Post 32: #Coronavirus and a global perspective

We’re friends and family from around the world, sharing our experiences and thoughts during lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation. For some of us, it’s DAY 32. WE DON’T ALWAYS AGREE – nor do we have to! We post our opinions, and those of our guest bloggers, with no censorship.

TODAY’S TOPIC: Remote Learning

The future is calling

RafifJ, #Malaga, Spain

Remote learning, distance learning, online courses, online collaboration – whatever you call it, it boils down to the exchange and processing of information in a socially distant and hygienic environment. Today, anyone reading this blog is using the Internet. In their daily interactions with others they also use applications like WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, WebEx…..I don’t need to go on, do I? We are learning and unlearning – learning to use new technology even as we unlearn what is “traditional” education.

Our kids are learning and unlearning, too. From language classes to business principles, students are adapting to the new way of acquiring knowledge and the accompanying etiquette. We know about online manners: hate speech and bullying have severe consequences; disrespectful comments will earn the wrath of fellow participants. Instructors define the rules of online classroom behavior, much as they did in their brick-and-mortar classrooms.

What is changing, though, is how we acquire knowledge, and the pace at which we acquire it. Along the way, we’re unlearning some of the old rules. Is a 4-year degree really so important? Can one acquire the same amount of knowledge through multiple online sessions? Increasingly, Generation Z kids, who were raised with plenty of technology, acquire knowledge not just through in-person classrooms but through online learning and eBooks as well. These once nontraditional learning methods are fast becoming the norm; we did not need the #Coronavirus to get here, but it has accelerated adoption. New traditions are being formed. Forget about commuting or packing a lunch; today’s learning is available to anyone, virtually anywhere, if they have an Internet connection and a device.

I experienced this myself a few years ago when I did my master’s degree in strategic communication at my alma mater: The American University in Washington, D.C. I joined AU’s School of Communication for its a top-notch online master’s program. Two years later, I had earned my degree at a pace that was right for me. The program’s flexibility allowed me to play with my kids, take care of my work, and even have some time for myself. I actually wrote a couple of blog posts for AU about their program and its benefits. No, I’m not getting paid to promote it.

Today, I’m happy to say I’m still in touch with many of the students and professors I “met” during my remote learning experience. Every so often, I teach a proposal course at AU for the same program (just held a session via Zoom a week ago).

All in all, I think remote learning is the way to go. It’s the way we are going, at any rate. “Resistance is useless,” as Douglas Adams once told us. You can look it up online.

Interview with a University Professor

RJD, #Beirut, Lebanon

Today I interviewed a professor at The American University of Beirut (Suliman S. Olayan School of Business) to find out his perspective on remote learning. Here are his thoughts:

What do you consider to be the benefits of remote learning?

“I think the student has the option to learn at their own pace. The student can also replay the material (specially Voice over PowerPoint) over to ensure they understood the material. Another advantage is that they can review the material on a schedule that works for them. Some people are more clear in the morning, others prefer the evening. And finally, I think not having travel time allows them to concentrate more on the material and the assignments at hand!”

What do you not like about remote learning, or what don’t you find effective? 

“I believe remote learning takes the fun out of campus life and limits the students’ ability to interact. I also think that, even in large groups, students learn from one another when the session is on campus. For instance, when I tell them a story, or when they share their experiences, and we all relate. 

Also, I feel remote learning makes it more difficult for a teacher to know if specific students are having difficulties with the material because you can’t see them all the time! 

It is also more difficult to ask questions online if the class is large. Between reading questions and answering them verbally, for instance on Adobe Connect, I can lose my mind and it is very distracting! 

Reshuffling my classes from in-class sessions to online also took a huge effort to produce; to perfect it was also very tedious. For instance, when you are speaking, sometimes you say “ummm,” but in a presentation, you have to force yourself to stay away from these pauses.

Finally, I love to tell my students interesting anecdotes and stories about my personal business experiences to illustrate a point, and sometimes this happens spontaneously. In remote learning, I am finding it difficult to relay such stories and make the class more interactive. 

On the other hand, the material that we had to prepare this semester can be used over and over, should the need continue (for instance some colleges are thinking about remaining remote in the upcoming Fall semester).”

Would you recommend remote learning in general? 

“Absolutely not. It takes the pleasure out of teaching and out of learning. It makes the whole experience mechanical. I am noticing that a lot of students are not learning as much, are not as disciplined about assignments, communication via email is not the ideal and I just don’t have the time with 4 courses and over 100 students to talk to each one individually.”

Remote Learning

Tina F., Fairfax, #Virginia

This is not a topic I claim to know much about. Although I do consider myself a lifelong learner, I usually research and learn about specific topics that interest me. I have never attended a class remotely.

I asked my kids, who are both taking college classes, how remote learning is impacting their college experience.

My daughter has “real time” classes, but the lecture is prerecorded so it’s not real time because she can pause it and take notes or take a nap. She says she would much rather be in class in real “real time” and not on a screen in her room still wearing PJs.

My son said the same thing, although his classes do not have lectures; they post the class resources and homework on their school’s remote platform.

The kids agree that they miss physically being on campus and in the classroom, where they can chat with teachers and friends. They also miss the hands-on classes like lab, darkroom, and the kitchen the most. Classes that are taught by doing and seeing and working with their hands. Unfortunately, those classes have to wait till the students can get back to campus.

In the meantime, my daughter still needs to finish and pass her darkroom photography class. In the absence of the darkroom, the teacher has given them creative assignments such as watching a movie and writing a paper about it. According to my daughter, it is a waste of time….

The truth is, both my husband and I agree that testing is a measure of someone’s ability to memorize rather than their ability to learn and comprehend. We believe in some cases it’s better for students to research the answers and learn, rather than guessing or getting it wrong and never learning the correct answer. So maybe this is all positive. Is it really cheating to take the time to look up an answer? Learning should be based on everyone’s personal abilities. It is not a one-size-fits-all. I personally hope the post-Corona school system will reassess the curriculum, standardized testing, and how we teach kids today.

My kids also agree that the whole process is weird, especially since the teacher cannot monitor if students cheat. (Perhaps they are confessing something to me).

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