As I look around my home-office I am faced with the tell-tale signs of eight weeks of teaching my classes online, Post-it notes, coursebooks, handwritten lists and exercise books covered in doodles, which takes me straight back to my own schooldays. Looking at my desktop I see more signs – folders out of place, jpgs and pdfs from students, worksheets and PowerPoints and the new icons of our time: Padlet, Flip Grid, YouTube, and, particularly, Zoom.
I have spent huge numbers of hours here already since the Prime Minister moved the country to Alert Level 4 and all our classes were moved online. It was so fast that we really only had time for about an hour’s training with Zoom and brief consultation with colleagues as to how we were going to keep the classes going over the next, yet to be determined, period of weeks. Like everyone, I assumed we would be back in our classrooms within a month or so, but that was not to be and we are now heading for the last three weeks of the semester still online and about to embark on some summative assessment.
It has been a learning curve and, as you will see from this issue, teachers in every corner of the world have been faced with the same scenario. I believe we have all probably done as well as we could, and our students have coped admirably with it. For those with poor connectivity, or those sharing a device with a sibling, those who are technologically challenged and those less used to working and being alone, it has been very hard. I am still not sure how much I have actually taught as opposed to facilitated. My class has got used to working in breakout rooms and then coming back together to discuss. They have also got used to working through a lot of the coursebook on their own at their own pace, something which has definitely helped those with difficulty in listening.
There is inevitably something lacking online. In a classroom you can sense who has ‘got it’, who needs more help, who needs a little more surveillance, who is not fully engaged or who is staring out of the window. In a classroom there is a dynamic which is hard to replicate online, despite our best efforts. This is because there is more than just a process to follow; there are vibes and signals to pick up on and aspects of charisma which are not always there through Zoom.
Be that as it may, we have managed to turn an emergency situation into a well-planned delivery mode and things have been learned which will be of use as we plan further online courses because we cannot go back completely. Students will want courses, or modules or lessons, delivered online in some way. Online delivery is efficient, they can fit it around their other responsibilities, there are no travel costs or time wasted and it can be a very economic way of using your human capital – your teaching staff.
So hopefully out of this dramatic and dangerous period, real blended learning will emerge, with the right balance for each individual learner of tutorials, group teaching and online practice. We are fortunate here in New Zealand that we are starting to emerge at the end of the tunnel. I know it is not over for a lot of you. I hope you enjoy the various articles written by teachers in the same circumstances as you might well be in – there are some great ideas in there. I have decided that we will not have a theme for this issue, the virus made us all think about one thing only: keeping our students as close to on track as possible. It is only three months ago that I finished my last editorial with no inkling about what was about to happen. This time I know what you are going through. Stay safe and be kind.