As a teacher, you leave all your troubles behind when you enter a classroom. For those few hours, your only troubles are your students and their education. The classroom as a physical space has been held sacred by teachers for centuries. No wonder you won’t find ready takers for online teaching amongst traditional teachers.
But the truth is that it’s only a matter of time before most teachers will have to make the online leap. Adapting to technology isn’t easy, but is necessary. A recent study in Australia showed that adaptability in the classroom improves the well-being of teachers. You know it, but you can’t make the shift instantly.
Why traditional teachers hate to teach online
It isn’t just about work creeping into your living room. For teachers, working online is a very different ball game than for other professionals. If you’ve been teaching in classrooms for even a few years and tried the online way because someone told you that ‘it’s where 21st Century students are’, or simply to see how it works; you must’ve experienced these issues:
1.No personal touch: When you are in a physical classroom, there is eye contact, there are shared inside jokes, there is a community atmosphere. In an online class, everyone is simultaneously in their houses, cafes, or other places. The physical-mental space divide is pronounced and it is difficult to earn undivided attention.
2. No drama: Students distinguish teachers as much on the basis of their mannerisms as their expertise and teaching styles. We will all remember that one teacher who said a certain word in a funny way in Class 3 for all our lives. Voice modulation, animated gestures, and body language are a crucial part of a teacher’s identity. Restricting the teacher into a small rectangle robs them of the atmosphere for putting up a performance. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t easy.
3. Technical know-how: Online teaching takes a lot of online learning. You need to research and learn everything from selecting an online teaching platform, designing online-friendly lectures, assignments, etc. You also need to find the right set of hardware such as digital whiteboards, webcams, and audio devices. All of this requires both time and money, although it is a one-time investment.
4. Not ‘seeing’ students: There is a sense of control and comfort in having the entire class within your field of vision. It is easier to set the tone and read the room, to determine if today feels unusually low, to decide that you should change your lesson plans, and conduct an activity instead. In an online class, every student is in a different state of mind, and it is tough to read each of them.
5. Difficulty in group tasks: In a physical classroom, groups can simply take up different corners and work on assignments. You can supervise all of them at once by taking a walk around the classroom. In an online class, you need a good group division feature on the app you’re using, or ask students to shift to another platform which becomes tedious. It takes some trial and error to figure out the best practice.
6. Cybersecurity concerns: Cyber risks are unavoidable with any online communication platform. There is sensitive data of both teachers and students involved. There are risks such as phishing, malware, and unauthorized members in private meetings. One incident and the class would be hesitant for the next lecture, for no fault of yours.
But, the real problem is none of these…
The real problem is what humans have had since times immemorial with printed books, ebooks, Renaissance art, social media, and every other revolution in history — resistance to change. There were apprehensions, but we have always found newer and better ways of creating things. You know these already, but let us spell out the reasons why each of the above issues is nothing but an opportunity for growth:
1. No intimidation, no boundaries: No personal touch also means no anxiety for a lot of students. Peer pressure in a classroom environment actually hinders the growth of introverted students, as they hesitate to ask questions. In an online class, shy students can finally ask anonymously. They can not only talk but have detailed conversations outside of class hours, which helps their confidence.
2. Less drama, more substance: In an online class, you cannot put up a performance as you did in a physical classroom. Your lessons have to be much more specific, granular, and structured. Your students will evaluate you purely on the basis of what you say, without any bias regarding how you say it. This is, by all means, a great opportunity to improve your teaching skills.
3. Tech is indispensable: Digital literacy has always only worked out for the better of any professional. Whether you are a full-time teacher or a part-time corporate professional too, the technical skills you pick up while learning to teach online will be very useful in other areas of your life too. Plus, online teaching platforms gather and analyze valuable data that can provide actionable insights for your future classes.
4. Encouraging students’ independence: You probably don’t need to keep a watch on your students. With structured plans, your students have more incentive to pay attention and learn on their own. They also learn to manage time better with deadlines on dashboards. They can start being more independent learners. After all, teaching isn’t about feeding knowledge. It is all about learning and teaching others how to learn.
5. Innovative group assignments: Just as we’re exploring newer ways of teacher-student communication online, we’re also doing the same with communication within the class. There are various ways of being innovative with group tasks, with a plethora of apps at your disposal. Like every other creative block, this is a creative challenge.
6. Cybersecurity is a basic life skill: Cyber attacks are a risk with any online endeavor. If risks of cybercrime and data theft don’t make you stop using social media, they shouldn’t prevent you from online teaching either. Adopting best practices and encouraging students to do the same will ensure a smooth and safe online learning experience, and prepare everyone involved for a safer virtual life.
Moral of the story
Online teaching might not be something you’d fall in love with at first sight. But give it some time and effort, and you are sure to change your mind. You are every student who hates that one subject for no reasonable reason, and online teaching is that subject. Spend some time understanding and learning it, and you’ll probably end up finding an exceptional online teacher in yourself!
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