What It is Like to Teach Classes Online
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Something I have been talking with other people recently is how my job as an English tutor has been affected by current situation happening in our world. COVID-19 certainly impacted many parts of everyone's occupation and life, and I am definitively not an exception to that.
Before March, I taught in a small, physical classroom. It had the essentials for a learning environment (whiteboard, desks, chairs, etc), but of course it was nowhere near equipped as a regular school one. In essence, this classroom served its purpose of allowing me to host English classes, 2 hours comprised of novel discussion, spelling/reading comprehension quizzes, and grammar/writing lessons. Typically, the students would come after school and return home in the evening.
Since the end of March, all of my classes moved to Google Classroom. While the lessons remain the same, everything is more or less done via video chat, online submissions, and other helpful tools the platform provides. Yet, people still ask me what are the "big" things that are different from my previous mode of traditional teaching. I can tell from these questions that there is a genuine curiosity to see if online teaching will become the way of the future. And I would be lying to myself is I said I haven't thought of my experience teaching in both the "old" and "new" way.
So I would like t share some noticeable differences that I have found teaching online classes for these past couple months. While there are sure to be multiple things different, I limited myself to just the big three that really stuck with me.
1. Class Structure
These days, there is a certain pressure to stay on track with the class structure and lessons. Whether this pressure is originating from parents or the company, online classes are easy to hold accountable and be transparent to everyone involved, not just to students and teachers.
In part, I do think this is a positive thing. Having feedback on teaching styles and materials is a great way to understand the things that need changing or more discussion. This gives my classes more a sense of democracy, as people seemed uninterested in making changes in physical classrooms. And when all parties are in agreement, it becomes more clear what classes should run like for the students. With that clarity, I now teach classes in a way to meets all the necessary beats without running out of time or patience.
But on the other hand, the pressure to stick to the model that everyone exactly wants does limit the ability to explore and improvise things that are not planned. This is what I miss most from physical classes. Having the opportunity to deviate from the "set" lessons for a little bit encourages critical thinking. Students would bring up current events related to the assigned novel or use personal experiences to contextualize a lesson, I have always appreciate these moments where things become a little unpredictable for a useful and educational purpose. Traditional individuals may not see these aspects as necessary for learning, to which I would respond, that for English and other humanity studies, there will always be a need for creating unique ideas on the spot.
2. Student Engagement
I am not really talking about the amount of engagement from students. Shy students remain mostly shy, and the more active ones keep their level of energy and initiative. Online teaching won't really change the hard-wired personality traits drastically in my opinion.
However, it does seem like generally students are more hesitant in doing class-room discussions in an online platform. Whether it is because they are not used to using face cameras or it is difficult to hear more than one voice at a time, I am positive there is a number of factors that make class-based discussions less engaging.
Active or spontaneous participation from students make each class somewhat different from others. In physical classrooms, this was often the case. However, with what I have notice from students these past months during our online classes, there is a reluctance to speak one's mind openly and critically.
An advantage of doing classes online is the convenience of providing feedback and marks. Before moving online, I often worry if the students are actually reading their marked assignments or if they're just throwing them away as soon as they get back home. While the students are absolutely within their rights to do whatever with their returned paper, I think there is a definite value in reviewing one's mistakes and successes continuously especially in writing.
That worry is now alleviated, thanks to how all of the students' assignments and essays are archived online. Now it is much easier for everyone to review my edits or suggestions in a clear way. Also, I found the process of making those edits and feedback much easier, because of the tools the online platform provides. To me, getting students face-to-face with their mistakes and feedback is such an important step for their English reading and writing improvement. So there is absolutely no way to dismiss the quality of life conveniences that online education provides, specifically for the process of tutor-to-student feedback.
I find that online teaching has been a great learning experience, especially for myself as a tutor wanting to do what's best for his students. I think in the end, for how the current situation is progressing in the world, both teachers and students should start adapting to how classes are done online. Even when life resumes back to normal and schools return to physical classrooms, I can definitively see the potential in online education. Perhaps in the future, there will be some middle ground of tutoring that can use the tools of online teaching, while still retaining the dynamic spirit of physical classrooms...