Teaching on Zoom

Published by rudy Date posted on October 6, 2021

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6 Oct 2021

For those that could, work from home was a life-changing adjustment born out of pandemic lockdown. Online teaching was a challenge that could be delayed but not avoided so I took the Ateneo online course “Adaptive Design for Learning” and jumped straight into an online classroom last year with about six weeks of training. I earned a professional certificate from actual experience. As we face the return to physical classrooms, I hope we do not throw away the few gains from the pandemic. The new normal does not mean a revert to life as we knew it before March 2020, but doing things differently in the “new normal.”

Teachers who now have their course content online should not be required to be physically on campus as before, rather be encouraged to undertake “blended” or “hybrid” classes that balance online with face-to-face learning. I see myself lecturing less, using physical time on campus for discussion, reports, and consultation. Teachers and students should be allowed to gain back that part of their lives spent commuting or wasted in traffic.

Bean counters, a bane before and after the pandemic, will resume the pre-pandemic system they know too well and demand physical presence to justify salaries. They should adapt by appreciating the qualitative over the quantitative. Instead of tracking hours I am on campus—in a classroom, at a meeting, or tied to the office desk—they should consider time spent at home: checking papers, preparing classroom lectures and slides. Researching online, reading, and reflecting take more time and effort than actual classroom lectures. I can’t speak for other teachers, but I update and improve my Keynote slides each semester.

Learning management systems (LMS) were not new to me before going fully online. I used Edmodo, a free app like Facebook for education. Edmodo made readings available online, reducing the income of the campus photocopy ladies and my carbon footprint. All course submissions were in “soft copies” rather than “hard copies,” sparing the lives of many trees. In June 2020, with the Ateneo campus closed, I migrated to Canvas LMS. Readings were uploaded. Submissions were online. Lectures had to be recorded and uploaded both as video and as a transcript. Live lectures run for 60 minutes with discussion and quiz; online lectures had the same content divided into four installments of 10-15 minutes maximum.

It takes over an hour to record a 10-minute video because little slips like mispronunciation or a long meditative pause to gather thought, acceptable in a live lecture, are magnified in a recorded one. Lectures had to be written out and read over my Keynote slides so that the finished product is seamless. No hesitation. No “ahs” and “uhms” to fill dead air while thinking. Recordings make me more articulate than I actually am. Smart earphones produce a hollow “tunog lata” audio that also catches ambient noise like motorcycles on the street or the neighbor’s barking dog. Using a headset only left me with the problem of energy level in delivery. One student’s solution was playing back my lectures at 1.5 speed to simulate normal speech.

Delivery was weird at first because I lectured to my laptop instead of warm bodies. I draw energy from students in a lecture hall. They communicate with nonverbal cues: how they sit or slouch, how they nod, smile or frown. Their eyes signal engagement, wonder, or boredom, but I have none of that on Zoom. Worse, university rules forbid me from requiring attendance at online synchronous classes. Cameras are off due to privacy issues even if Zoom has virtual backgrounds. Online classes display the digital divide when students keep cameras off to maintain bandwidth or conserve their limited prepaid load.

Technical issues are the least of the problems in online teaching, the real issue is content: whittling down readings and lectures to the bare essentials and reflecting on what students should really learn from Philippine history, and why. I am more lenient with deadlines now and focus on student learning rather than assessments. It took a pandemic to remind me that teachers should encourage rather than rate learning.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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