From my last blog post, we were happy to be COVID free for 102 days. Unfortunately, this nasty beast has shown its face again. Although in small numbers, our government jumped quickly into action and Auckland, where we are based, went straight into Level 3 lockdown.
Schools were closed immediately but fortunately, we’ve learnt from the first round and this time it was much easier to cross over to remote learning. We are back to Zoom meetings (better tidy your rooms and get out of your jammies!) and bringing out the sourdough starters again.
Some may say that disruptions in the classrooms and how we teach have been long overdue. Though, I much rather the reason for this sudden need to adapt to not have such dire consequences. Nevertheless, COVID-19 has spurred us to change very quickly.
Technology means greater accessibility…or is it?
While it is true to say that technology has made distance learning a lot more accessible, our Education Department is also trying to cope with students that don’t have internet. The quick solution is to send hard-copy packs out, however, this is only a short-term solution. In the long-term, we are failing those students as it means that those students will be greatly disadvantaged.
This is not just a New Zealand problem, 826 million students around the world have no access to a computer at home.
Technology’s influence in learning is a double-edged sword. Yes, video calls and online textbooks mean most students get to continue their education. We just have to make sure we do not neglect the ones who aren’t in the same playing field.
In a time where air travel is on a great decline due to closure of borders as a way to manage the spread of COVID-19, so too are teacher conferences. Special lectures from visiting guest speakers, flown in from another country, would also be impossible.
Luckily, students aren’t the only ones who’ll get to enjoy the new-fangled techs of tomorrow. Professors could project themselves and appear in lecture halls as a hologram, therefore circumventing the travel issue. Believe me, this isn’t something taken from a sci-fi novel as hologram led lectures have actually been around since 2018.
Once the technology becomes more affordable I believe this will become a more common use for delivering lectures and bringing in experts. Would it not be awesome too, when you discuss Science and Space in the classroom, beaming in Kristina Koch, the woman that stayed the longest time in space, to share her experience with the students without physically being there? Students will be able to ask her questions and she will be right there in the classroom.
Sounds cooler than a Zoom call, right?
Finding motivation among distraction
Another challenge of learning at home is finding the motivation to study. Checking social media, watching Netflix, playing with pets and just about everything under the sun that doesn’t involve school, all of this becomes harder to avoid when students are not in the right environment for learning. Teachers need to give their students more credit and trust that their students are disciplined, as well as being capable of weighing what’s important to make the right choices.
And we do see them just that. What motivates students to study these days are inspired by the plethora of resources found on the internet. So it’s like coming back to full circle with technology and distant learning. TheNextWeb suggest “Skillshare style video libraries and Duolingo style tutoring apps including Byju (which offered its app for free during COVID), Edmentum, and Wizenoze”
With how advanced AI chatbots are with its real-time feedback nowadays, it’s also popping up in education as well, acting as teaching assistants and math tutors. Back in 2018, New Zealand introduced Will, the first AI-based avatar teacher created by Vector and Soul Machines. Will was programmed to interact with primary school students on the topic of renewable energy.
The future for classrooms is still up in the air. Whether the learning space is a separate entity from the home, whether educators have to be physically present in the same room as students to be able to deliver school work, everything is up for a change. Whatever the outcome may be, I do believe that remote learning will definitely become even more prevalent.