I am one of those educators who embraced online education wholeheartedly, with or without a pandemic going around. I thought it was a historical necessity that human kind had to adopt sooner or later. It was one of those landmarks in the inexorable progress of educational technology. I was all for it. In the beginning, my enthusiasm was so very palpable.
Then, as I conducted more and more Zoom classes, and as the novelty began to wear off, I was surprised to find myself dreading my Zoom classes. From that point on, things have gone downhill. Right now, I am just sick and tired of it for several reasons:
1. The intangibility of online learning
Back when I taught my students face to face, there was a certain tangibility to learning. I could say to some degree of confidence whether my students had understood what I had taught. I could see it in their body language, the way they sat, the expressions on their face, perhaps a nod of comprehension, or the way they stared back at me. I sort of knew whether I was reaching them. And depending on that knowledge, I could modify my lesson, or add some extra explanation here and there. It was an interactive experience, in which both my students and I actively participated till we were both reasonably happy about what we were doing.
But now, as I look at my students’ faces, they look back at me with an awkward blankness. Their faces lack expression, even when they say that they have understood what I have taught. To make matters worse, my students being adolescents, they have a chronic reluctance to show their faces on camera, and instead post myriad Korean actors and cartoon characters as their profile photos. (One of them told me once that she looked ugly at that time so could not switch on her camera). So sometimes I teach looking at these weird characters and wondering what on earth the real individuals behind the profile photos were doing. All in all, I have no way of knowing intuitively whether my teaching has been effective or not.
2. A lot depends on student motivation
Online learning is for students who are really motivated to learn. Sadly, some of my students have a chronic lack of that quality. Since I am not physically present in front of them, they like to play truant, and escape after class has begun, saying that their video or microphone has suddenly developed a problem. I have no way of verifying it, so have to swallow whatever explanation they give. There are some other students of mine who are expert multi-taskers. They listen to my classes, and play video games with each other at the same time. Technically they are present in my classes, but they are so distracted that they learn nothing. Sometimes I call the parents of students who are absent in my classes and ask them what happened. The parents are then surprised and say that their child is sitting in front of the computer and attending classes. But when they go close and check they see him playing games. It is worse in the case of working parents with no one at home to supervise the kids.
3. Marking student work is a circus
I teach English, and it involves a lot of marking of compositions. Right now I ask my students to email the compositions to me. Then they say that they don’t have a computer, and are only using their mobile phone to attend my lessons. So then I ask them to take photos of their compositions and send to me, which they do. But when I try to print out those compositions, it comes out very blurry. So finally what I do is after a couple of compositions I ask them to get their parents to bring the books to me. This gives rise to a host of other problems because parents find it difficult to bring it doing office times if they are also working. Some do manage to bring, and I mark them. Then getting the books back to the students is another hassle.
4. Lack of access to technology
I teach in a comparatively well-to-do country. Even here, half of my students do not have access to a steady wifi connection and a standard quality computer. Therefore, almost every day I have students messaging me that their wifi signal was not good that day, and they could not come online. Some of them would attend the class with a faulty microphone or video. Some of my students are not economically well-off, and I cannot expect them to be fully prepared with all the gadgets needed.
My Zoom classes, frankly speaking, have been more an exercise in crisis management, than in real teaching. Honestly, I cannot wait to get back to face to face teaching.