Thursday, October 1, 2020

Three Ways To Keep Calm and Embrace Virtual Learning

Welcome back to the new semester!

We're not out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, life must go on. Classes have to restart. It's virtual learning for the rest of the year (or longer).

Lost? Sad? Angry?

Look, I know how you feel about us teachers. You feel let down. That we could've done better. That we should be more transparent. That we should be making firmer decisions (and not keep taking U-turns).

But believe me, most of us are feeling as lost as you are. There are SOPs from above to follow. We don't call all the shots. Our hands are tied. We're left in the dark as much as you are. We're really doing the best that we can.

The coming semester is going to be rough. So instead of venting on social media and spamming memes to crucify the university, please direct your energies more positively...

* * *

Suggest solutions, not just identify problems - It's easy to criticise. But most teachers are old - and not tech-savvy. So don't just point out what's broken about virtual learning, kids! Tell us how to fix it! Know a better video platform? Please, do recommend. For myself, I'm not shy to admit that I have trouble multi-tasking (and my laptop is kinda shitty). So I'll get a student to host the call, share the link to the rest, move the presentation slides, and so on. Don't be shy to volunteer. We're in this together now. Let's forge a symbiotic relationship. As teachers, we're always open to ideas of how we can improve our methods.

Think for everyone, not just yourself - Look, everyone is affected by the pandemic, in many different ways (e.g. Internet connectivity, device compatability, etc). When proposing solutions, be sure that they're accessible for every other student. Teachers have limitations, too. Don't make outlandish proposals that are unduly unburdensome (e.g. 10 tests to replace 1 final exam). Personally, I find multiple-choice test effective (yes, even for law) - saves time in marking, and can truly test the depth of one's knowledge by a purely objective standard. Virtual learning should be seamless for both teachers and students.

Simplify, not complicate - Now's really the best time to streamline on what's necessary, and what's not. Recently, at a meeting, someone was enthusing about the perks of software X (e.g. can upload files, track attendance for large lectures, etc). In my mind: "Eh? Priority is video quality. Everything else is secondary." Uploading files - there's already an existing system for this purpose, why duplicate work? Attendance - lectures can be recorded (which reduces scheduling conflict, and gives students more flexibility to enrol into different subjects since lectures are no longer fixed to a time slot). In short, the pandemic offers a once-in-a-lifetime to transition into a more wholesome learning environment.

* * *

Most people - students and teachers alike - are naturally tearing their hair over e-learning.

But you know what? I see a silver lining. The pandemic has exposed the ugly flaws in our archaic educational system - flaws of our own administrative making, and not of technical difficulties. Lectures can be pre-recorded, interactive tutorials are far more critical to comprehension. Final exam is overrated, continuous assessment is more efficient.

So don't despair! I can't speak for every teacher, of course. Personally, I feel truly excited about the coming semester. Yes, we're losing out on a few indispensable parts of face-to-face learning. But by and large, we can find alternative - if not even better - paths to achieve our learning outcomes.

Think of this moment not as the twilight of your campus life, but a bright new dawn of digital learning. Stay safe, stay positive!

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