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Remote teaching: building a plane while flying

By April 20, 2020 No Comments

What happened?

Since World War II, there haven’t been as many schools closed as there are now. Unlike then, technology has made it possible to provide education at a distance. However, physical education can’t just be moved wholesale to the digital realm. Physical presence is a prerequisite for a number of didactic tools teachers need to provide quality lessons, and the proximity to other students is an important aspect of education. Even if the circumstances of teachers, parents and students are optimal, they are forced to make many adjustments to continue to facilitate education.

What does this mean?

Nearly all lesson content can be made digital. The challenge is mainly to do so in as stimulating a manner as possible. The perfect balance has yet to be struck between synchronous contact and subject material that students can study in their own time. Teachers are finding out that simply streaming their lessons is not ideal, not to mention the practical obstacles such as students not always having full access to a computer. From a distance it’s much more difficult, for example, to keep students engaged and to get a notion of whether the material is coming across. Moreover, it’s more challenging for students to concentrate on a screen for long stretches of time than to stay focused in the classroom. This has consequences for students’ daily schedules as well: their ordinary school schedule appears to be less than perfectly suited to remote teaching, but the optimal alternative remains elusive. Synchronous contact through the screen is now often reserved for interactive meetings and the transfer of content takes place largely through video or exercises, for example. Some subjects (mathematics) appear to demand more synchronous contact than others (languages). Furthermore, the contact between teacher and student seems to be becoming more informal, now that the participants are safely behind screens at home and communicating through, for example, chat messages.

What’s next?

Not enough research has been done on education as it’s now organized to be able to oversee the long-term consequences for students. It’s therefore unclear how to optimally organize it, slowing down the pace of learning while its organization is more time-consuming. It’s as though the parties concerned were building a plane while flying. And yet, this way of teaching will continue to play a considerable role in education until the crisis is resolved. Because even though we’re gingerly considering ways of reopening the schools, we’re a long way from education as we used to know it. Moreover, since all students and teacher are now forced to endorse numerous digital educational tools, it is likely that after the crisis the adaptively of Edtech has substantially increased.