individual folders.

With the Google Drive folder/subfolder, my portfolio system just turned digital.

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Contents of an Individual Student Subfolder

I next tried to figure out how to give those quizzes and tests online.  The challenge was how to make the results of such quizzes and tests valid and reliable given the fact that it would be very easy for the students to open their notes while taking quizzes and tests because I am not there beside them to watch what they are doing.

It’s easy (and difficult at the same time) – create test items that require comprehension and analysis. Avoid creating questions or test items they could easily answer by simply glancing at their review guides. The items I created should make their higher order thinking skills work. The quizzes and tests should prompt the students to apply what they learned and not simply write down in their answer sheets things they have memorized.

I initially thought of giving the quizzes and tests through the Survey Monkey, the online survey tool that I am using when I conduct  online surveys for my research works. The tool (Survey Monkey) would do the checking and all I need to do is generate a summary report for the scores – the same things I did when I want to get the summary results of the surveys I conducted in the past. But during the 2nd week of classes I had an epiphany that I could actually give quizzes and tests through Cisco Webex but had to require the students to immediately drag and drop their answer sheets to their Google Drive folder/subfolder in order to maintain the integrity of the testing. It’s a process simpler and more practical than what I thought doing through Survey Monkey.

I tried it. I gave my first quiz through Cisco Webex. Through the “shared screen” of the application’s environment, I opened the PowerPoint file that contains the items for my first quiz. I jokingly told myself then that it was something historical – it was my first quiz in the COVID-19 era. I gave them 10 minutes to finish the 10-item vocabulary quiz. That’s the same amount of time we give our students for their quizzes during face to face  classes. That’s a very long time for my “advance” students but just enough for the “not-so-advance” among them. For the dragging and dropping of the answer sheets to their Google Drive folder, I gave them an additional 3 minutes, although I know that the process of dragging and dropping files to a Google Drive folder could be done in a minute or less. It was a trial of sort,  so I was a little bit generous with the time allotment. And yes,  it was a success.

What if they attempt to change their answers anytime after the quiz? They can do that easily because they have access to their own folders. But my students know that if they change anything on the answer sheets they drag/drop to the folders we are  sharing, the Google Drive folder has features that would allow me to see the exact date and time changes were made. No changes are allowed after the time allotment I gave for dragging and dropping. I told them that changing anything in their quizzes and tests beyond the designated time of submission will be considered cheating. And they know the consequences for cheating.

To prevent my students from sharing with their friends in my other classes the information about the quizzes and tests I am giving them, I made sure that I prepare different sets of quizzes and tests for every class. In addition, I am not using quiz/test items from the item bank  that the department where I belong created for the quizzes and tests of expat ESL teachers like me. I created my own quizzes and tests.

Now, all of my students have their own Google Drive folders where all of their assignments, short and long tests, and their projects are put together. There they can check their scores and read my feedback anytime they want.

Which is easier to check/mark, the digital copies or the hard copies of  students’ assignments, exercises, quizzes, and tests? The answer is – the hard copies. The digital copies take longer to check/mark. I go an extra mile doing it. This is the other reason I consider assessment as the most challenging part of online teaching.

ONLINE TEACHING IS STILL TEACHING

Online learningTeachers like me should understand this – online teaching is still teaching. It’s not a magic trick that we are using to keep the students entertained while we are waiting for the COVID-19 crisis to dissipate. It should not be treated as a band-aid solution to the problem of not being able to meet the students face-to-face in the campus.

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. This is the time to use your creativity and resourcefulness.

Be reminded of the three major activities teachers do – planning, instruction, and assessment. Pedagogy – the art, science, or profession of teaching – remains the same, with or without COVID-19. The virus is not an excuse for you not to perform to the fullest your duties and responsibilities as a teacher.

The most important part of the planning process is the setting of learning objectives. Whatever you do as a teacher, online or otherwise, should be grounded on the objectives of the course. There are course objectives and there are unit objectives (or goals). You should know this if you are really trained to be a teacher (and was not just plucked from certain geographical locations of the world to pose or as a teacher). Supposedly, you should also know that for every topic you present to your students you also have objectives (or goals), right?

It is only when you are well-grounded on the objectives (course-unit-topic) that you should begin teaching – online or otherwise. You’d better not teach if not  because you will become the embodiment of “the blind leading the blind.”

So, online or otherwise, you should be guided by the objectives of the course and of the specific units listed in the syllabus. There are times that even the objectives (goals) for each topic under specific units are provided by the school where you are teaching. If not, then it is your duty as a teacher to create them. Don’t whine, it’s part of your job. You signed up for it. And come on, creating learning objectives (goals) is not a rocket science.

After setting the learning objectives (and planned other teaching-learning activities), what should you do? I know that you know (hopefully) what comes next after the planninginstruction. Simply putting it – after the setting of objectives – you TEACH.

In case you have forgotten let me remind you of the definition of instruction – “the purposeful direction of the learning process.” The main aim of instruction, online or otherwise, is learning. Don’t forget that. So, whether your meet your students “face-to-face” or through any of the different platforms online, you have to teach them purposefully. We have different views. Rest assured that I respect yours. But for me, just uploading videos is not (online) teaching, no matter how sophisticated are the videos you create. Videos cannot carry out the multi-faceted role of the teacher. Videos, at best, are just supplementary learning materials.

After setting the objectives, you teach. After that, what comes next?

Answer – assessment. Call it testing to make it simple.

After teaching, online or otherwise, you need to determine whether or not your students learned through quizzes, exercise, assignments, tests, and other methods of assessment. But don’t forget that like instruction, assessment should also be purposeful. You don’t dump in the laps of your students all those academic works for the purpose of making them busy and simply to comply with course requirements. Education doesn’t work that way.  You will use their scores in whatever you require them to do or submit to measure the extent of their learning, to evaluate how efficient are your teaching methods and strategies, and to determine if the course/unit/topic objectives are met.

There are two more important reminders for those who are teaching online. Firstly, don’t forget that you are not supposed to give your students assignments and tests on topics you did not discuss and thoroughly explained.  And secondly, make sure to mark/grade each of your students’ tests and assignments. All marked/graded course requirements should be returned to the students. They need to be given feedback on their performance.

So, online or otherwise, when you are a teacher, be a teacher. Set your objectives, teach, and assess. Even if you’re holding the class online, you still need to motivate your students and elicit their participation. Do all those things purposefully.

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The biggest challenge I faced in online teaching is the marking/grading of assignments, projects, quizzes, and tests.

Here is how I dealt with it.

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