by Vittorio Compagno
With the Covid pandemic catching everyone off-guard, governments closed businesses, limited public gatherings, and the issue arose on how to deal with schools and classes in general.
School is a fundamental institution, not only as a place to learn, but also to meet people, and more generally experience life. In a situation like this school had to be reinvented.
If we look at online-only schools, we notice they already had video streaming platforms, virtual blackboards, and a way for teachers to assign and receive homework from students. But these platforms take time to develop, and unfortunately real world schools were ill-equipped to deal with a virtual world.
At least in previous years, universities made commercial agreements with companies like Microsoft and Google that allowed students to use their online solutions like Office or Google Suite.
The issue is that everyone used those two, so it was no surprise that on the first day of online lessons internet traffic spiked, and Internet Service Providers had technical difficulties trying to guarantee connections to everyone.
Back to online lessons. Because of the speed at which they developed, many expected them to be less brilliant or entertaining as real lessons. Teachers had to adapt and understand the new medium, for example getting used to talking in front of a camera. Not easy, even if it seems so on Twitch or YouTube.
But how are things different 9 months after the first lockdown? It depends who you ask, but generally, little has changed. Online classes are not considered good enough, which has had far-reaching repercussions, such as school dropout rates skyrocketing worldwide.
There are two reasons for the rise in dropout rates.
First, not everyone can afford a laptop or a tablet or a reliable internet connection to attend online lessons, and that may cause 24 million kids from dropping out of school.
Over that, another reason is that the challenge between a Zoom lesson and a YouTube educational video has been unfair: the latter is more entertaining, has fewer restrictions (more on that later) and can be watched at a time of choosing.
The issue with online lessons isn’t their effectiveness, in fact, teachers are generally prepared for the classes they give, the issue is that they face competition from streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch.
For someone who doesn’t spend much time on the internet, it may not seem obvious, but for someone who uses e-learning platforms like Udemy, I can tell you that they have a significant edge. They do so also in the eyes of the students who are now well used to watching streaming content and online videos.
Of course, classes are not in direct competition with online platforms, but when compared to the likes of Coursera, Khan Academy, or Udemy which effectively use the internet to spread all kinds of knowledge, you can’t ignore it.
These other online platforms had time to develop, but after months of online classes, the argument of a school lagging behind new standards is becoming apparent.
For example, how to expect a kid to follow a 2-hour (or more) lesson if on the other side a teacher is talking slowly, with long pauses, and has no intention of entertaining with their way of teaching? Furthermore more and more kids have been denied requests to get a drink, eat or go to the bathroom during online lessons without the teachers’ approval because “it’s like a real lesson”.
But, it’s not.
This way of seeing online classes makes them a surrogate that tries to copy the real deal. But it shouldn’t be. School and entertainment seem to be two different concepts, but they meet thanks to the internet. That’s because almost everything is possible through technology, especially spreading knowledge, as shown by the aforementioned online platforms.
Lessons could be less formal to prevent boredom, there could be more projects that involve video chatting in groups so that students can have a similar social life to the one they had before the pandemic. Much can be done. It’s difficult to say who’s at fault, but let’s not blame the teachers.
After all, they were thrown into this just like the rest of us. And it’s not like every one of them has the experience of a YouTuber, who can talk for hours in front of a camera without feeling the need to meet someone else’s eyes.
On the positive side, many teachers have adapted to this new situation. Many use Google Classroom for online lessons, upload educational videos for their students on Youtube, use tests on Google forms. If this seems like an ad for Google, it’s not. But many companies like them, or Microsoft, should be praised because they have developed a way for teachers to interact with students that turned out to be a silver lining for schools, which did not have such alternatives.
Other good examples are found in online forums, full of teachers that help each other with tips to better understand these new platforms and to discuss new ways of teaching their students through the internet.
The edge that internet-native platforms have would be insignificant if schools were better organized for a pandemic. They have an invaluable resource: teachers who want to devote their professional lives to instruction. But it can’t only be up to them. Their schools should have taught them the use of platforms they use now daily, instead of expecting them to discover them spontaneously. Maybe today teachers would be more focused on delivering more entertaining content and learning to talk in front of a camera if, for all this time, they weren’t busy discovering where the chat button was. Online classes have taught us many things, but the most important lesson is that it’s never too late in life to learn.
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Other articles by Vittorio Compagno include What Are The Risks of Facial Recognition and I Quit Social Media and it Changed My Life.