“Change” is a word usually with more negative connotations than positive ones. Switching from attending classes to off-site virtual ones is taking place more and more lately, and it shows its negative as well as its bright side.
My first experience as a “virtual teacher” is very rich. I can say that I am grateful I was given the opportunity to lead a 10 academic hour class split in two days, and 20 virtual ones. The subject: Applied English Phonetics. Quite an ambitious challenge!! For the first time I do not know all my students. 39 were enrolled and although I worked with them in two different classes, I do not remember them. I can conclude then, that virtual classes do provide time flexibility, but are less social in a way, than attending classes. I say, in a way, since the virtual contact way is a new social form of having teacher-student ties.
There is a phenomenon I would like to talk about: as we all know, there are different kinds of learners, different personalities, different learning styles. Regarding this virtual teaching experience, I group my learners as follows:
1. Desperate. this kind of student is the kind that is eager to go back home (even though they are required to be in class only twice a month). They are either not interested in the subject or do not just get it. They are normally too tired because of responsibilities other than attending classes.
Regarding the reasons why they do not get it, I guess they are:
a. Poor study skills. (what is it what I am going to ask?) non-existent or poor questions, absence of note-taking (or rote copying from the board), lack of discussion of a given topic with a partner, lack of attention when instructions are given (what is it that we need to do?)
b. Poor English. (I can barely communicate!! I do not understand the teacher and cannot articulate a proper question)
c. Cultural aspects. (believing that not knowing is wrong, so no questions should be made)
What I have noticed is that these students most of the time have pending appointments and need to leave earlier. A pity since the subject I teach is extremely technical, requires lots of clear explanations, modelling and practice, and it is condensed in a two-Saturday class.
I’d rather not have these students in this class format specifically. They need to take certain steps first, learn study skills, deal with their timetable, etc. I’d love to teach them in a different class setting, not an virtual one. Hopefully they manage to get organized and eventually succeed
But not everything is gloomy, there is another group:
2. Survivors. the students who follow my explanation in class, and maybe take some notes, but once they get home they are completely lost. They get immersed into their family issues and work load. When asked to do an exercise: blank! I guess this is due to poor (or non-existent) study skills, plus the usual problems: time management, family, work and other priorities.
3. Brilliant! my students make me so proud! there were students who complied with all the virtual tasks, asked the right questions in class, and found the subject fascinating and even indispensable. They were immediately able to spot its importance and find practical ways of applying this knowledge in their classrooms
Therefore, I can conclude that being a 21st century teacher is a big challenge. Changes everywhere: the typical class model is dying out. Lessons are approached differently, even the way to assess has changed.
All this forces me to get updated, and make an effort to be an inspiring teacher, one that motivates his students even when the subject he teaches is too technical and requires patience, practice, practice and more practice.