Leandro Boonzaaier sees the pros and cons of online teaching for your children and offers some insight into how to avoid a few tears.
My family has a saying, “never let a crisis go to waste”. Simply put, it means that every crisis presents one with the opportunity to reflect on your life and the important things in your life. The Covid-19 pandemic, and the resulting lockdown in South Africa, is a crisis for many. It has certainly given me reason to reflect on many things. For example, even though I enjoy sport and watching it, I have wondered how much of a difference it has really made in my life not watching a bit of sport on TV. Not much, really. It has also led me to think about how I spend my time, now that I have lots of it at home with my family. The result is that many things that I thought were impossible to do without, have somehow faded into the background. So perhaps, they really weren’t all that important after all? Who knows?
In this article, I want to reflect on some of my thoughts on teaching and learning in a new environment – online learning. I will primarily write it from my perspective as a parent who has had to negotiate the changes with his children, but also partly from the perspective of someone who has taught, who occasionally still does and who will most likely do so again in the future. I have a 12-year-old in Grade 6 and a 9-year-old in Grade 3. We are fortunate enough to be able to send them to a private school that has continued with school lessons in an online format during the lockdown period. For my 12-year-old, it has, mostly, been business as usual. This is partly due to his personality, but I also suspect because he is older and is just a little bit more “used to” school and learning. He has always enjoyed learning on his own and tries to figure things out for himself. The online learning has given him the opportunity to just continue with that. For my 9-year-old, it has been a mixed blessing. She enjoys the fact that she can dip into the kitchen and get a snack from the fridge when she wants to, or that she can take a short break when she is tired. However, she prefers a lot more order and structure when it comes to her academic work. If tasks are ambiguous or there is uncertainty related to it, she tends to become a bit flustered.
Observing my children and their interactions with the online learning environments in these times, has led me think again about online learning. I have always been positive towards it, but at the same time do feel that one cannot do away with teachers and lecturers altogether. These past few weeks have strengthened those views, but it has also highlighted a few things for me. I will try to summarise those things in the next few paragraphs. I believe the thoughts I express here are valid not just for school level teaching, but for all forms and levels of teaching.
As a teacher or lecturer, one has to think carefully about what the desired outcomes are that you are aiming for. Typically, these outcomes are achieved by certain activities, assignments, etc. It is important that the proposed activities are achievable via the platform or medium available for online teaching. If the platform is not suited to the task at hand, one runs the risk that the student will spend far too much time on “managing the platform” and not engaging with the material.
Instructions for assignments need to be simple and clear. Not being able to ask for an explanation immediately, is problematic and can leave students unsure as to how to proceed. Having clear instructions reduces the possibility of anxiety on the student’s part and makes learning possible.
As teachers and lecturers, we must remember that at the other end of the online offering there is, most likely, a child or student who is trying his or her best to make sense of this new environment and learn something. Having some way to offer more than one explanation, especially when introducing new concepts, seems to be valuable. Even if that alternative explanation is a link to an interesting video or something similar, it may just be useful. One can often gauge, by the types of stares you get from the class, whether an explanation did the job or not. In this new environment, there are no blank stares or affirming nods, so one has to try and compensate for it in some way.
As a parent, I have learnt that I need to relax. I am not a primary school teacher. I cannot, and will never be able to, replace my children’s teachers, so we have to find some way to make this whole thing work. We are still in the process of figuring out what exactly that is. It is getting better, in that we are learning what works and what doesn’t, but I suspect that this learning process will continue for some time. And, that it is fine. I have once again seen that (my) children are incredibly resilient. I sometimes think we as parents are more stressed by the fact that things are not always going smoothly. Despite the tears and the confusion, they are ready every morning and haven’t given up on the process. So, why should I despair?
Let us not “waste this crisis”. There are many things to reflect on in this time, and many things will never be quite the same again. Perhaps this is a good time to think of how we can do things differently, and not just in our learning and teaching environments.