The first days of March 2020 were still ordinary: early in the morning adults would be commuting to work, students to schools and universities. A lot of action in the streets throughout the day. But this ordinary didn’t last that long anymore. In the blink of an eye, a worldwide pandemic has locked everyone inside their homes. And so, the perfect timing to test, how far developed and how adjusted to technology we truly are, has started.
As an English language educator, I can tell, surprise surprise, it wasn’t easy. The beginning was truly chaotic: with systems lagging and crashing, students canceling lessons not knowing what to do, educational field professionals stressing immensely not knowing as well how to proceed and support their learners in the best and quickest way possible.
Jumping to a quick conclusion, I feel that technology not just didn’t disappoint us, but allowed us in the biggest discomfort to rediscover a brand new great comfort. Systems stopped crashing and improved even more rapidly than they would under normal conditions, students and educators calmed down, e-learning is becoming more and more of a trusted norm.
And first of all, yes, virtual learning, it seems, can disappoint us at times: there are too many services and types of software to choose from, wi-fi connection might disappear or freeze, students might think it’s somehow too difficult to learn or focus via a screen, there might be concerns about pricing as sometimes people assume learning quality is so much more different and the list could still go on. It all might seem rather overwhelming.
Every single thing in life has its’ pros and cons, but despite that, I strongly believe there are so many more advantages of choosing e-learning than disadvantages and with a little bit of patience and practice, absolutely everyone can fully adapt to any new situation in life, just as this one with virtual learning.
I want to share my experience and impressions of human-computer collaboration, why virtual learning has been a great solution so far:
DESIGN OF LEARNING PLATFORMS. The simpler design of a learning platform, the better, both, for the learner and the teacher. It saves time and concentration on essential matters. Just keep calm and BYOD – Bring Your Own Device!
ACTIVITY CONTENT AND PLANNING. Each lesson starts with background stimulation, brief and clear objective presentation, light instruction, collaborative practice and student producing content on-the-spot to demonstrate if the task has been absorbed in a right way, then concluded with a feedback from teacher. E-learning can offer so much more than paper textbooks as activities for students are weekly or even daily updated and it’s especially relevant for topic tasks. With a click of the mouse, every lesson plan is easily adapted to the needs of a student. Every class can cover a variety of tasks so as not to bore the student and keep the whole skill set updated.
VIDEOCONFERENCE. I’m more than ever convinced it’s very important to have a video function on a virtual class, not only a microphone, so the class doesn’t become too robotic – teacher and student can keep interacting as they would normally, the atmosphere of the class is so much more relaxing and trustworthy. However, make sure the tasks are on the main screen, not the faces!
COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH IS THE PRIMARY AND ULTIMATE GOAL. Each lesson’s focus must be on the oral part, they must be very interactive from the first minute up until the last – demanding 21st century language learning requires fast and strong speaking skills and let’s not forget the main goal of language learning, which is the ability to communicate with target foreign environment!
SPEED. Technology provides us not only with more time without needing to commute to places but also speed – not only in learning itself, but also feedback after each class as it can be given back to a student immediately! Plus, having all the learning material prepared and organized on a learning platform in advance, the whole focus of teacher and student is on learning. You probably won't even notice how enjoyable language learning has become!
PATIENCE AND PRACTICE. Some students can be completely unfamiliar with technology (digital foreigners), some familiar (digital natives), but they get distracted easily and are using it for learning purposes improperly or, the best option, they know it and love learning with the help of it. We, as teachers, should pay a good first look at how’s the student dealing with technology and help them with their struggles first. I believe that expanding knowledge has no limit and without an exception, we can all learn how to use modern tools well, it’s just a matter of time.
THERE’S ALWAYS A PLAN B. However, with technology, it’s always best to have a plan B. If something happens with the learning platform or internet, no need to panic, there is always a way (to ask for help, use another type of internet, postpone the class as connecting in general has become so fast, etc.). Whatever happens with a virtual class, any disturbance cannot compare to those times when we had to commute to places and the event would get canceled then.
GUIDANCE. The virtual world is truly immense, that is why it is always important to have guidance while learning. It’s especially important to save student’s time and keep the focus on track before the lesson finishes or there’s a break. That is a huge point why learners need a helping tutor, especially the youngest ones, technology itself is not a babysitter. To have the best balance in class, a teacher must always be in charge of its’ pace.
I want to finish on a positive note, so that nor students nor teachers would keep feeling fear of using technology when studying. Technology is an incredible tool, but still, it’s just a tool, it’s rather a teacher’s assistant. Human interaction is irreplaceable and I like to think and feel that way. Recent feedback of students leaves a hint that the deep learning process is so much more than staring at the paper page or screen in silence or, what's worse, wasting own time while feeling stuck on some task. Internet is a vast space, but in that, a student can also be quite easily taken away from learning and connected to a vast world of nothingness.
For us, as educators, it’s time to equip ourselves not only with content and pedagogical (what and how we teach), but also technological knowledge (what tools do we pick). My sincere piece of advice: let's remain curious, creative thinkers who see opportunities! E-learning is our future and is here to stay. I dare to conclude that so are the educators. I’m happy to belong to a community of professionals and be able to use exactly this type of learning platform for my students, as described above, for this whole year, that didn’t let life and personal development stop completely, but on the contrary – accelerated it.
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