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BACK TO “OFFLINE CLASSES”

Finally holding classes face-to-face after more than two years was like a breath of fresh air. It was the break that people in our university – students, teaching and non-teaching personnel, and school administrators – so badly needed after months of being segregated because of Covid-19.

But with the pandemic slowly waning, the campus has gradually gone back to life.  The members of the academic community could be seen again walking to and fro inside buildings and pathways.  The queues are back in the university’s bakehouse, cafeteria, and coffee shops. The gym is filled with people, young and old, working out. The basketball and tennis courts are once again noisy.

But there’s no better sign of life and reclaimed semblance of normalcy on the campus than in the classrooms where classes are being held. I had mixed emotions after reading the notice that the university is abandoning online classes and teachers are expected to meet the students for face-to-face classes.

I have no problem with either online or offline education because no matter how teachers deliver learning, virtually or inside the classroom,  they perform the same pedagogical functions – they prepare a lesson plan, set objectives, motivate students, discuss the lessons, give assignments and seatwork, and evaluate learning. So, with the marching orders given – conduct classes face-to-face – I got ready for it.

The truth is I heaved a sigh of relief when the university decided to go back to offline classes. Why? After 5 semesters of online teaching, I discovered that virtual classes are more difficult to handle. I figured out why – I did my online classes synchronously. Things could have been easier for me had I chosen the asynchronous method where all I needed to do is prepare a video presentation and ask the students to watch it. No offense meant to anybody, but I don’t consider that teaching. I don’t feel like performing my pedagogical functions when all I do is prepare videos of my lessons. I feel like shortchanging my students. With the synchronous method, classes are run in real time and the students are attending together from different locations. This version of online teaching gives the students a chance to participate in the discussions and to ask questions if they want and need to. Teachers could guide them when performing graded activities. There is actual real-time interaction between the students and their teachers, something that cannot be done when teachers teach by just uploading videos. Not actually interacting with the students, even only through online platforms is not giving them enough guidance in the learning process. It is risky to rely on the assumption that students are responsible enough to watch the videos and perform the required activities by themselves.

As I said earlier, I had mixed emotions when our university made it mandatory for English teachers to conduct classes offline. I was excited  and at the same time wondering how would it be to conduct face-to-face classes once again. Admittedly, I was a little bit tentative  for I have already gotten used to doing online teaching. But as soon as I stood in front of my students and started talking, everything went seemingly autopilot. I was in familiar territory. The teacher in me went to work without missing a beat. Before I knew it, my first class for the Fall Semester of 2022 was completed.

So, it’s face-to-face classes again. Both I and my students are back in the “real classroom.” I expected the usual things. There might be some classroom management issues  – students using their cellphones and other gadgets, one or two of them sleeping while I am teaching, or what-have-you. These things I address during the first day of class. I would tell them that I am dealing with young adults, not kids, who know what they should and shouldn’t do. Most of the time, it works. I never stopped teaching just to call the attention of the students using their cell phones or to arouse the students who fell asleep. Rarely those happened anyway.

There are times a student might come late and I need to decide whether to just excuse them or strictly implement the attendance policies of the university. If it’s only one absence, I strike it off the record especially if the student’s explanation as to why they came late I deem acceptable. I am almost certain also that a number of them would ask me to change their grades for one reason or another… something that unfortunately I would never do. I give my students the grades they deserve. I check and double-check their scores before I encode them into the university’s portal.

It really felt great seeing the students again in the classroom. But while we may have reverted back to face-to-face mode of delivering education, I wouldn’t say that I went back to the traditional way of delivering my pedagogical functions. If there is one great thing the pandemic taught me it is optimizing the use of computer and information technology in everything that I do as a teacher. Even before the pandemic, I relied heavily on computer-aided instruction. I used PPT for my lectures and instead of using chalk or board marker when needing to write something in addition to what I have on my presentation, I would use a blank slide.

I have gone completely paperless for the assessment and evaluation of my students’ performance. I am using the Google form for all my tests, quizzes, assignments, and  graded exercises. It is through the university’s portal that I send my students link to those Google forms. They take them using their cell phones, tablets, or laptops. The Google form has features that could be used to prevent and discourage students from sharing answers.

Even the submission of course requirements (projects, homework, etc.) should be done virtually as well. I created an electronic portfolio for each student using the Google Drive folder where they can drag and drop  (upload) whatever they need to submit. I also created a common class folder (through Google Drive) where I upload lectures, reviewers, and other documents and files related to the course).

Except for the “paperless” assessment and evaluation of students’ performance, all of the foregoing are things I have been doing before the pandemic. I just figured that as a 21st century teacher teaching 21st century skills, knowledge, and values to 21st century students, it is my obligation to embrace computer and information technology so I could be more efficient in the performance of my duties and obligations as a teacher.

Online Teaching Is Still Teaching

As most schools continue to hold classes online because of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s one question that needs to be answered – “Which is the MORE APPROPRIATE AND BETTER way to teach online – upload a class video for the students to watch or meet the students online via WEBEX, ZOOM, GOOGLE MEET, or any other virtual learning platforms?

Instead of answering the question directly, let me just share my views about online learning.

Teachers 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 or preoccupied 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.

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 as a teacher). Supposedly, you should also know that for every topic you present to the 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 rocket science.

After setting the learning objectives (and planning other teaching-learning activities), what should you do? I know that you know (hopefully) what comes next after the planning – instruction. Simply put – 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 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.

Don’t tell me that students prefer just watching videos over attending actual online classes. Of course, they would prefer that because it’s convenient for them. But teaching is not a matter of choosing which strategies the students consider comfortable for them. Teaching is choosing which methods are best for them. It’s choosing which ones could maximize learning, which ones would lead to the attainment of the objectives of the course.

Now, let me continue.

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, exercises, assignments, tests, and other methods of assessment. But don’t forget that like instructionassessment 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.

Now, what do you think is my answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this article?

Wishing Classes Would Still Be Online

For the next semester, I would still prefer that classes are held online instead of face-to-face. Why?

Not because  online classes result in better learning. There is no conclusive evidence as to which of the two is more efficient when it comes to delivering education.  Research findings of comparative studies made between online and face-to-face classes are inconclusive  with some saying one benefits students better than the other while others claim that there’s no significant difference at all on their effects on learning.

Not also because online classes are more convenient for teachers. On the contrary, I consider teaching online more challenging than the traditional method. I am a teacher and whether online or otherwise  it is my obligation to perform the following: set objectives and ensure that they are achieved; cover each topic enumerated in the syllabus; motivate students and elicit their participation; give assignments, check them, and show the students the results;  and assess and measure learning.

Doing anything less than the foregoing, either in the traditional classroom or in the virtual set-up,  is short-changing the students. It’s a disservice to the teaching profession. But doing them all online is easier said than done. Performing those pedagogical functions online tested to the hilt my creativity and resourcefulness. I had to dig deeper into my bag of tricks. My patience was truly tested.

The truth is I really want to go back to the classroom to teach. But why do  I wish we could have our classes still online next semester?

Simple – the coronavirus is still like Damocles sword hanging over our heads. You’ll never know when it would drop and deliver a deadly infection. In short, it’s still risky to hold face-to-face classes especially with the current Covid-19 variants proving to be more transmissible and with full vaccination still yet to be achieved.

So,  should classes be held online again next semester, I don’t mind having my creativity and resourcefulness getting tested further if that would mean ensuring that all stakeholders in the academe, especially the students, are safe and sound.

In preparation for the possibility of virtual learning again for the autumn semester, I have replenished my bag with new tricks over the summer and  I think my patience would no longer be tested. In the past three semesters, I have gained the needed experience and insights about online teaching and learning that I think there’s nothing more that would surprise me. 

By now, I am aware of the behavior of students when attending classes virtually.  I know how to deal with them. I know what to expect from the students and what not to.

Additionally, through self-study and the generosity of a techie friend,  I came to learn what I needed to learn, technology-wise,  to make my first venture into  online teaching easier. I don’t mean that I embraced the use of technology for teaching for the first time during the pandemic. Ever since I  have been trying to learn as best as I could how to apply information and communication technologies in my classes. But when the university (where I am currently teaching now) switched to virtual learning, they provided platforms (Cisco Webex and the university’s E-class) for online teaching which I was unfamiliar with then. That I had to learn. And I did.

During the spring semester last year (2020), the time online classes in our university  started, the biggest challenge I faced  was the marking/grading of assignments, projects, quizzes, and tests and ensure the reliability and validity of the results. I overcame that dilemma  by learning to use the Google form together with an app that allows the setting of time limits.  The setting of time limits is necessary in order to avoid cheating in any form.  And to avoid the possibility of cheating, I targeted higher-order thinking skills (evaluating, analyzing, and creating) in my tests and other graded activities.  It may not be 100% foolproof, thus, at the beginning of the semester, I always explain to my students the importance of intellectual honesty.

I also used the Google drive folder to create an electronic portfolio for each of my students. In their individual Google drive folders  is where they upload their assignments and course requirements. That is also where I give them feedback and show them the results of tests and other graded activities.  

I think I am now more equipped to do online teaching. So, if ever our university decides to not conduct face-to-face classes yet, I am ready.

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