The perks and challenges of online teaching

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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.

 

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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11 Responses to The perks and challenges of online teaching

  1. Rose Bard says:

    I left this message on your FB page “You are doing the best you can, so be kind to yourself Hana Tichá. Now, it is time for everyone to put into practice empathy towards each other. We still don’t know what we will face in the days to come. So take it easy.”

    “Should they be compulsory or voluntary? What about the deadlines? How strict should the teacher be?”
    Based on your questions above, I wonder whether you received any guidelines from your school to move online.
    Here in Brazil, regular schools have taken different approaches. Some are replicating face2face classes in online spaces. While others are sending suggestions in the school websites and on social media pages. In the first example, everything assigned is mandatory. In the second one, it is totally voluntary. I have seen teachers, whose schools are not moving to online teaching, keeping in touch with students through a messaging tool which is very popular in Brazil and thinking of helping students to continue studying at home. The school I work for moved the classes online, but we are not using the coursebook/following the program and participating in the online classes or doing the activities are not mandatory. I work in a language school, but even if I were working on a regular school, my advice to everyone would be to take easy and not to focus on getting the programme going at this point.

    If there is anything I can help you with, let me know. I’ll be happy to help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for your comment, Rose.
      Don’t get me wrong – we did receive some general guidelines regarding moving online. Most of them were pretty vague though. Basically, the administrators (as well as the Ministry of Education) strongly advise us to follow our common sense. We should be tolerant and compassionate. In my post, I am thinking aloud and I am asking myself some specific questions I don’t have definite answers to. For example, strictness, tolerance and compassion are not measurable properties and the degree of each property always depends on the teacher’s personality. I am not a very strict teacher, I believe, but under these circumstances I simply feel I need to address some of the issues in order to prevent things from falling apart. In other words, it’s easier said than done to tell yourself: be tolerant. But to what extent? There need to be rules and boundaries, I believe. I hope it makes sense. 🙂
      Cheers!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Rose Bard says:

        Hi, Hana. It’s good to hear from you.

        I’ve asked whether the school gave guidelines because the questions you asked is the first thing that becomes clear in the Brazilian context of regular school. So, I was just trying to understand whether that was true in your context too. I guess, in your school the guidelines was similar to what we received from our school. We were left to decide what tool to use and do the best we can based on our personality and previous experiences.

        We can’t expect schools to know what to do in this situation as we are all hoping that it is not a transition to remote learning and the lockdown ends soon. So, it is quite understandable that you are asking questions. Everyone is at the moment. Whether they receive specific guidelines or not.

        As I wrote in my blog yesterday, we have to take into consideration the emotional state that everyone is in; the technical problems that students and teachers might have; and, lastly, the mindset. Students are not prepared to study remotely.

        Whatever decision you take about your teaching and how to deal with the situation right now, I hope you take care of yourself and be well.

        Hugs from Brazil!

        Liked by 1 person

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  3. Tim Thompson says:

    When I was a full-time instructor, I was strict about deadlines. Teaching English in Korea, it is very possible that my students would not have to use English for their jobs after graduation but time management for assignments and projects, good communication before the deadline to discuss extensions and reasons for those extensions, and instilling a sense of personal responsibility were all things I believed, and still believe, are important for them to be successful in the future. Teaching online wouldn’t change that one bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Yes, Tim, I agree. These are very important skills for students to learn. The truth is though that they are confused (especially the youngest ones). At the moment the online platform we are using is a new reality for them. They did not choose it; it’s been literally imposed on them. In other words, they didn’t sign up for some online course back in September when they started school and some of them do not have the necessary skills and equipment to deal with all the challenges. That’s why the Ministry of Education and our administrators advise us to proceed with extreme caution.

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. Sandy Millin says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, as always. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the posts in this series.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Sumaya says:

    Hi Hana. I have my BA in English and currently doing a TEFL course. I am interested in starting an online teaching tutoring business for teaching English, but am pretty much clueless as how to do so. Do you have any tips or recommendations for me? Thanks so much

    Like

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