After the first week of remote learning for the spring 2021 semester, I have mixed feelings about the situation. I get to see my students fleetingly – when I take attendance or they answer a question – so there is that feeling of distance from them. I was able to provide instruction despite the brutal storm early in the week, so technology triumphed over Mother Nature. Right now, it feels like it’s a mixed blessing, but I am ready for week number two and trying to remain hopeful.
I know that I am not alone in this situation nor are my students. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the shutdowns associated with it, approximately 376 million students’ schooling has been affected worldwide. Many countries like the United States, Russia, and China have partially reopened schools, but many countries have kept schools shut down and are allowing only remote learning.
My school had a choice early on, but after a fall semester of part hybrid-part online classes proved to be an experiment that didn’t work well, we went all-remote after Thanksgiving with the promise of all-remote in the spring, which leads us to where we are now.
There are good aspects of remote learning. I teach writing and literature and am able to teach my classes almost exactly as I would teach them in person. That means I am able to deliver the content that is meant to be taught. While I’d prefer to be in the classroom and looking at the students sitting in front of me, I am still able to get done what needs to be done.
Another positive aspect of the remote classroom is the students themselves. They are genial about the situation, show good humor, and have an interest in learning the material. If I did not have students who are open and willing to learn in the remote classroom, then I would feel like my purpose was defeated. I am thankful for my students making an effort in order for the remote classroom to work.
I am a people person. What makes teaching rewarding for me is being able to share my subject material with my students. Part of that equation is seeing their reactions to poems and stories. Another is the use of a game like telephone to understand oral story telling. It can be done in person but not online. There are also their reactions to reading a poem for the first time. I can’t see that while reading a poem online.
There is also the interaction between students. I use groups in my classes for activities and peer review. When groups are working in the classroom, I like to walk around the room and stop and listen to their discussions. In the past if I sensed a group was having a problem, I used to always be able to step in and offer tips as to how to move forward. I cannot do this when they are in their online groups.
Finally, there is less participation in the remote classroom. When students are in the classroom, I get to know them and call on certain ones to give an answer based on previous lessons. Here, I can’t get to know students that way, and it is also the case that students like to turn off their cameras until they are called upon. Thus, this can be a frustrating situation for me, but I understand that it not easy for my students as well!
It is easy to get frustrated with technology and its limitations. Last week I had issues with my camera, my microphone, and audio in video clips I tried to share with my students. If I were in the classroom, none of these things would be an issue. If they did happen in the classroom, I would ring the tech desk and someone would be there in less than a minute. In the remote classroom, I am all on my own.
Also, my students have their own tech issues to deal with each day. I can be in the middle of talking about something, and I see that a student logged off. Only a few seconds later, that student is trying to get back into the classroom. I know that they can have issues with their WiFi or other computer problems, and that makes this remote classroom difficult for them.
If I am in a middle of a lesson, and I lose my WiFi, then my class is totally left in the dark. I was lucky last week, and I am hoping that my luck continues. To me this is just the ugly side of remote learning. It feels like a crapshoot to me. It’s like roll the dice and let’s hope we get through today’s classes. Teaching and learning shouldn’t have that tentative feeling to them.
Despite what I have mentioned previously, I remain hopeful that this semester will be a successful one. I have no choice because I am key for this to happen in my classes. So, despite the slings and arrows of outrageous computer problems and WiFi outages, I will rise up against this sea of troubles and put my best foot forward for each class.
I am teaching material I love – that is half the battle – and I am confident that I can help my students start to love it too. I do have a fairly good setup in my home office, and I’m always checking my connections and making sure I am good to go before each class.
I am also more aware of flexibility now, and if students miss my class because of having no WiFi, I’m not going to penalize them for it. Instead, I will try to get them where they need to be for the next class. In this remote learning environment, we have to be all in this together while understanding the realities that we are all facing!
The bottom line is that no, remote learning is not how I wish I would be teaching this semester; however, it is the hand that I have been dealt. It is up to me to make the most of the cards on the table, and hope for better things in semesters to come. For now, I am going to push full speed ahead and embrace my online classes in full vigor. My goal will be to make certain that my students will get every aspect of my courses that they would get in person, and that is what will keep me going this semester!
To all of you out there teaching or learning remotely this semester, hang in there! Brighter days are on the horizon!