After sinking or swimming in the virtual world of remote education, many teachers will probably look back at 2020 as when they learnt how to use most of the digital tools in the shortest of time. Some may look back and remember it as a time when they first recognised the English language ability of certain students that had previously gone unnoticed. Others might have concluded that completing the curriculum should not be their one and only goal and that their students also needed them for maintaining a level of wellbeing.
In fact, wellbeing has taken centre-stage for many people in 2020. Suddenly having to spend hours in front of their laptops; learning new tools; dealing with technical issues alone; working while sharing their home space; not wanting their students to see what their home looked like; experiencing lockdown, all heightened the need for wellbeing. An ELT friend of mine described it as being like “camping in a call centre”. Camping because he sat down with a flask of hot coffee (knowing he would not have time to prepare himself fresh cups), and a call centre because of the hours spent in front of his laptop talking via his headset.
There are clearly many lessons to be learnt and changes that educators and educational institutes can make to move forward in a positive way since remote learning is here to stay. We must ensure that our students’ and teachers’ emotional needs are met while considering the role our communities play in the future of education.
Building on lessons learnt
It has become clear that face-to-face education cannot simply be transferred online. If you used to teach 21 hours of English a week at your institution, it is important to analyse how much of that needs to be online. Do 100% of classes need to be face-to-face (physically or virtually)? How much can be blended, so that some things can be done by the learner after having received and understood instructions? Below are some suggestions on what can be done differently.
- How can we convey language virtually? The teacher is essential for the warm-up, lead-in activity to introduce the theme, topic or language, but s/he can support students to achieve the rest asynchronously.
- Activities involving interaction can be done asynchronously with students working together online (recorded) or using a chat function which can be kept as a screenshot. This evidence of collaborative work can be sent to the teacher and used towards a portfolio of work. Tasks should incorporate creative skills, rather than only focus on knowledge or accuracy of language.
- Later stages of the lesson can be recorded by the teacher for students to view at another time, to check answers or summarise what the learning points were. Monitoring could be done when students send in their group ideas – using audio or video from a Zoom, Microsoft Teams or a Google Doc that they have all contributed to.
- Students who do not have the equipment or reliable connectivity to ‘meet’ their peers remotely still need the opportunity to learn collaboratively. When possible, provide opportunities for groups to come together at school in a safe manner (hand-washing, wearing masks, physically distant, etc). This would help those who have difficulty with remote education while allowing them to collaborate with the rest of their classmates online. This is becoming known as a ‘hybrid class’.
- Last, but not least, don’t forget the textbook! If you are working with a set textbook your students should have it, so make use of it instead of recreating the wheel. But make sure that you provide open extension activities they can move forward with remotely so they can use some creativity while at home. Learning is not about simply learning knowledge and facts, there are other skills that students must develop, have fun with and discover they have.
The educational institutes and communities:
- Physical teaching materials can be printed off by the school or institution and made available for the parents/students with connectivity issues that week (for whatever reason). The adults should then be able to visit the school reception and collect the relevant education materials for themselves / their child. These could be packaged in envelopes labelled with the name of the student and parent(s).
- Smooth and regular communication between the institution, students, and parents is vital. A digital platform is the best and most reliable way of achieving this. Institutions should consult their teachers, students and parents when selecting a platform that will suit everybody’s needs. An unsuitable platform adds unjust pressures and additional workload to already time-deficient teachers!
- Parents should be invited to practical demonstrations of how to access the platform so that they do not struggle alone with it – online demonstrations would save time and resources.
- An institute needs to be mindful of the increased burden for the teacher in maintaining good communication with students/parents. – The time, electricity, mobile data, reliable internet are essential for remote teachers. Institutes are in a good position to negotiate packages with internet providers for their schools and teachers.
- If teachers are expected to offer blended or remote learning, the institute should make sure they have the correct hardware/software to do so.
- Partnering with a local radio or TV station, to transmit live classes to their students without digital connectivity would help institutions avoid the cost of platforms or dependence on unreliable internet connections.
Respecting and valuing wellbeing:
- Local restrictions allowing, the teacher can use the connectivity and resources available in their institution, by delivering education online from the school classroom. – Students with connectivity issues are invited to join the teacher in a hybrid class (as described above). This can also solve some teachers’ problems with delivering remote classes from home.
- Ask teachers if they prefer online or face-to-face education. There may be some who learnt to teach in a non-digital age and may struggle to deal with remote teaching. Thus delivering face-to-face classes could help to maintain their wellbeing. Those who particularly enjoy digital teaching could be assigned to teach purely remotely. Those who are somewhere in between the two could split their teaching hours between school and home. The most technically advanced teachers could provide professional development training for their colleagues on how to use certain educational digital tools efficiently, or suggest online professional courses to participate in. This also gives the teachers an opportunity to (physically distantly) meet and compare their experiences and thoughts on students’ progress.
The new normal for education:
We should therefore not be returning to business as usual, but taking the opportunity to innovate and allow our students to learn in different ways; at different paces; in a more autonomous manner. This can be done while respecting their social and emotional needs, harnessing the responsibilities of parents and communities, and ensuring the wellbeing of our teachers. Covid-19 has highlighted some inequalities, but it is up to us whether we now make the changes to even them out.
Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?
Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?
Are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?
Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.