The realm of online teaching is perfect territory for all sorts of experiments – social, pedagogical and educational – especially now when the parties involved are not under too much pressure from the education system. What I mean here is that nobody forces the teacher to produce a certain amount of grades, nobody strictly tells them how much work they need to complete and assign (more is definitely not better) and so they are less stressed by the need to come up with concrete results and tangible outcomes.
So, I wake up every morning and promise myself that from this day on, I will assign tasks which will be totally optional. I will finally set my students free from the constraints of the system. And I will see what happens. Will the participation drop dramatically? Or will I be pleasantly surprised? I keep telling myself that, after all, assigning work exclusively to students who really want to do it will actually save me a lot of time and energy. There will be less feedback to write. There will be less to worry about in general. But, for some reason, I haven’t had the courage to go this ‘unconventional’ yet. I believe it is because for some people (me being one of them) it’s terribly difficult to change their mindset overnight – the mindset telling you that many students won’t do anything if you don’t make them and that people must appreciate your work by responding to it in some way.
But I’m not a monster. I do give my students some leeway in terms of completing their homework. For example, I recently assigned an exercise for students to practise comparatives and superlatives through L1-L2 translation. I asked them to do the task, but I also included the key with the correct answers and asked them to afterwards look at the key and correct the mistakes. The idea that they can look at the key prior to actually doing the task is nagging at the back of my mind but, well, that’s the risk. That’s part of the social/pedagogical/educational experiment. I have nothing to lose and my students have nothing to lose either. They can only gain.
Some say that it is vitally important to stick to a daily routine when you end up confined like this. But I’ve heard others argue that flexibility is the key and that rigidity of any kind is detrimental to your mental health in such a difficult situation; it will kill your spirit and finally drive you even crazier than you already are. I strongly believe in the former and thus I try to work around a regular timetable. I wouldn’t have to be so persistent if I didn’t want to – I could skip a ‘lesson’ here and there or add one on a day I don’t teach a particular class but that’s my experiment. I decided I wanted to be a predictable type of teacher, even though I can’t really say whether it is beneficial for my students or if it actually drives them crazy. It probably depends on what kind of people they are and what situation they find themselves in right now. One way or the other, they can always count on me – I will always be there on certain days and at certain times. Will they eventually appreciate it? We shall see.