Monday, 11 October 2021

On line learning is not

the same as face to face learning. It is most definitely not the preferable way to learn - or teach.

There was an interesting article yesterday by one of the local journalists. He was expressing his concern at the way so many universities here have moved to "on-line" learning and not just during the Covid19 lock downs. 

He pointed out, quite correctly, that there were moves before that. My nephews here both had a great deal more available on line than the students I was working with say ten years before they were at university.

On-line learning is of course something that has become possible with the internet and greater access to the internet. Learning "at a distance" on the other hand has long been known in Downunder. The vast distances between students and teachers in the "outback" had to be catered for somehow. The problems were solved in part by correspondence lessons supervised by harassed mothers or, if the family could afford it, young girls acting as "governesses". These were supplemented by the "School of the Air". These things have been updated. Video links have helped a lot but it still is not the same as actually being in a classroom.

Over the past eighteen months I have tried to help some students who would normally be attending lectures, going to tutorials, participating in seminars, reading in the library, chatting to friends and much more. All that stopped with the first lock down although some of it was disappearing before that. I have worked with students who are still at home in places like China, Malaysia, India and more. They are struggling.

On-line lectures are not the same. I have watched a few. The delivery of information is not the same at all.  

Teaching is not simply about the delivery of information. It is also about receiving information. It is a two way process. Good teachers will be watching their students. They will ask questions of their students. If there are blank looks they can back track, explain again or explain differently. In the classroom good teachers will know if students are learning. There is no such "feed back" on-line.

Yes of course you can set a "test" or "quiz" or get students to write an essay - if you are willing to mark it. It will give you some idea if you have managed to teach what you planned to teach if you do these things. 

If you only do it on-line though there is something missing. I read some essays recently - before they were passed in. I am thankful I did not have to mark them. They lacked that spark of interest, of enthusiasm, of imagination. The last is hard to come by in many of the students I help. They are used to showing their teachers great respect. They don't question ideas put to them. These essays were worse than that. They were dull, stilted repetitions of the lectures they had dutifully watched...nothing more. 

This is not learning, especially learning at tertiary level. Of course students will still know something at the end of their courses but university has to be about more than that. The researchers of the future depend on being able to participate actively in the learning process now. On-line learning makes that much more difficult to do.

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