Back to Normal During or After the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Not Good Enough
Sometimes when things quit working well, it should be a sign that they need improvement, not simply repair or restoration to how they were. Schools are one of those things. It seems to me that the dilemma about reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic only exists because we conceive of people’s (in this case children’s) educational needs incorrectly as needing to be done in groups directed by a teacher, particularly groups in physical proximity. Educators and parents want to get education back to normal, when in fact, normal itself was misguided and wrong in the first place.
The pandemic has shown various flaws and exposed stress cracks in other areas of thinking – magnifying, for example, unfairness and injustices to people of color even by people who are not racially prejudiced, but who have advantages and allow disadvantages to be perpetuated without realizing it. In business, the pandemic social distancing requirements have shown that much work can be more than adequately and successfully done from home, along with doing household chores and meeting family and personal needs, without people having to congregate in offices, endure terrible commuting times and experiences, take long, expensive, taxing trips merely to (as someone put it) watch boring Power Point Presentations, and miss the creature comforts of home (including comfortable clothes, rest or even naps, or diversions when needed).
So then, what about education is misguided? It is basically the same view as underlies faulty business practices – that human beings are social creatures who need to congregate and be overly directed or ‘micromanaged’. Human beings are social creatures, and sometimes they do need to meet in person, but what they need from social interaction is good, productive communication or communion with each other, not necessarily proximity, which often even fails to provide productive communication, comfort, or communion. And even yesterday’s tools, particularly combined with today’s and future potential technology, properly utilized, can provide sufficient communion to meet human needs, and often far better than does merely congregating in proximity, whether in an office, bar, dinner, party, or on a golf course.
Remote learning has been possible, and has taken place, since writing on portable and durable material was made possible, particularly paper for letters or manuscripts, and most particularly since newspapers, magazine, and books could be printed in large quantities relatively quickly and inexpensively, and sold around the world. Public libraries made the distribution of books and the knowledge they contained available to those who could not afford to buy all the books they wanted to read. (Nobel laureate in physics, Richard Feynman, learned calculus as a boy from a book he took out of the library, lying that it was for his father because he was afraid they wouldn’t let him take it out for himself.) Other forms of correspondence and communication, such as photography, the telephone, movies, radio, and then television, and now the Internet, can let knowledge transcend distances in space, and recorded material can let it transcend distances in time. The Bible is just one example of information transmitted across centuries, not just miles.
The telephone made two-way voice transmission across distances possible; the phonograph made the storage of sound and mass communication of speech and music possible, but in one direction only, radio made live, nearly instantaneous mass voice communication possible, but also in one direction primarily; television added sight to that, but again primarily in one direction; tape recorders and then VCRs made it possible for ordinary people to record their voice and televised images. Computers (including ‘smart’ phones took all this to a whole new, combined level, allowing back and forth communication to occur immediately between large numbers of people, and the Internet makes not only the transmission of all this possible but also allows the storage of information to be easy, readily accessible, and potential responses to it nearly instantaneous around the globe.
Social media on the Internet has made, for better and for worse, nearly everyone’s captured or created images, actions, art, words, and ideas instantly and relatively permanently accessible to everyone else. But material still needs to be created and produced to be transmitted because we have not yet attained mental telepathy, even technologically assisted mental telepathy, or Vulcan mind melds. We cannot yet teach others by just transcendentally or scientifically putting our ideas, or the perceptions that prompted them, fully formed into their minds without some form of verbal and/or pictorial communication, which is often lamentably amenable to incomplete and mistaken understanding. Education needs to harness all this technology, and that yet to be invented, for the good of making the most important and most productive thought, knowledge, creativity, and wisdom available to the most people in the most efficient, humane, and enjoyable ways. That doesn’t necessarily or likely mean putting adults or children together in buildings for seven or eight hours a day with people talking at them in groups. And it certainly doesn’t mean basing communications on those that will fit a Twitter 140- or 280-character message or fit a sound bite or bumper sticker.
People – students and older people alike – need to learn how to use, appreciate, and value communications which are not just brief or extemporaneous and that occur other than simply in physical proximity. Physical proximity is one way to make emotional or intellectual communion possible, but it is not the only way, and it often is a misguided and mistaken way that fails. That is why one can feel lonely in a crowd, why people can have meaningless, unsatisfying conversations, why business meetings can be a waste of time, achieving nothing, why many students too often don’t learn what is trying to be taught in schools, or adults don’t learn what is being presented in lectures, and why sex can be emotionally empty and void of real intimacy, no matter how physically intimate the act itself is. Physical closeness is neither necessary nor sufficient for intellectual, emotional, social, artistic, ethical, or educational purposes. If we apply attention and effort, we can often learn far more from the eloquent recorded thoughts of those long dead or far away than we can from the uninformed, thoughtless, inarticulate, trivial, petty, or incoherent comments of those we meet up with on a daily basis.
Remote learning and education is not new. Since the advent of portable writing and drawing, people who truly wanted to know things have learned from others far away, and since the advent of permanent storage of writing and drawing, people have learned from others who lived long before them. Many of Thomas Jefferson’s ideas and some of his language came from the writings of the English philosopher John Locke who was born a century before Jefferson. Communication in space is possible in both directions, but presently communication in time only goes in one direction – from past to future, and presumably it will stay that way or we would know now that it someday changed, unless the technology will be, and will have been, successfully kept a secret or cannot extend this far back into what will be history by the time it is invented or discovered, or unless honest and open visitors from the future have been disbelieved Cassandras.
But although the potential exponential proliferation of knowledge and creativity has been with us for a long time, for far too long we have delegated education to schools and abdicated responsibility to teachers, which has often been inefficient and generally also failed to teach our children – even those who have been the best students academically -- how to be the best adults they could have become. You can graduate from high school and even from college without knowing (unless you learned them outside of the classroom) how to grow anything, cook anything, build anything, repair anything, communicate well with anyone, understand your own and other people’s real needs and how to meet them in reasonable ways, manage money, determine right from wrong in difficult cases (or sometimes even simple ones), or solve problems you haven’t seen before or been taught a recipe to follow. And you can graduate without learning to be conscientious about, or to exercise responsibility for, your own learning or for your logic, beliefs, and behaviors, even when they are obviously wrong or stupid.
The knowledge gained in schools is often commonly derided as ‘book learning’ that is not practical to most people, even though it theoretically could create a foundation for creative and inventive thought and deeper understanding of even practical things. But it often fails to do that because it is either unimportant to begin with or its importance is not imparted to most students in any meaningful way. We should teach more things than we do, and they should be taught in more efficient and effective ways – really meaning that students should be expected and assisted to learn, and to want and try to learn, much more than they currently do, and learn it much more effectively and efficiently, which is not about lecturing to them or showing slides or videos at predetermined times in groups simultaneously. The emphasis should be on learning and assisting learning, not so much on teaching in the sense of lecturing or trying to inculcate or pour information into students. Yet today education is expected to take place in schools in much the same way that rehabilitation is expected to take place in prisons – through time spent in captivity with people like you, and with trying to force you to learn through methods which too often are ineffective and which should be known to be ineffective.
Imagine you are taking a course in bomb disarmament and that after each lesson taught, you will be required to disarm a real bomb which was constructed based on the material and principles taught in the lesson – a kind of ultimate pass/fail test. Would you not ask questions or say anything else in class to make sure you understood the material completely? Would you not be far more attentive and focused on learning than if you were just going to be given some written test and a grade, and then move on? In general don’t you learn much better things you want to learn, than those things which you are merely required to learn but believe you will not need to remember after the course is over? If we can help children want to learn, they will learn much more than if we just force them to take tests and do assignments that mean nothing to them intrinsically, and that they merely go through the motions to do in a half-hearted, apathetic, superficial, mediocre way.
School is also particularly inefficient because much of K-12 is spent trying to make enduring school hours possible or fun for students in ways that have nothing to do with actually teaching them anything important and helping them see the joy in learning and understanding and inspiring them to want to do more of it. In fact, if anything, school tends to destroy children’s natural desire to learn and think, not enhance it. It has been said that if schools taught sex education in the way they teach reading and math, teenage sexuality and pregnancy would not be a problem because teens would not want to have sex any more than they want to read or do math.
But the primary failure has been to put the effort and responsibility for education on teachers rather than giving students both the responsibility to learn and stimulating opportunities to do it most effectively. Students are too often uninvolved with their learning because they are not expected, encouraged, or allowed to be involved in ways that are natural to, like asking difficult questions, or questioning teacher comments or answers that do not make sense, and often are prevented from being involved by teachers and assignments that make learning boring when it shouldn’t be. At most, students are expected or required to study and to turn in various kinds of assignments, not to learn something they find or could find interesting and exciting. And even though the best teachers often can inspire and motivate student involvement to a certain extent, it cannot be guaranteed to work with all students. Even good, conscientious, curious students sometimes need exposure to different teachers or role models to learn, just as some athletes who have failed under one (even otherwise successful) manager or coach have thrived under another, and just as workers sometimes thrived only when they moved from one company to another or began their own.
It would be better to allow (and where necessary motivate) children (and adults) to be good learners and to provide a rich environment of knowledge, reasoning skills, wisdom, and creativity for them from which to be able to learn. Books first made that possible; electronic and then digital technology make it even more feasible by offering audio, photos, video, graphics, animation, to bring explanations to life beyond written words. We need the will to make the technology and the growing number of free explanations and teaching of almost everything available to all, and we need to learn how to make it work for educational purposes in the best and most motivating and inspiring ways. And we need to help students learn to separate the wheat from the chaff in what is made available to them – learn to discriminate what is true and what is reasonable from what is not.
Does anyone really think that they needed to spend 7 hours a day, five days a week, 36 weeks a year, for 12 or 16 years in school, to know all the important things they know now? That they couldn’t, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t have learned those things in some more efficient way? Does anyone really think much of the time they spent in school and on homework assignments, and all the tests and projects they had to complete, taught them things they every really remembered or used or, more importantly, served as a foundation for their future learning? Does anyone really think that all that time couldn’t have put to better educational use, teaching and learning far more important, intellectually and creatively stimulating, and inspiring things that helped everyone have a foundation for better understanding and greater productivity?
School work requires parental supplementation anyway. Schools don’t teach anywhere near what they could and should; and often waste children’s time and energy in teaching the few important things they do in inefficient, often ineffective, ways. But parental educational guidance doesn’t mean spending all your waking hours with your children; you can delegate much of the learning to them on their own and then ‘check their work’ by discussing what they have learned with them. Schools should do that too instead of just testing memory work, but they generally don’t.
For example, when my children were four years old, I spent a half hour or so each of three days one week teaching them how to type using a computer keyboard, pretty much in the same way that I learned from a vinyl record that came with my first typewriter. I taught them to put their fingers on the “home keys” and spent some time having them type the letters on the home key row: fjf, fjf, fjf, jfj, jfj, jfj, then dkd, dkd, dkd, kdk, kdk, sls, sls, sls, lsl, lsl, etc. then let them practice on their own a little bit. The next day we did the letters on the row above it, and the third day the letters on the row below. By the end of those three days they knew all the letters and could touch type, although very slowly and with mistakes from time to time. Then on the fourth day, I asked them to touch type their names, which they could do slowly, then faster as they practiced. And they liked practicing that. Then I asked them to see how fast they could learn to type the alphabet, and they practiced that on their own over and over. Within no time at all they could type much faster and more accurately than I could. And they could write anything on the computer than could reasonably spell or try to spell, improving that part as they got older. It was an extremely useful skill and it took them some time, but it took very little of my time. They happily accepted the responsibility to learn on their own after the guidance was given for them to do that. Similarly I could give them logic or math or social problems to work on and think about. Some they enjoyed doing and others, not.
In other instances we worked on things together when we drove places. I taught them nursery rhymes in the car, and they learned to recite them. (I did have to find a nursery rhyme book to buy to relearn some of the ones or parts I had forgot or to learn ones I had never been taught.) Then we moved to some fun poems by Shel Silverstein, such as “The Crocodile Went to the Dentist” (which did take me some time on my own to memorize so I could teach them while driving), and we even did some passages from Shakespeare which I also had to spend time memorizing. One of them recited the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy from Macbeth before she turned three, and the five year old recognized a component of it when the minister ended a sermon by saying “to the last syllable of recorded time” without giving source credit, and she enthusiastically yelled out far too loud “Shakespeare! Mommy, that’s Shakespeare!”
Often in the car, I gave them riddles or logic or math problems like “I have a bag and you have a bag. My bag has twice as many pieces of candy in it as yours does, but if you had two more pieces in yours, we would each have the same amount. How many pieces do you have to start with, and how many do I have?” Or you could make it a little harder and say “I have a bag and you have a bag. My bag has twice as many pieces of candy in it as yours does, but if we take one piece out of my bag and put it in your bag, we will each have the same amount. How many pieces of candy do I have to start with and how many do you have?”
Of course, they don’t always care to learn some things at least at the time you first introduce them, and that can be perfectly okay, even though disappointing. I thought one of them would like figuring out how to do a Rubik’s cube. I was wrong. I gave her the cube and explained what you had to do – get all the face colors lined up on each side and top and bottom. She took it into her room and came out ten minutes later with one face all yellow. I was impressed. But upon examination of that, I saw that although she had all the yellow sides of all the little cubes facing the same way, they were not lined up to make their other edges be in the right places – meaning that on each side of the yellow side of the big cube, there was a mixture of colors rather than all of the edge colors being red on one side, blue on another, etc. I pointed out that she needed to get all the edges in the right place too so that she could then go on to make those whole faces a same color. She took the cube back and looked at it, turning it around to different angles, and thought about it a minute or so, and then she handed the cube back to me and said “That would be hard”, went back to her room without it, and, as far as I know, never tried to work a Rubik’s cube again. Not everything you try with your children will work. But my point is that it doesn’t necessarily take you that much time to teach them things while you are doing other things together anyway, and if you help motivate them to learn on their own with the proper guidance and sincere enthusiasm and then see what they have learned or figured out afterward and discuss that with them in meaningful ways.
Now, of course, if children are not really interested in something, their attention spans are short, and they are not likely to learn on their own what they might need to know. But that is a problem in schools as well; not all students learn the same material at the same rate at the same time. But if we invested properly in education, there would be a variety of teaching videos and interactive games, etc. online or on TV that was provided by the world’s best teachers and that motivated most children. And there could be teachers available in real time to address students who have questions they have not been able to find satisfying available answers to. This would even help teachers see what other issues need further explanation made available online.
With a vast variety of teaching materials and teachers available to your child, you would no longer have to worry that your child has a math teacher who makes no sense or can’t teach anything or a geography or history teacher writing (or in this case, presenting children with) as Jane Austen put it, “great volumes, which...nobody would willingly ever look into, to be labouring only for the torment of little boys and girls, always struck me as a hard fate...and I have often wondered at the person's courage that could sit down on purpose and do it.” And you would no longer have to contend with teachers your child does not like or who doesn’t like your child. Your child could easily find other material and other teachers online. Students could have the videos of Ken Burns or access to whatever books they found interesting about historical topics. They could have animations of scientific phenomena, great explanations and demonstrations from astronauts in spacecraft such as the International Space Station, explanations of the cosmos by great teachers, with all the necessary photos from the Hubble Telescope or interplanetary rocket missions. As more and better material becomes available in all kinds of worthy subjects, students could learn far, far more than they usually now do in school unless they are lucky enough to be in a school with great teachers and fantastic resources. Most students don’t have that in schools today.
One of the beauties of the Internet is that excellent, free explanations and advice can be found for almost anything, from repairing faucets to advice about illnesses to car maintenance, reviews of almost any product, explanations of physics, math, sociology, psychology, philosophy, astronomy, literature, anthropology, etc., etc. But not all the explanations on the Internet are correct, and not all the correct ones are intelligible to everyone, depending on their current level of understanding. But there is currently a good chance of finding almost anything you want to know in a way you can understand it; the trick is to be able to distinguish good and explanations and advice from bad ones. That takes work and practice. But that is true long before the Internet. When I took history of art, the textbook for the course taught in something like fifty-year slices painting and then sculpture, and then architecture in each of three different regions of Europe, and I couldn’t follow it in those kinds of sequences. But I found an inexpensive book in a bookstore that covered the same material but in sequences I could readily follow – painting over hundreds of years in one section of Europe, then the same thing in a second section, and then in the third section. It covered sculpture the same way and also architecture. The development of each art form over a long period of time in the same culture made far more sense to me than a progression of separate time slices of each art form in each culture lumped together. I could make my own time slice comparisons once I understood each art form’s development in each area of Europe.
With the Internet, students can find out all kinds of neat things, with explanations they can understand, if you give them the incentive to figure out problems that require more information, explanation, reasoning, and thought in general. I realize the Internet can be scary to turn children loose on, but with software that can block scurrilous sites, with the proper warning that there are some terrible and also some disgusting things they might come across that are not ‘normal’, decent, or even commonly liked, and with your discussing with them things they have found (and possibly checking their browser history if you are so inclined), the harms of the Internet can be minimized or avoided. In some ways, the Internet is even safer than sending them to school or camp or scouting, or unfortunately even to church, or to team doctors.
We all know people who will require us to meet in person with them to discuss an issue that could have far more efficiently and easily been discussed on the phone. They waste our time because they have not learned to verbally communicate in a way they should have learned. With the advent of video chat technology, those who think they need facial expressions and body language to communicate effectively have even less excuse for having to meet in person. It is said that schools teach socialization, but there is no reason children cannot learn to ‘socialize’ with others over the Internet, or even through letter writing or phone conversations. In fact, with the Internet, children can socialize with other children all over the world, children they would never be able to meet in school, children from very different cultures, with different perspectives and practices. And if or when the pandemic ends, there are still playgrounds, neighbors’ yards, skating rinks, ball parks, basketball courts and driveways, and -- God knows whatever new – daily proliferating cellphone social media apps, where kids can socialize and often do for hours on end. School is not the only nor the best place to socialize. Plus, the growing number of school shootings since Columbine show there may be some flaws in the school socialization (or what is too often, the ostracization or deprivation) process.
For millennia, people have been able to make great progress through writing letters and books, without having to be, or being able to be, in physical proximity. We have tools today they didn’t have that reduce the time lag of communication to only a fraction longer from one end of the country or the world to the other than it would be if people were talking face to face in chairs next to each other or across a conference or dining table. It would be far less expensive, and far more useful, to expand the use of those tools than to build schools and office buildings. There is good reason that Internet shopping has caused the closing of many businesses that required you to travel to them in order to have less to choose from to meet your needs and desires. When you shop online, you often even find, in specialty companies or directly from manufacturers, things you didn’t know existed and would have never been stocked in stores because they are too rarely needed by too few people to produce in quantities merely to display everywhere -- things that meet your own specific needs far better than what you started out seeking and expecting to buy.
Yes, technology requires learning, adopting, and adapting to, and sometimes the learning curve is steep or long, but the result is well worth the investment of time, money, and effort. And often it is fun to learn or there are ways to make it enjoyable to learn. Most four- or five-year olds can work the apps on their parents’ cell phones or tablets far better than their parents or other adults can. Think of what they could do with apps that actually help them learn useful things in interesting ways, working individually or collaboratively over the Internet, when they are not actually meeting in person.
Or look at how creative people have been creating political satire and effective social movements, and even at using the Internet to produce ‘virtual choirs and concerts’, some quite huge and involving individuals from all over the world who would have otherwise never performed together in that way. No, it may not be as satisfying in some ways as performing together in a stadium or concert hall in front of a live audience, but it is satisfying in other ways. And some of the results are both incredible and able to be enjoyed by far more people around the world and into the future. One of the exciting things for many is being able to find meaningful movie or television scenes or whole shows or series we saw long ago when we were growing up that we can show our children or friends. There is a wealth of treasure available and growing, but we need to know how to tap into it most effectively for educational, i.e., learning purposes and how to make it most effectively available to be found, enjoyed, and appreciated.
And applications of technology can be learned, and feedback mechanisms can be developed that may take the place of immediate feedback from live audiences. Late night talk show hosts Seth Meyer and Stephen Colbert took something like two or three weeks to adapt to working from home in isolation to do their shows, but, for me at least, they now do them almost every bit as well, or better, than they did from their studios. I know they miss their studio audiences and the feedback and energy they receive from performing in front of them, and they miss having their guests be in person in front of them, but you can’t really tell that from their performances now in the way you could the first few weeks they floundered without the immediate feedback of audience response. Some have adapted better than others; John Oliver better than Bill Maher, for example but Oliver jokingly explains his adaptability as resulting from having originally done standup comedy before totally unresponsive British audiences, so that he now feels quite at home talking alone to a camera. Bill Maher, even with a studio audience, seems to need their response in order to time his individual jokes delivery better, though oddly enough he does not have problems with no audience or audience reactions when he delivers his “New Rules” segment of his show or presents any other long, spoken pointed cynical or sarcastic social commentary that contains humor. He is often at his best doing that.
As of this writing, if the pandemic continues, it will be interesting to see whether television productions can adapt to performances done in isolation in the way virtual choirs and orchestras have. Television and movies have known for some time how to film actors individually and make them appear to be in the same scene together. Will they figure out how to do that feasibly on a large scale. The last episode this past season of Blacklist was partly filmed before social distancing made it impossible to complete in the normal way, and so the scenes not yet filmed were done with actor voice-overs of comic book-like animations. With greater time and current technology that often makes it difficult to distinguish animation from reality, perhaps great television shows and movies can be achieved with social distancing. Animated cartoons have long been popular, even with adults in some cases, and computer generated movies, videos, and games are growing more and more sophisticated, and sometimes difficult to distinguish from actual movies other than showing things we know do not exist or are impossible to do.
If we put half the effort into making literature, science, and the arts as interesting, enjoyable, and accessible as we do sports, we could accomplish far more. Ironically enough, Roone Arledge, who was arguably the person most instrumental in making sports on television the dominant enterprise it has become actually wanted to be involved in televising arts, such as ballet I read once about him. While it seems difficult to imagine art being as exciting as sports, you have to understand that sports on TV prior to Arledge was something of a joke. Except for fans of particular teams, no one cared to watch football or basketball any more than most Americans today want to watch soccer or curling. On Saturdays Wide World of Sports, a weekly nationally televised program, showed rodeo and barrel jumping contests on ice as often as they showed football. The Rose Bowl and Orange and Cotton Bowl games were watched, but that perhaps had as much to do with the pageantry of the parades associated with them which were also televised, as the games themselves. The first Super Bowl was not sold out; some 32,000 of the 94,000 seats in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were empty even though the game was not shown on TV in LA because at the time local TV markets were “blacked out” – not allowed to show games, so that attendance would not be hindered. In 1961, Eddie Einhorn bought the rights from the NCAA to broadcast the men’s championship basketball game between Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati for $6000. (Yes, that is 6 thousand dollars.) But the only television stations willing to pay him to televise the game were in Ohio and Kentucky. Of course all the games in that tournament are broadcast in what has become known as March Madness. Interests, especially broadly popular ones, are often cultivated more than they are simply natural. They are more like fashion and often depend more on handed down tradition than on natural inclination or interest.
The arts have more to offer than sports. More creativity, more collaborative productivity of something good and lasting, benefits without harms or losses, camaraderie without competition. If we put the effort into developing interest, participation, and appreciation in the arts that we do in sports, we would have far more to show for it.
Sports to build ‘character’ in schools and for fun and teamwork. Clearly doesn’t always build character; many athletes cheat in their sports, and even if they don’t, they too often do not turn out to be good citizens or even decent spouses or parents. And performing collaboratively to produce music performances, or music, art, or literary composition would teach as much character, provide as much socialization, and yield better benefits than yielding winners and losers. That would unfortunately cost us future highlight reels of great plays, but would eliminate concussions in the process. And we could enjoy past triumphs and highlights as much as any future ones. There have been so many great athletes and exciting moments recorded or reported in sports in the past, whether in beautifully written accounts, dramatized movies, edited and narrated game films with music and video techniques added, interviews with athletes after they retire and retell their stories from a more mature perspective, etc. to keep people entertained for the likely duration of any pandemic and beyond. Discovering the greatness of the past, in sports as in history in general, can be every bit as good as, or even better than, anything you might experience occurring in your future.
Sports is great recreation, but there should be more to everyone’s life than single-minded obsession with sports, particularly dangerous sports. And sports that are worthwhile as a recreational or professional player is not necessarily worthwhile to just watch as a spectator; while it may have entertainment value, and sometimes even some educational value, there is not much fitness value or skill development in merely spectating.
Now, all this having been said, there are potential differences between learning in the onground classroom and learning online – particularly in what is called an “asynchronous” online course, where communication among students and teachers is not simultaneous because not everyone can ‘meet’ online at the same time. In typical online courses presently, students and teachers submit their work at different times, and everyone is expected to see what they need to when they log in. That presents obstacles and opportunities, as explained in my essay “Teaching Online versus Teaching in the Classroom”. It is important for teachers and for students to understand the strengths and weaknesses and the different needs for successful online teaching and learning compared with teaching and learning in an onground classroom. I believe that with the right attitudes, techniques, and understanding, online learning can be superior to onground learning.
Unfortunately and ironically, even IT (Information Technology) experts get this wrong. The adage that a person with a hammer sees everything as a nail applies, in that they often employ all the technological bells and whistles at their disposal in the wrong circumstances, and do it poorly. Webinars are required to attend when posted written explanations of a topic would have been quite sufficient. “We will meet online next Tuesday to explain how to use ….” Instead of just posting written instructions. The first ten minutes of such meetings are often devoted to fixing some technical issue with the transmission of picture or sound that should have been done prior to the meeting, so it didn’t waste everyone’s time. Or even if material is posted for individual download, it is often in the form of videos that take far longer to watch and are less complete and informative than written explanations could have been. Just because the video on the Internet is thousands of years newer than writing doesn’t mean writing in some cases is not a better way to communicate.