The year 2020 is destined to be unforgettable when taking into account that we are compelled to engage in distance teaching and learning.
According to statistics compiled by UNESCO at the end of March 2020, there are one hundred and sixty countries and regions around the word that have enacted school closures. Some 1.5 billion students, accounting for 87% of student numbers worldwide, are influenced by the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic. Class suspension periods vary from two weeks to two months and longer. Additionally, this trend of class suspensions, the most significant since World War II, seems to have no end in sight. “Suspending classes without suspending learning” instantly became a new trend in education. Educators all over the world apply themselves to accepting a variety of distance teaching solutions, grasping the opportunity to maintain the spirit of nurturing students and fostering new talent.
Under the principle of suspending classes without suspending learning, schools at all levels throughout the world have completed the first adaptation and successively experienced the following phases: implementation of electronic devices, teacher training and operational adjustment, digitization of teaching materials, instructing students regarding distance learning, and coordination with parents. We can think of these class suspension of early 2020 as a kind of test that not only exactly examines the tech capacity schools accumulated over recent years, but also offers a blueprint for schools to carefully ponder future educational technology. For instance, it changed the way schools search for and select existing software to rapidly respond to environmental changes, and how they further plan future hardware implementation as needed for regular class resumption.
In the long term, the patterns of future education will include more diverse learning scenarios, including in-class lectures, distance teaching, and mixed in-class and distance formats. Through this process, schools are able to create complete educational technology programs, providing teachers and students with high quality teaching and learning in optimal environments.
Due to this global wave of class suspension, the academic world will get accustomed to the convenience brought by educational technology, which makes distance teaching a part of regular courses. On one hand, it assists teachers and students who are temporarily unable to attend classes in non-stop learning and participation. Schools, on the other hand, will increasingly plan long term distance courses by having teachers in different cities teach students in remote areas who normally can’t attend class in person. Facing this upcoming “New Normalcy in Education”, we can obtain more experience from the class suspension phase of 2020.
First of all, let’s compare the differences between distance courses and traditional courses (shown as the table below).
1. Both online learning and traditional learning require a great amount of work.
2. Giving and receiving feedback is important in both environments.
3. The challenges and rewards are the same in each environment.
4. Assignments are a huge part of the learning experience
5. Both require that students manage their time wisely.
1. Online learning requires more self-direction and discipline in order to get coursework completed on time.
2. Online feedback can be slower than that of face-to-face feedback found in the traditional classroom.
3. All students stand on equal footing in an online learning environment as opposed to those that are in a traditional learning environment. The student that raises their hand first or talks the loudest may be at more of an advantage than others in the traditional classroom. In an online learning environment everyone is equal as there are no face-to-face interactions that would give more vocal students the advantage.
4. Networking and social interactions are different in an online learning environment than in a traditional learning environment.
Data Source:: SeattlePi.com
It’s worth noting that SeattlePi, a digital media outlet in the USA, cites a conclusion derived from the study of the two learning environment types as carried out by the American Sociology Association. “Even though some research shows the performance of online-learning students is slightly poorer than that of students in traditional courses, most studies demonstrate that the overall performances of these two learning patterns contain almost no discrepancies.” It shows that the “learning efficiency problem” typically mentioned or at least considered on the first day of online learning doesn’t actually exist. And yet why do teachers face difficulties at present while performing online teaching? It’s likely correlated to “learning efficiency”. After checking out teacher and student feedback, we can summarize five problems that occur while performing online courses:
Distance learning requires devices online-capable devices along with webcams, microphones, and stable high speed internet connections. Operating online learning platforms gets difficult if any of these experience technical issues.
In traditional courses, physical books are the norm. It’s sometimes ungainly to directly convert every page into a PowerPoint, especially for text-heavy content with complex concepts.
Many teachers are good at preparing experiential teaching aids. In traditional environments, that enables students to learn with all five senses. However, after moving to online courses, teachers and students are limited to visuals and audio, as teaching aids are confined to videos, images, slides, and sounds.
Most teachers and students in traditional courses are used to viewing blackboards as visual focuses. Teachers can record class outlines while students can interact by writing on blackboards. The software used in online courses currently includes Zoom, Google Meet, and Panopto, whose advantages lie in good application of sounds and images. However, these apps place little emphasis on online, virtual blackboards that can be easily shared by teachers and students.
It usually takes fifty minutes to complete the average class, but actually the physical and mental attention span of students is approximately fifteen minutes Lengthy lectures may become a liability, and it’s hard for students to catch up with teachers once distracted during online courses. As a result, most students lose focus within the span of a 50-minute class session.
During this wave of class suspension, the United States Department of Education encourages schools which suspend classes to make sure the effects of distance learning are mitigated through “creativity” and “flexibility”.
National Public Radio (NPR) in the US interviewed families with children from more than ten private schools a week after essentially all schools in the US switched to distance learning. Parents queried indicate that it’s really hard for kids to spend up to five hours on online courses through video chat every day, especially children in primary school. Kids may have shorter attention spans and still lack the skills needed to cope with digital, online platforms. That means they have a hard time learning learn online independently by simply sitting at a desk for several hours every day.
Therefore, NPR recommends the “hybrid” way, which is similar to the patterns of “blended learning” or the “flipped classroom”. The method combines relatively brief real time video classes with signing up functions and self-paced schedules. That is, it adopts the talk-and-chalk pattern of a single teacher/student relationship versus numerous students in group learning working with one teacher at the same time. During one-on-one-communication, teachers can confirm learning progress via email, phone calls, , texting, or any other way that’s convenient for both teachers and students.
Schools and teachers should select a teaching platform which supports as many various network-connected devices simultaneously as possible. Teachers and students are then able to use their familiar computers, smartphones, and tablets when attending classes. Also, connection procedures should be streamlined and made intuitive.
In traditional courses, good teachers become the focus of class simply by “speaking”. But in online classes, messages and nuances conveyed by body language are limited. So it’s not easy to maintain student attention for a long time. Teachers should try and learn from YouTubers. Famous YouTubers are good at shortening the distance between them and their remote, online audience. By proposing a question every two to three minutes or allowing students to chat with each other, teachers can warm up class atmosphere.
We suggest to adjust classes to twenty or thirty minutes per lecture, complemented by ten or twenty minutes of group discussion or self-practice. Finally, take twenty minute breaks to help students rest their eyes.
In every segment of each class, lectures and interactions should be mixed. Freshness is always the best way to capture attention.
In addition to watching, listening, and speaking, teachers can add in finger point movements such as writing, drawing, and jogging. For that, a collaborative online whiteboard is a perfect choice.
As this wave of class suspension hit very fast and wide, most schools adopt free software that allows multi-person video conferences. The first step is to make teachers and students “go online” with just basic video and audio. And yet, an online whiteboard can be a great addition to distance learning, making up for the insufficient interaction offered by basic video conferencing software.
Online whiteboards also include free app versions. Take BenQ EZWrite as an example. Teachers and students can upload teaching materials or reports and post notes with a shared online whiteboard. Everyone can mark their notes, jog and sort, similarly to the interactive links of traditional courses. No software installation is required. Webpages can be opened and used on personal laptops or handheld devices. Moreover, it’s easy to attend classes. Students just need to scan a QR code or enter a class code. A single class can accept as many as 32 students. What’s more, EZWrite Live, developed for diverse education scenarios, assists teachers in controlling classes and reinforcing collaboration between teachers and students. Teachers can roll call, determine the status of each student’s connection, and gain better ability to manage every class.
In the long term, if online whiteboards integrate with traditional classes, better results will be achieved after the resumption of regular classes. With built-in BenQ interactive displays that include EZWrite, software and hardware integration will conform to more teaching scenarios:
• Scenario A: teachers and students perform distance learning at home, synchronously connecting to EZWrite-sharing online whiteboards.
• Scenario B: teachers use aids in classrooms (especially large or unmovable experimental items), and operate interactive flat panels that run EZWrite at the same time. All students stay at home and use EZWrite CloudWhiteboard remotely to connect to an online whiteboard so as to collaborate synchronously with teachers in classrooms.
• Scenario C: teachers lecture physically onsite at schools but some students are absent. Students in traditional classrooms can read the messages on interactive flat panel or tablets, while absent students can use EZWrite CloudWhiteboard remotely to connect to an online whiteboard and collaborate with those in classrooms.
The wave of class suspension will eventually come to an end. After this test, the educational technology proficiency of schools and teachers will obviously increase because of it. Although we often say educational technology isn’t the essence of education, classroom learning efficiency still depends on lecture contents and student motivation. However, building high quality learning patterns and devices able to adapt to various scenarios has always been the goal of education technology, and always at the core of planning future products and solutions.