It is no secret to everyone that in this year of 2020, the COVID-19 virus has managed to successfully take over our contemporary lives in all aspects. Most people would probably agree that a majority of changes occurred when it comes to our social lives, as well as when it comes to our education. Luckily, technological tools such as “zoom” have more or less allowed teachers and students to continue their work throughout the academic year and there were many discussions on how online schooling has influenced students’ level of motivation or overall performance.
However, there hasn’t been a lot of discussions on how teachers who are actually giving the lessons, are affected by this relatively new digitalised method of education.
That’s why I conducted an email interview with one of our Communication Science teachers from the University of Amsterdam, in order to find out more about what being an educator during a global pandemic is like.
How has online-teaching in your experience been so far? What are the advantages and disadvantages that you’ve noticed?
“Teaching online has been challenging but also rewarding somehow. Obviously, not seeing students face-to-face takes something away from the entire teaching experience and it is much more difficult to keep students engaged. As a teacher, I am always worried that having a screen between students and teachers would keep students in a different ‘mental zone’, thus less able to learn and stay motivated on the long run. I know that being on a computer during a moment such a lecture is highly distracting: students can chat, be somewhere else on their browser, and we as teachers would never notice. However, it is also true that it is possible to keep everybody accountable. Softwares like Zoom allow teachers to check on students right away in case of troubles and questions, and it is possible to share links and interesting materials on the go, as well as using the features of online calls such as breakout rooms and screen-sharing.”
Have you noticed any differences in how you and your colleagues perceive your students or in how you perceive education in general?
“Not really. We keep putting at the center the quality of education for our students, no matter the media through which it happens. I have been personally surprised by how strong the relationship between students and teacher can be, even though almost every interaction is online. Maybe because of these trying times, I noticed that everybody has been putting a lot of effort also in interpersonal relationships, among teachers and between teachers and students.”
Are you content with how your university/educational institution has organized online-teaching?
“The department of Communication Science at the UvA really did its best. There are many ways to ask for help if a teacher is in need, as well as workshops and seminars available. All in all, teaching went quite smoothly. One thing that I would like to try a little bit more are some of the pedagogical tools that the UvA has, such as ‘FeedbackFruits’, that would increase engagement from students.”
If you had the chance, is there anything you would try to change when it comes to online-teaching? If so, what are your ideas?
“As said, I would like to learn and implement pedagogical softwares such as ‘FeedbackFruits’ tools to increase students’ engagement. I think it would also be a good idea to reduce the amount of group work during class, to promote more time to questions and practical examples, and let students organize among themselves for presentations and similar.”
In what way have the relationships to your students changed?
I cannot really answer this question, since I started teaching this September, so I have no comparison.
Do you think that large-scale online-teaching which is relatively new, will affect the future of education? if so, to what extent?
“I hope so. I hope it will make people more tech-savvy, especially in those countries where pedagogical software and blended learning has only been on paper and never a reality. Even in the Netherlands, online education is still a work in progress. I hope in the future we will remember this experience as the moment we discovered that online learning and teaching actually work when well organized, and that we can implement them in our curricula in a blended format, where lectures and tutorials on campus can be dedicated more to deeper understanding and examples, and online learning can help students working from home, alone or in groups. However, I do not want on campus teaching to disappear: it is too important to be in touch with students and peers, learn about different approaches, ideas, and cultures. Also, University is a place worth going especially because it allows to be in touch with experts in the field: reducing this contact to a couple of meetings per month and a few emails would be extremely detrimental for students, learning, and the ability to develop soft and hard skills that only University can provide.”