Ajarn Street

Is online teaching working for you and your students?

It seems to be getting a lot of negative press at the moment

With most, if not all schools, resigned to its students sitting in front of a computer at home, there seems to be a lot of negativity surrounding online teaching at the moment. Many teachers say it just doesn't work. Many students lack suitable internet connections or parents don't have the money to buy laptops. Do students also lack the motivation to take it seriously? We asked teachers to give us their thoughts from the front line.

Online teaching does not work in Thailand. Students need voluntary opt-in and enthusiasm for it to work so It's just a big online chat with each other opportunity and no interest except by a few students.


I've been teaching English online since 2006, teaching General and Business English to adults and corporate clients (60-minute lessons)

Since I started, the issues haven't changed much when they occur: bad connections, delays, dropouts, the connection garbling up (It seems always just as the student says the semantically crucial part of the sentence (eg "Yesterday I went to {garble, garble garble} my kids"), bad equipment, trying to make each other understood with limited body language, etc.  Google Translate is a godsend. 

I work one-to-one with clients and the quality of the product varies. It all depends on how motivated the client is (most of them: not that much if it's a mandatory training component). They tend to have pretty wild expectations, like wanting to speak like fluent professional English in highly specialised fields like law and electrical engineering and have the ability to converse confidently with native-speaking colleagues in 30 hours when they're often just pre- intermediate level speakers. 

Relevance of content is crucial. It's just not very interesting for a mining engineer to be learning about networking even if the language practice is what's important. Online teaching comes with its own set of challenges but it can be made to work with lots of patience and adaptability.


At first I hated teaching online, for all of the reasons previously listed in the article and comments above. But I began to like it, so much so that I have given up classroom teaching, for teaching online. 

However, after four months of it, I have come to the conclusion that it's not online teaching or learning that is the main problem, it's the schedule that is the problem. In all of my years in education, I have taken quite a few online classes. My MEd. in International Ed. and TESOL was mostly online, and in my undergraduate years, I took one or two online classes, and also online test-prep classes. But I never took more than two at a time, so roughly 6 hours per week, which equates to another 12-18 hours of studying and homework on top of the original 6 hours of classes. 

During this current online semester, we were teaching a regular schedule but our classes were shortened...so 30-minute classes with 15 minute breaks. If one were to do the math, thats 20 hours of class and another 20-40 hours spent on outside of class work for the students! We were instructed not to give much homework, but most teachers were just slamming kids with homework. My students were coming into my classes exhausted, frustrated, beleaguered...just worn down completely. So much so, that I began not assigning much of anything outside of class to do, but the classes were so short we barely covered any content. 

When I brought this problem up, it was completely glanced over and dismissed, for more homework, more redundant, menial tasks, more oversight, more paperwork...more of everything, except common sense, compassion and understanding. 

Half of my students were using their phones because they didn't have computers. The only thing they would respond to were activity/interactively based lessons because they were so bored and brain-fried from sitting in front of what may as well be a microwave for 12-15 hours a day. It burnt me out too. 

I could go on for hours about this subject and how we as educators need to be better prepared for the future, as Covid hasn't gone anywhere and the vaccines are a joke. I would rather just teach online for a while longer.

Everyone is getting impatient and it's a mistake to be lulled into a false sense of security based on vaccines and vaccine mandates. Anyway, it seems to me that creating an online learning curicuulum that works wouldn't be that difficult. Just cut the class hours in half but make the sessions a little longer, like 40 mins instead of 30. And space the classes out through the day better with longer breaks in between for homework, reflection, reading or game playing, or discussing things with classmates. 

There were days that I was on the computer myself 12-13 hours or more for grading and transferring grades from Google to paper, then to our schools database. Then there's the phone, emails, Line App and the school insistent upon meetings where there is no equity in the discussions. 

We all used our own resources, our own computers, in our own homes, yet the institutions oversight operates as if it controls every waking hour of every teacher and student day. But I find the most fault with my fellow teachers for not fielding their concerns and just dialing things back a bit. There's no way of knowing what a student or their family is going through at home, and many weren't prepared for four months of online learning.

It has been difficult for everyone but we can do better. This situation has sparked my interest in online curicuulum design and implementation so I have given up traditional classroom teaching. Not to mention that teaching and learning online is safer, and causes less environmental impact, less commuting means less fuel used and less air pollution, less auto maintenance, less chance of having an accident. Although there are issues with using more internet, more RF's, more electricity used in homes during peak hours, etc. 

But which is more sustainable long term? I suppose only time will tell, but my money is on distance learning. 


The biggest three hurdles that face online learning (and teaching) aside from the logistics and the technical issues...

1 - You cannot hold the attention of students and expect them to learn (absorb information) for more than 20 to 30 minutes online.  (This is backed up by reliable science.) And if they are under nine years old you may as well forget it.

2 - To maximize what little time you have, there must be an end result and incentive to continue. Normally in schools, this would be a competition meaning a test or exam. But more importantly, the students must also buy into the value of what they are learning, especially something that's difficult to learn as English. It's just impossible for children to focus on anything that they don't think has any (to what they interpret as) importance or value in their lives.

3 - One big failing of 'online' classrooms is the lack of competition and opportunities to show off what you have learned in front of your chums. This matters as it minimizes the necessity to keep up if there aren't any others to 'keep up' with! Kids love an audience and they feed off each other.

- Mark

This week, in honor of the recently deceased Charlie Watts, I've been playing Rolling Stones songs for the students every day.  I have always performed live (both as a semi-pro gigging musician and as a part of my English lessons), and it does feel weird singing into a telephone - but the students do appreciate the music. Also, the Stones videos on YouTube have very bold, colorful lyrics on the screen, so the students can follow along (I actually just realized I've been singing a few of Mick's lines wrong for the past few decades!).

With that said, however...

Computer technology is a lot more difficult to use than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Google Classroom (and other platforms like Line groups, etc, etc) is not well-designed or thought-out. Many very basic functions are extremely complicated or totally non-existent on the Google platform.  I have to use a phone and a laptop simultaneously, because certain functions don't work on one or don't work on the other. This is not a fun juggling act - The Google Boys have all the money in the world, they got that money from selling all of our personal data, and they can't use all that money to make something that actually works properly?

It's extremely confusing for people like myself who are more into actually teaching, using hands-on and participation-heavy styles. I do feel like I'm just playing the same videos over and over, playing the same online games, talking into a machine like a radio announcer, etc.

The contributor, Mr. Mark, said it very, very astutely in a previous post: "If you're a teacher and you think that online teaching 'works' you're deluding yourself. If you're a student and think that online teaching works, you're deluding mum and dad!"

I teach college-age students, so I allow them to work at their own pace.  I give them multiple-choice worksheets, and about 75% of the students finish them on time.  I've only experienced the "parents sitting there critiquing" situation once when I filled in for another teacher who teaches P4-6.  That was the first and last time. I have zero tolerance for that type of nonsense.  I don't sit on the mechanic's shoulders, complaining at him while he fixes my motorcycle. Having a class full of 100+ extended family members whining at a teacher is entirely unacceptable.  If farang teachers had a lot more self-respect and stood up for themselves, that sort of thing wouldn't be forced upon them. 

I will never understand why the majority of foreign English teachers in Thailand are so weak and docile and I could go on all day about this problem, but the fact is, if you're being taken advantage of (in an online setting or otherwise) it's probably because you're allowing it to happen.  Stand up for yourself, try to be at least a little bit organized and co-operative with other foreign teachers (a tall order, I know - once again, my simple mind cannot understand why we don't work together to secure better working conditions, better pay, and eliminate nonsense and abuse)

Personally, I can live with my current situation of teaching college students online but there's no comparison to in-person teaching.  I've built a good relationship with my students over the past few years but now I feel they've become a lot more anonymous, as I only see their Thai names on the screen with no nicknames. The icons on the screen are so small that I cannot differentiate their faces. It's a hassle with almost no redeeming qualities but I will take it over the experiences of the primary school teachers any day of the week.

- Ian

I teach in a Bangkok area government school and have one class of 38 girls, all M6 (age 17 to 18). I find that while the number of hours I spend actually teaching has gone down dramatically, the hours for “administrative” issues have skyrocketed. For example, I’m asked to follow up with students who willfully choose not to attend online classes and find out what’s going on. Then I have to follow up with the kids who have chosen to do other things during their scheduled on-line class time, like those that maybe have a job or the like. So, while I teach less, I’ve kind of become a part-time administrative person as well. 

I also have lots more “paperwork” duties. I take photos of our class online, take photos of students as they actively participate in class, etc.  These photos of course largely only serve as a cursory compliance check and are a form of “show” of what’s going on. 

What I have chosen to do is really laser focus on the kids who really ARE trying, but for whatever reason, they’re struggling with the online platform style.. I’m holding private or small group classes for these kids, to give them the extra time/attention I think they need to overcome their challenges.  I’ve printed papers that I think work better than the book and post them. A few kids have trouble downloading due to technical issues at home so I’ve sent physical papers to their homes via Flash Express before. If paying 30 baht to make sure they have the tools to learn online is what it takes, then that’s what has to be done and what I’ll do.

I kind of feel that online teaching has really been like “triage” teaching.  I’m doing whatever I possibly can do to keep as many kids as I can “alive” academically until we can move to a more traditional and “high touch” format where i can better connect with them.  It’s just like medical care while in a theater of operations - do whatever you can to keep them alive until you get to a proper facility.

Most of my kids are trying their best - 80% of them, but this online experience has also shone a bright light on those who, prior to online learning, were perhaps less-than-motivated.  These kids have found the best-perfect environment in which NOT to study. These are the kids that magically have internet issues from 8:30-9:30 am every morning, which prevents them from attending their online class, but then suddenly the internet works again when their K-series starts later on. 

But on the whole, I will say that I think my kids have really stepped up.. We talk about it once in a while as a part of a class activity “how are you feeling? What’s on your mind”.  Most of them realize that online learning helps to keep them healthy. They know that but they are also really missing the “social” side of it as well.

Lastly, this whole online learning saga has also really forced me to be as creative as I can be, to look outside the box and to really get as “close” to my kids as I can, because it’s easy for them to get lost while in a virtual school setting.

- Michael

I teach in a private school with a good reputation. We've been online for a few months now and it looks like continuing for a few more. I teach primary and it's gone well enough. The biggest issue has been the school's obsession with assessments. Collecting them from students (particularly for P1) is a nightmare. Asking P1 students to click links in the chat and register by email to certain websites? Good luck with that. Collecting work has involved parents sending photos of their child's work. 

It's also involved sending instructions to parents on how to register/use certain websites/apps. This all needs translating into Thai with screenshots. Some parents don't bother (or are just too busy) and then the school gets on our backs.  This has been the main problem (although all my assessments are completed...for now). I've warned the management about annoying parents too much by over burdening them with admin, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. Thais are obsessed with bureaucracy, I've learned that one (I have about 5 different managers who seemingly need to justify their existence).

Some kids just don't take well to online learning either, although some prefer it. It doesn't make a big difference for most students if it's done right, although it takes a lot of hard work on the teacher's part. Some 'unmute' all the time despite warnings, some need to be told constantly to put on their cameras. Parents watching creates extra pressure too (I have an ed degree and a lot of experience so I haven't had many issues here...but I feel the pressure.) It's harder to discipline students too with the overly sensitive and protective parents watching. For example, demerit points for unmuting (without being asked to do so) and saying irrelevant stuff (unless it's an emergency),one parent got her face in the camera and said 'He just want to talk to friend. Don't tell my son to stop talking please.'

It was sorted out in the end (she has been told off by the school, basically) but teachers shouldn't have to deal with crap like that.

I have one kid who shouts that he's bored, no matter what activity I do, and I have many (games, team games in Quizizz, writing, reading, etc) It makes you look bad and feel real pressure. How many teachers would take a job if they knew the school allowed parents to sit and watch and comment on all of their lessons? Not many, I wager. But that's where we are. Although the vast majority of my feedback has been really good and encouraging, I have to admit.

Our salaries have remained fully paid for now, but I don't think this situation can continue indefinitely. If the country can speed up the vaccination process (and there are signs this is happening now) then the situation can be resolved in my opinion.

- Wubble

I have just been assigned to teach physical education this academic year. Although I have a background in sports and was educated in this field, I finally achieved my dream job as a PE teacher. So, as a result, I faced several challenges:  1) Teaching something new. 2) Teaching something new online. 3) Motivating secondary students to workout/exercise at home

At first, I decided to demonstrate movements and have the students film themselves doing them and send them to me. Not a wise move because not only will I have lots of videos to watch, but I can't coach them live if and when they need it (to correct movement on the spot, to provide encouragement, etc.). 

Now, I get into a rhythm of delivering a lesson, providing an assignment to do, then calling out 1/3 or 1/2 of the class to do a workout with me at the same time. This ensures that they turn on their cameras for participation credits, I get to see their faces, students get to do it together (it is always more fun to suffer together), I can watch them live and correct them then and there, and whatever time they have left, they can finish their work, for which I am generous in terms of due dates. If they are done, then the rest is earned. As they do this, we have chats on how things are, why exercise and diet are important especially later in life, general advice, etc. This brings a human element to the lessons, and to me this informal approach may be the things that the students remember more when they grow up as online learning becomes a normal part of their lives. 

I also have a 2-year-old at home, and this work-from-home, can't-meet-anyone arrangement is certainly stunting her social skills. Mom is also at home working, but is in a much more stressful situation, due to the industry she is working in.  Sometimes my daughter is crying but both parents are busy working. Kind of a sad situation to be in. 

- Collen

Basically, we are all learning and coping with this as we go. In the end, we should all be grateful that our craft is still needed in this time, while others are deemed surplus to company's financial margins.

I have the students send in a log-in on line at the required time, I send them revision powerpoints and worksheets to download related to the presentation. Although I am at present teaching conversation, there is no way to conduct a conversation with 40 plus students per session. So I have changed the sessions to communication. This allows me to communicate using reading, listening, and speaking by the students sending in mp4 videos on the different subjects I ask. The problem is I have over 600 videos per activity. 

The worst problem is most students seem to be active between 10pm-1 am! The mid-term exam test took a week to complete with myself interviewing 600+ students. At least 95% of students did the test and 85% do get involved in the other tasks. But in the normal sessions, very few will speak and the sessions are now informational and revision and review sheets based on the speaking test results, I will know if that is successful when they bring the downloaded worksheets when we finally get back in the classroom. 

I also sent often additional information and work outside the sessions, along with a bit of video humor. I only use google classroom for tests. The school's attendance software stopped working three weeks ago. So who knows how they are monitoring teachers and students? I am also lucky because I only teach one grade level.

- Peter

As a teacher of university students, its very easy teaching online. You dont see any of the slacking / messing about and when you set the students work, they can do it in groups online with fewer distractions than on campus. The students are missing out on lots of social stuff but learning wise I'd say they are better off. When my son was in school and we were work from home it was great. 

With a nursery aged son. its not so good.  Online classes for him require at least one person to sit with him (two are better) I'm just thankful his nursery is play-based and they are only attempting about two hours a week (which I think is free) rather than farming out worksheets to justify tuition fees. I am paying for a teacher in my village to teach him as there is no way the school can ask for Semester 2 fees as they already owe me for three months and there is no chance of a return before the end of September, despite all teachers there being vaccinated twice.  

He is missing his friends and interaction, and being a substitute for that (the wife still going into the office) is tiring.  We have a routine and the village teacher lets me work in peace for a bit but its far from ideal. I'd rather be in this situation than trying to teach primary aged kids or struggling for a vaccine or salary though.

- Rob

Single mum, working full time from a small apartment in central Bangkok with incessant construction outside.  Two kids in Thai private school (5 classes of Zoom instruction a day) learning in Thai, Chinese and English from a phone/10 year old Macbook. It feels a bit like we are in a reality TV show at times, with new challenges always popping up to test us!! But it is going far better than expected, even if for the child in G2 it is basically a write off. The teachers try their best and the other parents and teachers are positive and don't complain about things beyond their control. I can keep her up to speed with most of the work.

Unpopular opinion but the child in G4 is thriving and happy. She hated the early commute, the long days, the uniform, the noisy classrooms, the competitiveness, the speed the teacher taught. Now she can screenshot, record parts and bookmark for later.  I'm more concerned with the fact my youngest has never started a school year 'in person'. They haven't seen their friends or done any of their hobbies/sports for months and haven't seen their family for two years.

- Kate

Oddly enough, we first did online learning back in 2011 when Bangkok flooded, however it only lasted around a month and, to be honest, nobody took it very seriously. I did most of my A-Level Psychology teaching through emails and updating my website. Since then I have moved on to a different school and into a different position. 

We are now about to enter our fourth session of online learning in two years and to be honest it is wearing. Certainly not just for the teachers, some of whom tend to stick to Youtube Videos and worksheets, but definitely for the kids. I have two little ones aged 9 and 11 and it has been pretty heartbreaking at times watching them trying to sit in front of a screen for hour after hour not really interacting with their peers but being expected to "work" to the best of their ability. 

To me, school is not just about academics, it is about all of the social attributes that we must all learn in order to become a part of society. I feel that my two kids, and hundreds of thousands of others are missing out. Of course, my two are a part of the lucky group, they attend International school, have iPads and AIS Fibre. Goodness only knows what it is like for some of the 'klong kids' or the ones up in Maesot or other border areas who have none of these things. I really do fear for these kids as they are missing out on huge swathes of their education, both in life and lessons. I hope that we as a country can get this sorted out soon.

- Carl

As a teacher, who teaches grade 1, distance learning has been very challenging. The students are always happy to be in class and interact, but as a teacher I can’t remember the last time I felt 'that was a good lesson!'  As teachers, we have not been trained to work online. Pretty much overnight we were told to deliver high quality curriculum through a medium many of us were not trained in.

The school management also feels pressured with parents asking for refunds, and we are constantly told our salaries might be cut. So basically as a teacher I am putting in more hours of work, with online lessons, curriculum planning, creating digital media to teach in class ( which I have not been trained in), figuring out how to differentiate my students, while constantly knowing that I have a sword hanging over my head - that I could be replaced at any time or my salary will be cut.

A lot of people have been talking about getting refunds but I know my colleagues and I are doing everything that we can to ensure our students are learning and happy in the current situation. Schools can’t afford to give huge refunds. They still have staff to pay, and as an expat teacher, the cons of teaching online have slowly started outweighing the pros.

- Megan

To me, online teaching really shows the divide between students who have self-drive/motivation and those that don’t. Students that have motivation manage well in my opinion.. Those that lack it, sadly suffer and tend to just give up.

- Bangkok Flyer

My two kids go to an international school and we're thankful we have been able to support them with all the equipment they need. The younger one needs his mother's support and cannot do it alone, which takes away all the parent's time. As a result, our business has been badly affected and income has dwindled. We have been requesting the school to provide some discount on the tuition fees as everything has been online for the last term and probably the upcoming term too. Alas, the school doesn't care and has refused any discount. It seems international schools want to keep their balance sheet intact or even more than in the pre-covid days. I think it is insensitive so we'll be taking our kids out if online classes continue or perhaps change schools, depending on price and quality. How are other parents coping?


Well, as a parent, I can say that my eldest does ok and my youngest really struggles. What upsets me though is that the school doesn't really give a f*** either way. 

- Daniel

I am teaching university students (holidays at the moment) and generally speaking it works. I've been doing this for 18 months, so I have had time to build up a lot of material in several websites. forcing students to be active. I would say 95% of them get the necessary teaching.

- Peter

To begin with, my daughter (7 years old) was in video calls with combined classes, so she never got to speak and it was chaos. A video would have been better. She ended up hating it. Now it's just her class and she enjoys it more but there are 7 classes a day which is too much. They're trying to teach music and PE online as well, and going with theory instead of practice. So we skip them.

- Jim

As a primary teacher, online teaching only works if the student is into it and has technology skills or has a parent helping.

- Jim

 I generally enjoy online teaching. I use puppets, a bongo drum and plentry of caffeine and sometimes have an absolute ball, to be honest. But participation is patchy, can’t think why.

- Julian

For me, using Google classroom, slides etc, we've managed to get a system that works quite well. However the student learning just isn't of the same standard. Also feedback from the parents suggests what all teachers suspect - that students are playing games, watching YouTube etc.

- Simon

I teach at a secondary school and personally it has been going better than expected. However, both teachers and students should be giving maximum efforts for this to work. Teachers should be providing interesting lessons using a variety of approaches whilst students should engage.

- Kim

I tried online teaching once to earn some extra money but I feed off the students in a classroom environment so it didn't work for me.

- Kevan

It isn't that it doesn't work, it seems to be the duration of the online classes that is the greatest issue. It is apparent that the learners are at the end of their attention rope, and parents are not helping in this either. Kids stuck inside and being given every distraction that the parents can think of ensure a lack of attention. Gaming, social media, pets, toys, and so much more of these things all add up to hurdles that are only getting bigger. I have also noticed health declining in these learners. Children with zero energy, weight gain, staying up until the wee hours. It's all too much.

- Dan

If you're a teacher and you think that online teaching 'works' you're deluding yourself. If you're a student and think that online teaching works, you're deluding mum and dad!

- Mark

In short, no. Most classes you have less than 50% attendance, only the younger kids (P4-P6) participate by actively speaking, and those who do, are the usual achievers. The M1-M3 kids attendance is worse. They log into the meeting and that's it. They don't even turn the cameras on to speak. I end up speaking to a screen for 45 minutes to an hour, looking like a madman as I laugh at my own jokes, repeating things to myself, answering my own questions, listening to audios and working through PowerPoints - and all the while, not a single student speaks a single word.

- Red

They announced yesterday in Chiang Mai that it's now online learning until at least August 31st. The kids find it difficult, the parents find it almost impossible to cope with. 

- Miller


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