Virtual Teaching Must Remain Relevant Post-Covid

By Sarah Yeoh

May 2023 FEATURE
main image
Illustration by: Lee Samuel

IT IS BEGINNING to feel as if the Covid-19 pandemic was a horrible nightmare, not an actual occurrence that “stole” three years from our lives. As the world begins to open up and as we slowly recover from the devastation it has brought us through, I believe some things that became an operational backbone during the pandemic should not be phased out.

Virtual or online learning has been around for quite a while. Unfortunately, it was never extensively tapped into until the pandemic hit and forced teachers and students to look for a different way to continue teaching and learning, as traditional methods were not possible anymore.

Online learning was the norm during the almost-worldwide lockdown. It allowed (and continues to allow) students, from kindergarten children to PhD postgrads, to learn from anywhere and at any time, given a steady internet connection. However, there were always concerns that this did not provide the same quality of education as physical learning does. It is a given that collaborations, discussions, social skills, feedback and interactions are needed for students to move forward as individuals.

According to Associate Professor and Director of Teaching and Learning at Wawasan Open University (WOU), Dewi Amat Sapuan, one of the biggest challenges with Open and Distance Learning (ODL) education, which WOU started, is the retaining of students. The institution wants learners to remain motivated, connected and committed. But in affording them the flexibility to juggle their many responsibilities, they are also deprived of social interactions within a learning environment.

“Ultimately, we want to build a learning platform that provides our students with a rich and engaging learning experience, which in turn, nurtures them to become life-long learners,” she says.

Approaching Younger Learners

The internet, as we know, is not lacking in resources. The cluster of students that I teach spans from trotting toddlers to opinionated middle school students, and we have at our disposal formidable websites such as Google Classroom, Kahoot!, Epic, Screencastify, Zoom, ABCya!, and YouTube.

Kahoot! instantly gamifies lessons by putting fun into the answering of questions set by teachers; ABCya! focuses on mathematics to make lessons less stressful for those who dread the subject; and Epic! provides students with different age-appropriate reading materials and assistance.

Zoom and Google Classroom take the lead as class-inclusive platforms. Zoom facilitates collaboration and interaction between students and teachers, no matter the group size. Google Classroom, in turn, allows work to be assigned with specific due dates to students to be managed individually, in pairs or in groups, and performance can be tracked and evaluated. Teachers can then provide feedback on their work - a vital aspect of students’ improvement. Screencastify enables both teachers and students to document their work, ideas and presentations to the class while mirroring their screens or allowing them to record themselves. I find that this eases the “stage fright” certain students might experience when making presentations.

As schools run full force again, the technological skills educators were forced to pick up will hopefully continue to be honed. We know that technology is the future. If we do not expose students to technology purposefully in the classroom, they will fall behind in that aspect. The traditional method of paper and pencil is still a great way to learn, but learning through various forms of technology allows for a more versatile learning and teaching experience.

Enthusing Older Learners

A majority of WOU's ODL students are working adults with personal and professional commitments, and as Dewi says, chances are high that ODL students will defer their studies or drop out. This can be due to a lack of motivation, issues with technology, time management on the part of the student or a course being poorly designed.

They noticed the “dropout trend” and have since sought to engage with students and keep them on course till graduation.

“The way self-instructional materials are presented on the learning platform and how users interact with the system needed further reimagining, rethinking and redesigning,” Dewi explains, “and coming to terms with these was not only a gradual process but also a daunting task.”

Having “fun classes” or “interesting subject matters” was not always enough to keep students on the grid. Therefore, they started to view the whole initiative from a behavioural outlook. “We shifted the way they view processes to how information is consumed and presented to demonstrate the generation of ideas, where discussions are induced and improvements accepted, and active participation can happen,” she says.

Apart from an improved learning engagement, the students wanted a sense of belonging to network professionally and to develop character. “Ultimately, the learning management system aims to have an increased level of platform stickiness and user interactivity, features that can support inclusivity for a wider range of learners, higher user personalisation, better device responsiveness, and more gamification for student motivation; these are formats which allow for varied pedagogical models, virtual spaces for extracurricular activities, interaction with external communities and professional networks as well as modules that encourage active social interactions.

Continuousness in Education

Many students (unless they are exposed to tech in their co-curricular activities or after-school classes) come to learn about the different functions of certain platforms while in college. If we compare our students to students from other countries who have been given early exposure and guidance to the virtual world, the difference is jarring.

It is time to get with the times and push the boundaries of teaching by exploring the resources that are available. We owe it to the students and to future generations to create a learning experience outside the one-size-fits-all belief.

Sarah Yeoh

is completing her Masters in Elementary Education while working with college students of University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has taught various grades in different schools in the US and hopes to one day apply her knowledge and experience in Malaysia.