Before we adopt e-learning

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has claimed  139,378 lives and 2,074,529 people have been confirmed to have the virus as of 10:00 CEST, 17 April 2020. Some countries are under partial or full lockdown. Education institutions in 167 countries, territories and areas have been forced to shut down to prevent the further spread of the virus. Education institutions have now adopted e-learning approach. In this blog, I argue that before institutions and countries adopt e-learning, they need to train teachers in e-teaching and learning, development mechanisms to support students, and develop material that is necessary for e-learning. Much of what I am going to be sharing is drawn from my personal experience with e-learning and my observations.

Teacher Support

The teachers that have been hired by the various educational institutions are very good at their job. Their dedication and commitment to providing quality teaching to our students cannot be questioned. I will just take a wild guess that most of the teachers, if not all of them, were trained to teach in a face to face context. This, therefore, means that the teachers might not be equipped to handle online teaching. It will be very important to organize support sessions for teachers. The sessions I would propose should focus on the technical aspects and the culture of online learning. The technologies used might be new to the teachers it is therefore important that they get trained to handle and be comfortable with the technology. Learning the technology when a teacher is teaching a class disrupts a class. The culture of online learning is not the same as offline learning. Teachers, therefore, need to be familiar with the e-learning culture. Mastering of the technology and the e-learning culture should help teachers deliver their classes better.

I would propose that teacher support must be ongoing and not a once-off.

Student Support

Psychological support of students 

We need to be aware that the adoption of e-learning has been done in the context of COVID-19. Some students are shaken up by the daily updates they get about COVID-19. Other students have lost loved ones, or they know someone who has the virus. In some cases, the student might be the patient of COVID-19. They are economic pressures that have come because of COVID-19 and these students are caught up in this. In short, they are many moving pieces during these COVID-19 times, and this also affects the psychology of the student. To, therefore, do e-learning without developing mechanisms that provide special support for students during these times might do more damage to the students than good. To add academic pressure to students who are already under pressure due to COVID-19 related stress might just lead to the shutdown of some students. It is therefore important to think about various support mechanisms within the e-learning framework to provide support to students.

Scaffolding

Beyond the support proposed above, students need support with their learning. Let me give you an example of a scenario, and I will leave you to be the judge.

A teacher creates a group where she adds  her students. Here is a book that you must read chapters 1 to 12. If you have any questions about any of these chapters send me an email. Here are some journal articles to read. Write an assignment based on the topics that I have provided in the course outline. This assignment will contribute to 40% of your assessment. Later, you will make a presentation to the rest of the class. The presentation will contribute to 60% of your assessment. This is how you are going to be assessed during this course. The lecturer disappears and then appears 10 weeks later. I know this scenario is not new to some students who have been part of offline classes. I have heard stories of lecturers who barely introduce a course, provide students with course outline and reading materials, and only show up two weeks before essays are due to collect assignments from the students and brief the students on the coming examinations. The justification is that this is college and not a secondary school where I must spoon-feed students.

I don’t know about other people, but I am one person who benefits from a combination of lectures and my own reading. I would have to do prereading, attend a lecture, and do post-lecture reading to fully understand the material. I know that I am not the only one who functions this way. I would, therefore, propose, that for the sake of people like me that teacher support needs to be available during online classes. Leaving students to do everything on their own in the name of e-learning might just not help the students.

Quality of the teaching and learning materials

How do we develop materials for online learning? Well! Let us just upload the lecturers that we have been recording using lecture capture over the past few years. This is a cost-effective mechanism for the education institution for sure, but will this help the student? Let us go back to the objective of  recording lectures. I might be wrong, but the last time I checked, lectures were recorded as a way of helping students to get back to the lecture in case they missed something. In short, the lecture capture was designed to supplement classroom learning. Therefore, you will notice that the quality of the recording might not always be the best. This means the audio and visual must be clear. If someone is using a PowerPoint presentation, we must be able to see what is on the PowerPoint.

Engagement 

Have you ever attended a presentation where someone had 50+ slides that seem to be filled like a word document, and he wanted to present all of them to you? What was your reaction? Did you enjoy the session? Now, do we expect people to enjoy this just because it is now online?

I have attended some live zoom class sessions and meetings where I had to force myself to concentrate. The presenter was making a PowerPoint presentation which had over 50 slides, and he was driven to take us through all the slides for about 2 hours. I might be wrong, but I am sure that I was not the only one who didn’t appreciate this 2-hour monologue. I would, therefore, propose that live classes have to be at least less than 90 minutes long, and there has to be a high level of interaction during the classes. Have activities that will ensure that your students are actively engaged. Before they know it, 90 minutes is over.

Another way to increase engagement is to diversify the content. Have audios, videos, discussions, surveys etc. to constantly keep people engaged.

Providing clear instructions 

Professor, what is it exactly that you want us to do on this assignment? This is one question; I have seen being raised in different classes during my online learning. This is after students have read the documents developed by the lecturer with instructions, but they still don’t understand. Normally, in a classroom scenario, teachers will come to explain instructions in clear detail to ensure that everyone is on the same page, but with online, it seems people believe that a word document will do the trick. This might not always be the case.

Time difference

A few weeks ago, I had a class that was scheduled for 8:00 am (GMT+8). This was 2:00am(GMT+2). I tried to attend the first class at 2:00 am, and I kept dozing throughout the class. My classmates and I talked to the Professor, who was very understanding, and we managed to work around the time. When developing the class timetable for e-learning especially for live sessions make sure that time differences are taken into consideration.

These are among some of the things that need to be considered during the e-learning massive adoption. Institutions have to focus on the teachers, the teaching and the students. These are not the only issues to think about. We can think about the digital divide of our students too which I believe fellow bloggers have written extensively on. This article was written for those who have access to technology already.

 

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