One major impact from the spread of coronavirus has been the closure of schools. In-person classes have therefore been replaced by various digital platforms, in almost all countries around the world.

These platforms existed well before the crisis and were already used in various contexts. Nevertheless, the challenge posed by the lockdown was to expand them across all teaching staff and students at record speed.

This sudden migration to online learning is what we now call Corona Teaching: a syndrome characterised by this rapid change's effects on teachers and students. Let's try to decipher major challenges, methods and best practices.

 

How has education been affected by the coronavirus so far?

Soon after the virus spread, schools and universities closed their doors and shifted to online platforms. Upon closer inspection, what was the real impact of the coronavirus on education?

 

Delays encountered

The first impact of Corona Teaching was to significantly delay the holding of major exams and admissions tests for institutions of higher education. For the sake of “not harming the candidates” (according to a press release from the Minister of Education on March 15, 2020), some schools chose to cancel or postpone these exams until the next school year. Others have instead considered extending the school year because of the cumulative delays.

 

This was mainly due to the adjustment time required for teachers to adapt to new online platforms and to migrate their teaching materials there. They needed to learn how to use digital tools. They also needed to figure out how to convert practical educational content, or courses based on interactions between teachers and students, onto these new platforms. In practice, most teachers and students adapted to the situation by doing their best.

 

New challenges for teachers and students

The second step in the expansion of Corona Teaching was for teachers and students to learn to manage remote learning and grading. New digital tools were already playing an important role in most school curricula. But this further technological dependence, affecting all aspects of education, was imposed overnight.

 

We already know the impact this has had on teachers, especially in adapting their course material. But students have also encountered difficulties in leveraging these new tools. Most importantly, they have needed to learn how to recreate a productive work environment and routine at home.

 

Inequalities between students

Hybrid education (from which Corona Teaching is derived) was originally designed to democratise access to education, especially for students who face geographic or time-related obstacles. Its accelerated expansion in early 2020 has brought to light many inequalities that already existed between students. The issue of access to a computer, or even a reliable Internet connection at home, for example, has forced many students to put their education on hold.

 

We should also remember students with special learning needs, who may have an attention-deficit disorder or struggle to concentrate. It is clear that, currently, online educational tools are not really adapted to their difficulties.

 

What are the methods of Corona Teaching?

The rapid implementation of new teaching methods when confronting Covid-19 has varied significantly from one institution to another. If we compare it to teaching methods like e-learning or remote education, Corona Teaching is distinguished by its rapid implementation during an emergency.

 

Online education or e-learning

Corona Teaching mainly resembles the practices of remote learning. This relies on digital technologies to transition from in-person teaching to an online learning experience. Instructors must do much preparation to design, plan and develop a valuable curriculum for an online programme. This requires time and technical, financial and human resources.

 

Experts estimate that even with all the necessary resources, it can take a teacher six to nine months to design an online course. And after three teaching cycles, adjustments may be necessary.

This is the problem with Corona Teaching. Because what, in normal times, requires up to a year of teacher training and increased collaboration with instructional designers, programmers and illustrators has been implemented abruptly and without real supervision.

 

Emergency Remote Teaching

Therefore, Corona Teaching is mainly characterised by the need for a forced transition in order to maintain pedagogical continuity. This has prompted a complex migration process toward online learning, also known as emergency remote teaching (ERT).

 

As such, institutions from primary school through higher education have undertaken new measures very quickly. Both teachers and students often find themselves overwhelmed and waiting for the most appropriate teaching methods for the crisis to be defined.

 

The implementation of Corona Teaching, according to the definition provided by Luz Montero, director of the Catholic University of Chile, is the process of "transforming in-person courses into a virtual format, but without changing the programme or methodology".

 

As a result, for many, there's a risk that these immediate and largely improvised processes of migration will lead to poor results. Above all, this process entails frustration and distress for teachers and students alike, due to difficulties with this transition and a lack of adequate training and preparation.

 

ERT is therefore explicitly different from online learning (according to an article by Charles Hodges, Stephanie Moore, Barb Lockee, Torrey Trust and Aaron Bond, published in March 2020) in that the former represents a temporary and abrupt shift in pedagogy due to crisis circumstances. Namely, Corona Teaching consists of providing temporary access to instruction and teaching tools in a rapid and simple manner.

 

3 best practices for Corona Teaching

Experts, or more simply teachers familiar with remote education, remind us that the implementation of courses online requires much thoughtfulness and practice. To help teachers who are suddenly faced with the challenge of teaching online after their school is closed, here are some top recommendations.

 

Familiarise yourself with available resources

Corona Teaching almost always requires use of a platform where lectures are posted online or conducted through a video-conferencing tool. The first step is therefore for teachers to familiarise themselves with these new tools.

 

Ideally, they should be able to pull in instructional designers. In some schools, teachers also share video demonstrations or pre-recorded simulations.

Mastery comes with practice, so it is advisable to:

 

  • Practice recording videos or audio for lessons. Using a microphone or camera may take a little time before you feel comfortable. For example, teachers should avoid walking during class so that the sound quality is consistent.
  • Try out different times during which the teacher is available to their students to answer questions (depending on when works best for them);
  • Offer different formats to ensure that educational content is accessible to everyone. For example, the teacher should decide whether they intend to disseminate their content synchronously or asynchronously. For a large number of students, the second option will often be more convenient. Some may indeed have difficulty "streaming" lessons due to a poor Internet connection. It is therefore better to prepare documents that students can download and study based on their availability. A good example would be an annotated PowerPoint presentation, short screen-sharing videos describing the process for carrying out exercises, etc.
  • Continue to assess students fairly with tools like Compilatio's Magister software.

 

Adapting courses to the constraints of Corona Teaching

A 50-minute lecture in the classroom cannot be transposed as is online. A much better strategy may be simply to break that dense chunk of content into shorter, more easily digestible videos. In general, digital educational materials benefit from enabling skimming.

 

Since students' attention span is not the same in front of their computer as in the classroom, a specialist like Debbie Mitchell, a professor at the University of Denver, advises not to exceed 15 minutes per subject. According to her, the shorter the better: “We tried very intently to keep videos short because the attention span for dense material beyond 6 minutes is pretty challenging."

 

The way in which the course content is organised also contributes to its accessibility for students. They should be able to go back and intuitively find the resources they need. A good exercise is to have another person go through the educational content and point out the areas where it was difficult to find relevant information.

 

There is also the question of how this educational content is internalised by students. This is where remote grading comes in. One area where teachers must once again adapt, to address other issues of importance, is to identify students who may be cheating.

 

"I try to design my exams so that it is less tempting for them to search the internet for information." Rather than requesting a regurgitation of facts, teachers can evaluate their students' capacities for analysis and critical thinking. One adjustment that Compilatio can greatly simplify is to enable teachers to verify whether a piece of writing is genuine or not.

 

Communicate with students

Connecting with students can be difficult online. Unless you are using a synchronous platform like Zoom, it is almost impossible to get visual clues about your students' level of concentration or comprehension of the course. And even with these types of tools, students may not have a webcam. Or the sheer number of participants can make it impossible to check that everyone is following along.

 

Accordingly, teachers must find a means of communication through which students feel comfortable asking their questions. Many are shifting the communication that usually took place during in-person classes to electronic messaging. To encourage students to seek help in this way (which can be even more intimidating than raising a hand in class), it may sometimes be necessary for the teacher to take the first step

Sending a weekly email that describes the schedule for upcoming videos, new lessons, and homework for the coming weeks can also be extremely useful in helping students stay organised. The most important thing is to show that you are accessible. And be prepared that sometimes students may contact you outside of normal class hours.

 

It can also be productive to solicit their feedback to determine which approaches are viable in a Corona Teaching context. A method the teacher considers effective may indeed not meet students' needs. By sending out surveys throughout the semester asking them to rate these new teaching methods, or to share their suggestions, you'll discover even better ideas.


Will Corona Teaching persist after the crisis?

 

While the spread of the virus has pushed our education system to move more quickly toward digital platforms, the digitalisation of education is nothing new. Rather than representing a full revolution in teaching methods, Corona Teaching involves the management of and adaptation to a very rapid and largely improvised transition.

Either way, remote learning presents many challenges. It also offers new possibilities for teachers and students to try out different modes of education. It is also clear that once the crisis is resolved, these new educational systems will continue. Or they will at least coexist in a more pronounced way with in-person lessons.


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