The perks and challenges of online teaching


I’ve never planned to dabble in online teaching but here I am – teaching online full-time. There’s no need for me to explain why. Or maybe, in case you are reading this in ten years’ time and you are lucky enough to have forgotten, we are in the middle of a pandemic and most schools all around the world are closed.

Before this all started I knew next to nothing about the principles of online teaching. In fact, I don’t know very much now that I’m fully immersed in it. I think I have made a lot of mistakes and I will probably make many more along the way.

One of the reasons for the above is that I have no idea what the online world looks like from a student’s perspective. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see it and test it out before I was thrown in at the deep end.

One of the obvious problems regarding online teaching I’m trying to tackle at the moment is assessment. As a teacher in the state sector of education, I normally grade students’ work and that’s what they are used to. Grading, or any type of summative assessment for that matter, is simply the norm. Obviously, it has a lot of drawbacks. However, under normal circumstances, i.e. during regular, offline teaching, it is possible to make up for some of the pitfalls. Now, unfortunately, it is even more problematic. What is more, any kind of alternative assessment, which is typically deemed suitable and highly beneficial, such as verbal feedback, has turned into a double-edged sword too.

Another problem closely connected with the above is plagiarism. In fact, you never know who has sent the work; is it the student, her friend, his mother or Mr Google? So far, I have detected two cases of a mild form of plagiarism but I am sure they are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you uncover cheating and openly criticize it, the students will either feel ashamed and never do it again, or they will be cleverer next time. There’s not much we can do about it.

Also, the actual way of assigning online tasks is quite problematic too. Should they be compulsory or voluntary? What about the deadlines? How strict should the teacher be? Normally, when a student forgets to do their homework, you ask them to bring it next time. How feasible is this in the online environment? It can get overwhelming for the teacher to constantly deal with all sorts of excuses.

Having said this, the online environment offers some advantages too. The fact that it is possible to set definite deadlines is one of them. This may sound a bit cowardly, but I feel that some of the responsibility is suddenly shifted from the teacher to the students themselves and, in a way, the online platform you are sharing. In other words, it is some automatic device which actually gave you a FAIL grade, not me. Next time, be more careful and watch the deadlines. Still, we are only human after all, so if a student comes up with an acceptable excuse, such as the internet suddenly stopped working just as I was uploading my homework, what can you do?

Another perk of online teaching is that you can get as creative as you wish. Plus, there are endless opportunities to finally get round to doing things which would otherwise be hard or impossible in the actual classroom. Finally, I have noticed that some students apparently prefer this type of instruction, especially the shier ones.

Luckily, I am now communicating with students who I have known face-to-face for quite some time. This makes things easier as it helps me to attach a file to a face, voice, smile…

Anyway, I am a rookie and there is a lot for me to learn. My students will probably suffer from my lack of experience but that’s just the way it is.