I came to the UK almost two years ago, and found it interesting that UK media outlets had talked about nothing other than Brexit. It seemed that they were less concerned about other issues such as welfare, education, immigration, unemployment, and crimes. These issues were otherwise discussed in terms of the influence Brexit had on them.
These issues seemed to be finally in the spotlight as the media moved on from Brexit when the UK finally left the EU on December 31, 2019. However, they weren’t in the spotlight for long because the media moved their attention to the new coronavirus. The media have been discussing these issues in terms of how COVID-19 has been influencing them.
UK higher education became the topic of the media yesterday. Cambridge University announced that all their lectures will be conducted online until summer 2021. Their decision has put pressure on other universities to clarify what their plans are for teaching in the coming academic year, and how they would assure the quality of online lectures.
On Tuesday, I delivered my last online seminar, and this confusing semester is finally done (although marking is pending). I have had a small, very sweet and friendly seminar group, and we discussed contemporary security issues. This group is unforgettable in many ways. Most importantly, we have met in person only once which was on the orientation day in February. We did the typical things that can be expected in an orientation session: we introduced each other, talked about some fun-facts for as a part of breaking the ice (they were surprised that I had ‘fish and chips’ only one time in the UK), and shared ground rules. We talked about the limitations of the current international security system, and I asked them to talk in groups about the alternative system which can deal with non-traditional security issues. They built very interesting and impressive ideas on the sheet with colourful drawings. We did not have enough time for presentations, and so we planned to do this in the next seminar. I collected the sheets, which are still in my drawer. However, the time to listen to their presentations has never come.
That day in the seminar room was the last day when we met in person. Since then, there have been no classroom seminars because I joined the strike for three weeks, after that, the University abruptly began the spring break due to COVID-19. Since the semester resumed, we have moved our seminars online.
I was worried a lot about teaching online. My hard-working module convenor helped me get used to the system of online seminars. However, I was anxious because I couldn’t be sure if the online seminar could go well. I was worried about the poor internet connection in my flat and also the Internet connection of my students. I was not sure how many of them would attend, and was also nervous about how the small group discussion would work online. I was concerned about finding teaching materials, and how it was spread on my laptop screen, and also about using them in a timely manner. Overall, it went well, but my anxiety continued until the end of the session. The anxiety never disappeared till the last seminar, although I got used to online seminars.
My University may need to decide soon how they will deliver lectures and seminars next academic year. If they consider providing online teaching, they may need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of online teaching. Here is my take on online teaching.
The things that I liked online teaching are:
- I could share internet materials easily with the students, by posting the web address of the materials in the group chat.
- It is environmentally friendly. I could save papers and ink because all hand-outs were electronic. I did not have to throw out unused printed hand-outs after the seminar and feel guilty.
- To some extent, I think small group work in online seminars seemed more effective than what we have in the classrooms. I asked them to use Google Doc to do group tasks and prepare a presentation. When they delivered the presentation, everyone shared their Google Doc documents. Students were able to look at how other groups discussed and understand the points of the presentation.
The things that I found difficult while teaching online are:
- It was hard to know whether students had understood my explanation of a topic or instructions for small group tasks. This was because they turned off their cameras during the session. They may have been in a situation where they had difficulties in presenting themselves in front of the camera (like wearing pyjamas). I couldn’t see their faces, and therefore understanding their reaction via eye contact was impossible. To gauge their understanding, I had to do a poll (yes/no) or wait until someone said yes/no. These processes wasted time.
- Some of them remained silent during the session, and I couldn’t be sure if they were really there and participated in the seminar. They may have been quiet because they were shy.
- Some students couldn’t access online materials because the countries, where they stay in, did not allow access to certain materials from Youtube or Google. So, they weren’t able to fully understand and actively take part in the discussions.
- There were other instances which led to a waste of time that was not expected in a classroom seminar. There had been confusions regarding muting the mic. In some instances, I had to remind my students to unmute the mic when they started to speak. And in some, I myself forgot to unmute mine while giving instructions, so had to speak same things again.
I may get used to teaching online. However, I may never like it because interaction with the students is never the same as in the real classroom.