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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.

HOW COVID-19 AFFECTED MY FAITH

(A Personal Essay)

Everybody in the world is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Either directly or indirectly, people have felt (and are still feeling) the effects. The directive of authorities to stay at home and to observe social distancing when going out may seem to be very simple orders. But they are not.  The socio-economic impact of those directives is huge. And yes, they have psychological effects too.

 Personally, I felt (and still feeling) the effects. Gatherings in all kinds of establishments are either limited to only a few people or none at all. Even places where people are known to congregate – like churches – are either closed or could operate but not to full capacity. 

With churches either closed or could accept church-goers limitedly, spiritual growth has become one of the casualties of the coronavirus. For people pursuing a religious life, that’ a big deal.

 My mother and my grandmother, both devout Catholics,  taught me and my sibling the value of faith. I was a teacher  for a total of 11 years in 2 Catholic colleges in the Philippines where faith, obviously, is an integral part of their culture. I don’t know if that made me a religious person. What I am sure of is this – it strengthened my faith in God.

My religious life, in one way or another, was affected by the ongoing pandemic. For a certain period of time that gatherings, especially in large groups,  were not allowed in all kinds of institutions, including religious ones.

Consequently, the clergy decided to hold church services online. The faithful were asked to join. I did. It was different. I could not feel the solemnity of the ceremony. There were plenty of distractions. It was difficult to focus on worship.

Then came the time when government authorities allowed small group gatherings. After that, the church announced the resumption of the holding of masses.

Admittedly, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about attending face to face masses. Yes, I consider it essential to go to church not only to honor my spiritual obligations but also to listen to the words of God and commune with fellow-believers. But with COVID-19 perilously hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles, I consider it too risky to travel and to be with other people inside any place notwithstanding all the precautions being instituted to ensure the safety of everyone.

But there were Sunday nights, after not attending a mass, when I questioned myself. Did I choose not to go to church because of fear that I might get infected by the virus or am I using the virus as an excuse not to honor my spiritual obligation? Am I really afraid of the virus or is it a case of my desire to worship God waning? Has my faith got infected also by the coronavirus?

The COVID-19 seems to be deadlier than how it was projected by our scientists and epidemiologists. It does not only compromise our immune system but seemingly it could also weaken us psychologically. There are now known and recorded cases of  emotional and mental breakdowns caused by the virus. And the worst – it could  also penetrate our souls down to the very foundations of our faith.  If I am not going to be aware of this, I may end up alive when this health crisis is over but my faith could be dead.

The ongoing pandemic is fiercely challenging the indomitability of the human spirit. It has put my spirituality to a test – a test that I should not fail. Overcoming the difficulties and challenges we are now facing require all form of toughness – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. I know that for me to survive I need to strongly believe in myself and more importantly in God. I have to keep the flames of my faith burning so I may have the light that will guide me as I walk the path darkened by the current challenges and hardships humanity is experiencing because of the COVID-19.

I noticed how the coronavirus is attacking the foundations of my spiritual life – how it is trying to erode my faith. How it effectively instilled in me the fear of getting infected thus I am either hesitant or afraid to venture outside of my home. Some may say this is totally understandable (and it should be what each of us really needs to do) because science is telling us how unpredictable this virus is. The church where I go maybe safe because of the precautions being undertaken by both the clergy and the lay helping them in managing the place of worship. But what about the distance that I have to cover to get to the church? The places I need to pass through, the buses I take (because I don’t have a private vehicle), and the people I meet along the way – am I safe from them (and them from me)? Is my face mask enough to protect me (and them)?

When I thought of all the foregoing,  I had to ask myself – Am I not just trying to justify my failure to perform my spiritual obligation – my duty to worship Him in His holy house?

The Church is some kind of an umbilical cord that connects the faithful to God and the coronavirus is seemingly threatening to cut it. Shall I allow this to happen? There were times that  as a believer I went to the extreme of thinking that COVID-19 is being used by the devil to create a wall between me and my God.  

But one time, after hearing more horrible news about the coronavirus, I tried to re-examine my life. I was surprised with what I have noticed is happening to me. Somehow, this pandemic has also done something good to my spiritual life. Let me explain.

The coronavirus may have made me hesitant, if not afraid, to go to church but it pushed me to seek God more than the way I used to before the pandemic. I became more prayerful. I did not just pray more frequently but also the nature of my prayers changed. Before, I would only pray for myself and my family. But since the coronavirus started its reign of terror, I learned to pray for my friends as well, for my neighbors, and for my countrymen, and for all my fellowmen.

COVID-19 taught me not only to pray unselfishly but to become more cognizant of the pains and sufferings of my fellowmen – especially those who are infected by the virus and those whose livelihood suffered because of the measures government officials in all the countries affected by the pandemic had to implement in order to curb the spread of the virus.

The pandemic taught me to care. But the more I cared the more I felt helpless because I realized there is nothing I could do for them, for those who are suffering… except to pray. The only thing I could do for my friends, neighbors, countrymen, and my fellowmen is to implore God, to ask Him to forgive us for our sins – if it is our sinfulness that caused this contagion to come down upon us so fiercely and unrelenting. All I can do is to pray that may the good Lord embrace us once more with His infinite mercy and love and put an end to this ongoing health crisis.

I probably have never prayed any harder and I have never cared more for my fellow human beings the way that I do now. The more I prayed to God for everybody affected directly or indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic, the stronger my empathy towards my fellowmen grew. That while I may be thankful to God that all of my beloved ones are safe and healthy, my heart is bleeding because the virus continues to wreak havoc in different parts of the world infecting millions and killing thousands. That while I am thankful that I continue to be employed and have a steady source of income, I deeply sympathize with all my brothers and sisters in different parts of the world who lost their jobs or closed their businesses because of the ongoing pandemic.   

How cruel and disheartening it is to see children getting orphaned, people going hungry and helpless, and dreams getting shattered. How painful it is to know that I could do nothing for them but to pray that may God put an end to all these miseries in the soonest possible time.

It took a pandemic for my spiritual life to take this very significant turn. Aside from learning to pray harder and to care for others, and to have empathy for other people it made me more introspective. I have never reflected on life the way that I have been doing it nowadays.

It seems that I have joined a retreat since the pandemic turned from bad to worst. I reflect on life.  Seeing vibrant and healthy people suddenly succumbing to death has reminded me of how fragile life is. Only God knows when am I going to breathe my last. So, I have to live life to the fullest. I have to live it in a way He would see my faithfulness and allow all my hair to grow gray before I see my last sunset.

The other thing that the current pandemic made me take notice of are the things I have been taking for granted.  I was never remiss of my duties as a father to my children, husband to my wife, and a son to my parents. I always send them the money they need. But I am not sure if I am making them feel loved. It was only during this pandemic that I took time to make a conscious effort to talk to them longer, to make them feel that I long for their presence. It has become easier for me now to say that I love them and that I care.

This is one of the great things that resulted from the coronavirus scare – families becoming closer. During the times that people couldn’t (and shouldn’t) go out, family members had a chance to talk to each other longer. And the best part is this – they also learned to pray together.

It reminded me of my mother who required me and my siblings when we were kids to be home for Angelus at 6:00 PM every day. After the Angelus, we would be praying the rosary. Faith in God is perhaps the best value my mother instilled in me.

When after a long time I decided to attend mass again, it was a wonderful experience. I felt a surge of enthusiasm when we started singing the hymns. I experienced  rejuvenation as I hear the scriptures being read and the homily being delivered.

When the priest delivered his final blessings, I felt a different kind of joy that is hard to explain.

 After all, we can choose to view the COVID-19 pandemic using a positive perspective. Some good things came out of it. Remember Romans 8:28, “We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose.”

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