As Malaysia enters its third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, my fellow educators continue to navigate and adapt to the rapidly changing education landscape which includes: conducting online classes from the ‘comfort’ of their homes, to hybrid (physical and online) teaching, to travelling to their institutions to conduct the online classes because management perceives that their educators have become ineffective and lazy since working from home (during a global pandemic), to teaching fully online again. Consequently, educators are physically and mentally exhausted, (in some cases) underappreciated and more conscious of their approach to teaching.
I reached out to my fellow educators* and asked if they were willing to share their experiences of teaching during a global public health crisis and I’ll be breaking down their experiences in this article and the next.
*Note: the educators who contributed to this article come from different teaching backgrounds - some are from private or public institutions, some teach at the primary, secondary or tertiary level, some teach in an urban or rural setting, and some are educators to a classroom of students with or without disabilities.
The sudden shift to online teaching threw many of the educators in for a loop where they discovered the burdensome role technology would play in their online teaching experience.
“Running around like a headless chicken”
When the Movement Control Order (MCO) was first implemented, some institutions standardised the softwares (online resources and platforms) and hardwares (tablet, laptop, ring light, webcam etcetera) while others gave their educators the ultimate freedom to choose for themselves. Both approaches left the educators overwhelmed as the majority of them were teaching online for the first time, thus their concerns include:
- Organic teacher-student engagements
- Organic learning moments
- Limited access to stable WiFi (for both educators and their students)
- Constant need to learn everything about the softwares and hardwares to ensure their teaching sessions progressed with minor technological interruptions, and
- Whether the readily available (and free) softwares were the best fit for their subjects and students.
After eight months of online and/or hybrid teaching, the educators are better versed with the softwares and hardwares, and acknowledge that this once-in-a-lifetime steep learning curve has made them better prepared for blended learning and better aware of why and how to adopt technology as their ‘friend’ in the classroom whenever face-to-face sessions are permitted.
“A better awareness of students’ engagement”
Nevertheless, after months of talking to a rectangular magic box that more often than not shows more names than faces, the educators have come to realise how valuable teacher-student interactions are to their teaching experience. Not only do verbal and non-verbal responses allow for the educators to gauge their students’ ability to understand what is being taught, the issue of invasion of privacy (if we force students to turn on their cameras) has also made it difficult to cultivate an organic teacher-student relationship.
Besides that, students’ engagements are also affected by the following factors:
- A physical environment (their homes) that may or may not have been designed for classroom productivity;
- Need for parents, of students with disabilities or primary school students, to assist in classroom activities; and
- Readily available softwares and hardwares which are rarely designed to cater to students with disabilities, students living in rural areas and primary school students who may require hands-on guidance.
Following months of perseverance, these educators have found creative ways to engage with their students and to make online learning as organic as possible. Furthermore, some have discovered that by being transparent with their students or the students’ parents about the struggles they, as educators, are facing to create a healthy online learning experience, the latter do not only sympathise with the educators but also work alongside the educators to help make the learning experience easier for everyone involved.
“I was basically a live streamer in the morning and tech support in the evening”
Owing to the unexpected shift to online teaching, educators are now working through their weeknights and weekends to do the following:
- Prepare online classroom materials
- Record and edit lectures
- Prepare online and offline (in case face-to-face classes are suddenly permitted) assessments
- Attend countless meetings, workshops and webinars
- Play around with softwares and hardwares, and
- Attend to students’ IT problems
On top of their usual teaching, marking and administrative responsibilities.
Suffice to say, the need to integrate technology into the classroom as a main player, rather than a mere tool to fulfil KPI requirements has been an overwhelming and strenuous experience for the educators. Yet, a resounding feedback I received from the educators is that the steep learning curve has only made them better educators because teaching while surviving a global pandemic has made them more adaptable, flexible and creative educators.