Real-time face to face interactive online classes
The continued spread of COVID-19 has disrupted all sectors as well as the daily work and lives of people. Disruption includes the suspension of classes and homeworking or home study. To safeguard the health of teachers and students, the suspension of face-to-face classes in most higher education institutions worldwide was inevitable.
Many institutions may have temporarily closed down their classes before, but never on such a large scale and it is truly unprecedented globally. Proactively responding to the challenge of the times, many other academic activities, such as conferences, seminars, laboratory work, internships, examinations and assessment, oral defense of theses, graduate job interviews, etc, were also held online. In fact, distance e-learning is not new as a teaching aid.
Apart from emails, websites, massive open online courses (MOOCs), and specific education software, for more than a decade institutions have been using learning management system software such as Moodle or Blackboard to enable teachers to upload materials and videos for sharing, to allow students to upload assignments, and to make possible the management of student records. The e-platform, therefore, allows them to conduct online asynchronous teaching.
With the advance and increasing use of information technology, online teaching has evolved gradually into a concept of real-time, synchronous virtual classrooms. Since on-campus class suspensions in early February 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, institutions have been working day and night to enable real-time video teaching. Simulating ‘humanized’ classes Conducting real-time video teaching does not require everyone to be in the same location and universities are encouraging teachers to follow original class schedules as much as possible.
The conferencing software, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts Meet, allows real-time video interactions and polling activities and, at the same time, interactions by text or voice through live ‘chat rooms’, thus enhancing students’ engagement. The system is also equipped with a built-in video recording function, allowing teachers a choice to upload lecture videos and other teaching materials after class, for students to review at any time. Teachers can also set up online tutoring groups. To adapt to these changes and to maintain the quality of teaching and learning, teachers and support staff made much more of an effort in their preparation work.
We must also commend teachers for their hard work – as online teaching requires more preparation than normal classes. Teachers have to revise their subject teaching plans, assessment details, and teaching materials and adopt new ways to interact with students. Video teaching and classroom teaching differ in terms of methods and skills. Teachers have to adapt to video teaching and in time can more fully integrate technology, content, and pedagogies. As much as possible, simulating human interactions in a classroom is one of the factors that makes video teaching successful. In addition, teachers should also handle new issues and challenges carefully, such as students’ privacy, their home environment, whether they lack good quality Wi-Fi connections at home, their network speed and stability, cybersecurity, and the time differences for students who are in different regions.
If teachers wish to conduct video recordings that involve students being present for real-time teaching, then they have to consider the student’s home environment and need for privacy. In the face of new teaching and learning modes, and given the limited time, resources, and experience available, some operations are obviously going to be less than desirable. Although students cannot return to campus for normal classes, for the time being, they can still make the most of online learning if they persist in learning with self-discipline and participate in real-time class discussions at home, according to class schedules. Students can also make use of this period to strengthen self-learning, such as doing more reading, writing, and conduct