My job, since I came to Poland (8 months or so) has been largely online teaching since the Covid epidemic took off. Considering the incredible virulence of the pandemic, and taking into account the death rate, and that the virus has already begun to mutate, not to mention that for much of 2020 no vaccine was available, and that we were unsure when we would be getting a vaccine, a kind of executive decision was taken by to move classes largely online. This was in accord with Polish Government guidelines, and one could not argue with the logic of the move.
Except it doesn’t seem to be working – for a number of reasons. Over the months I began to collect anecdotal evidence from students, by asking them three main questions. I limited myself to students whose grades were well above average, who had no behavioural or attitudinal issues, and who had few conflicts, if ever with any kind of authority. I took this approach because I didn’t want my own biases to affect their attitude or their responses and I wanted to leave the question of online teaching or online learning as open as possible, so the students didn’t feel as if they had to answer either one way or the other. Here are the questions I asked, and I am phrasing them as close to the wording I used when asking them.
- How do you find online learning?
- How does it compare to learning in a full classroom setting?
- What if anything would you do to improve the experience of online learning?
Students universally dislike online learning for a range of reasons. I summarize here.
- Students do not have to switch on either their cameras or their microphones. It is not obligatory here, so I am informed. They report the strangeness of seeing a series of blank screens where their fellow classmates should be, not to mention the experience of teaching a series of blank screens and disembodied voices.
- Part of school attendance is the social experience. Online learning is seen by many students as an isolating experience filled with distractions, mixed internet access, poor interaction with both teacher and pupil and lacking in consistent following of course materials especially when it comes to exams. This is because the consistency of class room experience, of school with its rituals and culture, is replaced with a screen with an animated image of the teacher on it, something incapable of capturing one’s attention at the same level as being in school and interacting with other students and the teacher.
- Students agree that though screen time is necessary because of the dangers of covid, they regard it as no substitute for the real thing. Actually nothing is better than the real thing, especially when it comes to school, if properly funded and properly run.
- Students are worried that because screen time has replaced actual school, there has been a consequent drop in the quality of class experience. Thus students are genuinely worried about exams and feel that they should be deferred because of a global pandemic.
I would like to add here, for the sake of being open, that I also dislike online teaching. I think its far less effective than a classroom setting. The students seem to dislike it too, are bored, uninspired and largely disenchanted with the learning experience. Also, if I were going for any kind of major exams myself right now, I would be really worried about my performance in the exam itself after almost a year of covid and its effects both on teaching, learning, and overall health.