Make online education a catalyst for better classroom teaching

Until COVID-19, I never taught an online course. As a math teacher, I found the idea of ​​distance education as remote as the Milky Way. So when the pandemic was forced to go online through the pandemic in early spring 2020, the sky fell on me. Once the haze cleared, however, I discovered to my surprise that I could do it, immeasurably helped by rigorous online training in distance education best practices by an expert from my college.

As students and teachers prepare to return to class this fall, also affecting parents due to the stress they endured with raising their children during the pandemic, I want to share some insights from my experience online. that can be useful for all three groups across years and disciplines. Of course, the deadly delta variant can still blast our best-designed blueprints with the force of a tornado,

First of all, mass online education has stood its test by fire for almost two years and has proven to be viable. Of course, it has its downsides – screen fatigue, family divide, uneven access to technology, growing performance gaps – but, overall, distance education has succeeded as a practical and scalable alternative. in-person teaching. In addition, the virtual classrooms had advantages: flexibility “anytime, anywhere”, the elimination of the need to prepare and arrive on time to schools, and similar overhead costs during the school year. school day.

Second, and more importantly, online education has raised the bar for classroom education. If online education was good, in-person education must be better, a fervent wish of parents reinforced by the pandemic. It requires teachers to be more committed to inspiring deep learning, critical thinking and creativity in students. Deep learning requires greater depth on fewer topics instead of shallow discussions on many. Critical thinking requires students to think clearly, logically and independently. Creativity requires dealing with uncertainty, seeing the connections between disciplines, and solving real-world problems from different angles.

This can only happen if teachers invest the time and effort necessary to create empathetic, engaging and equitable classroom environments, from kindergarten through post-secondary education. Some teachers have a knack for inspiring the joy of learning in their students, but most of us, including me, need to work on it.

An example will clarify. By discussing what-if testing in statistics, I challenged my students to define false positives and false negatives in the context of coronavirus testing and identify which posed the greatest threat. I gave them the sample sizes Moderna and Pfizer used for their control and treatment groups and the number of subsequent coronavirus infections in each group to determine the vaccine success rate. The students were lively and invigorated. They had taken control of their own learning. I realized that if I could do it in a virtual classroom, I would have to do even better in a face-to-face setting.

After almost two years of online experience, it’s clear to me that we need to radically rethink the way we teach and students learn. We need to challenge our students with real world problems beyond the textbook that force them to think, ask deep and imaginative questions, and think about what it means to live a life full of meaning and purpose. Good teaching, the ability to teach a subject well, is difficult. Good teaching, the ability to take care of students and inspire them with a passion for knowledge, is more difficult. It is the latter that must be our focus when normality returns, for “education”, as WB Yeats put it, “is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire” .

Hasan Zillur Rahim is professor of mathematics at San Jose City College.

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