Virtual teaching: technology should not take over learning

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, in March 2020, different distance learning methods have been implemented in the country. The two main modes that have emerged are synchronous virtual teaching (live, on screen) and asynchronous virtual teaching (the teacher records his lesson in advance and it can be viewed at any time, or so it gives activities and homework to do at home through a learning platform).

Teachers therefore had to review their teaching methods and adapt, in a few days, to online teaching. L’Education Endowment Foundationa foundation subsidized by the English Ministry of Education, has synthesized meta-analyses (synthesis of experimental research) in order to formulate educational recommendations to guide distance learning.

They say, basically, that the methods effective in face-to-face mode must be transposed into virtual mode. And that the teacher should not be overwhelmed by technology.

We are a group of researchers in school education, particularly interested in literacy, academic and social adaptation and the dynamics of teaching-learning. Why take an interest in this subject when the pandemic is waning and the students are in school? Because it is important, in our opinion, to take stock of the past two years and document for the future.

Manage your class

During synchronous virtual teaching, it is very easy to lose control of the class if there is not effective behavior management, just like in face-to-face mode. It is therefore important to identify the behaviors expected (turning off your microphone, raising your virtual hand to have your turn to speak, not interrupting the floor) and showing exactly what is expected of students, what is called in the jargon the “modelling”.

Afterwards, the students practice the desired behaviors under the supervision of the teacher who makes sure to provide them with feedback. Inappropriate behaviors that compromise teaching and learning cannot be tolerated, but some can be illustrated with humor and counterexamples by the teacher to prevent their occurrence. When the expected behaviors are adopted by the students, and virtual classroom management works well, content teaching becomes possible.

Since March 2020, teachers have had to review their teaching methods.
(Isabelle Carignan), Provided by the author

In the context of online teaching, modeling may take longer. It is not always possible to see what students are writing, hence the importance of asking questions to understand how they work and to check their learning. Therefore, it is expedient to explain and re-explain.

An inadequate platform

Google Classroom is one of the free learning platforms used by schools to create activities digitally. This platform is interesting for integrating educational material, but not necessarily for teaching in real time, synchronously. Too often, teaching time is spent on logistics, which is a waste of teaching time.

For example, parents interviewed as part of research on virtual and face-to-face teaching during a pandemic, which we conducted, mentioned to a researcher that a teacher used three 55-minute periods to explain to children of 2and primary year how to get a document on the classroom. When a parent suggested projecting the document on the screen in presentation mode, instead of each student having their own document on their computer, their response was: “I want the children to learn how to fetch the documents from my classroom »…

But what lessons have been learned here? No ! At this age, students do not necessarily know how to navigate the different platforms. The teacher also does not know which tabs are open on the students’ computer and each teacher has their own way of using the platform. Moreover, the use of Google Classroom is far from intuitive for students and parents.

Back to basics

Just because we teach online doesn’t mean we have to use technology at all costs. Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes less. Screen share a video of just dance on YouTube for a physical education class, it’s relevant. Children move and have fun while dancing to diverse songs.

Otherwise, a simple way to maintain control — or regain it — is to use an erasable whiteboard, paper workbooks or printable sheets. Paper-and-pencil activities work great with students, parents, and teachers. The students already know their activity books and they will not face any technical problems.

It is much easier to tell students to take their learning notebook 1, 2, 3… with Nougat in mathematics than to tell them to go to Google Classroom to find an XYZ document in a subsection of another subsection where several possibilities are displayed to open it. For parents, it’s also easier—and much less stressful—to answer their children’s questions through a paper-based activity book. They then feel more competent and more confident to help their children in their learning. The documents on Google Classroom (which is basically blank since the teacher builds the platform according to his plan) or any other learning platform like Zorbit in mathematics or Boukili in reading, are rather useful for doing homework or revising the subject seen at school during the day.

When students do the synchronous virtual school, teaching time is too valuable to be spent on learning a platform. The priority remains to teach and learn.

Learning about any web platform should have been done in the classroom with the students, in person, so that the teacher could make sure of their understanding, before the virtual teaching takes place. We must avoid at all costs making the use of technologies more complex in order to minimize wasted time and maximize teaching-learning opportunities. To achieve this, the use of simple means can facilitate the implementation of more effective teaching that children so badly need! Why make it complicated when it can be simple ?

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