Need for educators to step up



WHEN the Covid-19 pandemic first disrupted teaching and learning in higher education, it caused tremendous stress among educators and learners. Almost overnight, institutions had to move their face-to-face classroom instruction to an online platform.

Over time, they developed better contingency plans, allowing teaching and learning to continue. However, more needs to be done to reduce the impact of the disruptions at the tertiary level.

Engagement and adaptation

Academicians are responsible for the efficient delivery of courses within a specific timeline. In the wake of the pandemic, they quickly adapted to online teaching and figured out the best practices through trial and error.

In addition, they had to be prepared to answer questions from their learners, even though they themselves might still be waiting for clearer instructions from their top management.

While some educators may think otherwise, there are upsides to virtual learning. It makes it easier to monitor participation, engage reticent and introverted learners, and enhance learning.

Learners, too, get to personalise their learning experience by engaging with content at their own time and revisiting previous content as needed. As the transition is taking place at a time of a health crisis, educators need to offer support to learners, such as helping them process their emotions and creating a virtual space or forum for them to share and express their feelings.

Open, attentive and frank discussions can go a long way towards establishing trust between educators and learners. Most of the time, just saying “How can I support you?” or “I am always here for you if you want to talk about the things on your mind” would be deeply appreciated.

Teaching tools and methods

Face-to-face instruction is very different from online teaching. For many educators, the virtual class is a new concept. Engaging learners and keeping their attention fixed on the screen for one to three hours is a challenge.

Any non-laboratory work is rarely smooth-sailing, especially if the duration is long.

There are different teaching methods, including leveraging online tools such as Kahoot!, Socrative, TED-Ed, ThingLink, Padlet, Slido and Lucidchart, and micro-engagement to drive learners’ engagement.

The question is, how to inspire learners? How do educators make sure that the syllabus is delivered well and reflected on the assessment of their learners?

More thought also has to be put into ensuring that learners are learning and the teaching method is effective.

The learning pyramid or cone of learning, developed by the National Training Laboratories in the United States, suggests that active learning is more effective than passive learning. Kinaesthetic approaches such as teaching others, practising by doing, and discussing are more effective than auditory and visual methods.

For online learning, audio-visual learning is still a common teaching method, and this approach only leads to a 20% retention of content learnt. Meanwhile, demonstration, discussion, practising by doing and teaching others are some approaches used by tutors in tutorials. Some instructors have encouraged learners to produce videos for their presentations.

As online learning is the main mode of instruction now, educators need to be innovative in their teaching through different methods.

Support

Learners seek educators for guidance, even under unsettling circumstances such as the pandemic. Educators could sense learners’ worries on their faces on the first day of transition to digital class.

The lockdown and movement control orders resulting in social distancing, isolation and economic uncertainty have caused considerable rises in mental health concerns, including worries, lonesomeness, nervousness, gloominess, depression and suicidal thoughts.

It is crucial to highlight the importance of providing sufficient support to learners.

Communication

Having conversations with learners enables educators to obtain feedback on their teaching, recognise their learners’ expectations, and understand their learners better.Do not underestimate the power of connection. Be patient with your learners and give them time to adjust to the new normal.

Sharing sessions are a compelling way to connect with people on different levels. So too is asynchronous communication.Educators can provide consultation hours. Indeed, some have practised staying back at the end of virtual classes for 15 to 20 minutes to interact with their learners.

Internalise the lesson

To create excitement among learners in a virtual class, invite broader participation. Educators could show a chart or diagram and have learners answer questions in the chatbox.

Observe their facial expressions and gauge whether or not they are having difficulty with certain questions. Give them time to think critically. It is vital to explicitly highlight your expectations in a virtual class, including the norms in interaction and participation.

Some educators prefer to see their learners on screen, but some do not. Set norms that guide behaviour but still allow for flexibility.

Wai Ching Poon is an economics associate professor and the director of graduate research programmes at the School of Business in Monash University Malaysia. She was the deputy course director of undergraduate studies. She has published actively in high-quality mainstream and multidisciplinary journals. She serves as an editor for Cogent Economics and Finance, and is on the editorial board for Corporate Governance: An International Review, Management and Organisation Review, and Water Conservation Science and Engineering. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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