Stephen Louw

Thoughts on a post-Covid classroom

How important could those computer screens become?


For the last few weeks, almost everything on just about every teaching website has given much attention to online teaching and it’s been great. 

The latest HLT magazine, for instance, has a new section dedicated to ‘Teaching in Coronavirus times’. On the one hand, all this attention to the new skills teachers need for online teaching is justified, and welcome. We have all (have we not?) been worrying about whether to go synchronous or asynchronous, how to assess learning, and whether or not Zoom is our best option.

Back to normal?

On the other hand, there is a sense that we are just treading water while we wait for a return to normality. Parents and schools (and governments) have been slow in some instances to take up online education. There is evidence that some students don’t want to learn online. Besides, schools open again soon, and we can all just forget about online teaching and get back to work as we all know it.

That things may go back to normal seems like an attractive outcome to me. I’ve been teaching for around 30 years, and I’m pretty familiar with desks and chairs and students in a room. Gee, under a tree will do! Add a whiteboard and a coursebook, and I’m ready for some serious classroom action! 

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that we will be going back to ‘normal’. Somehow these last few months will leave at least some indelible marks on our profession. 

First of all, there is word that the Coronaviris (and its attendant panic) is not just going to just go away, and schools are a natural epicenter for a community’s fear. Any school (or teacher, or government) that has not made at least some effort towards online learning to offset this new reality stands the risk of being ostracized, or maybe just left behind as the future sweeps across the educational screenscape. 

Forced experimentation

Second, the lockdown is likely to have some effect on the way the stakeholders in education (parents, especially) will behave – what is called the effects of forced experimentation. 

In January 2014, workers on London’s underground network went on strike, leaving Tube stations closed and commuters stranded for nearly a month. During this period, commuters were forced to explore alternative routes. When the strike ended, it was expected that commuters would take up their default commuting pattern, but many didn’t. The period during which habitual patterns were upset led commuters to experiment with new routes and some apparently discovered more efficient alternatives. 

Forced experimentation, like the teaching that we have engaged in during the lock down, helps uncover inefficient habits which are otherwise left unconsidered. The problems caused by habitual sub-optimal behavior patterns on efficiency in a system has been a focus of interest in economics for a long time (like this 1955 paper by Nobel laureate Herbert Simon, or Michael Porter’s hypothesis that imposed constraints enhance a system’s efficiency). 

If the research on forced experimentation generalizes to the Covid-19-imposed break in our educational routine, we may find that our dabbling with online education has changed the way people think about computers as a medium for teaching and learning.

It’s possible that teaching, as we knew it in January 2020, may never be the same again. If that’s the case, then we have a real reason to read all these sites offering help and advice so that we don’t get left behind. 

We will have to stay in touch with all the Zooms and Flipgrids and Quizlets in their various forms as they come and go, find ways to integrate forvo or raz-kids, reimagine ‘managing our classrooms’ as ‘motivating our students’, and learn how to humanize our teaching through the medium of a computer screen.


Steve has been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 30 years, and is currently a lecturer on the Master’s in TESOL program at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Bangkok.




Comments

Interesting read this.
Moving my kids from classroom to "Homescreenschool" has been interesting, interesting becourse they Love the screen...
Except when it's a lesson...?

Thank you Dr Stephen

By Jenny, South Africa (28th June 2020)

I quote,"We may find that our dabbling with online education has changed the way people think about computers as a medium for teaching and learning."

Indeed it has. Many teachers and parents will delight in launching the i-pad out of the nearest window when this thing is over. Covid-19 has shown us the true value of good teachers and well managed classrooms. It has also highlighted the damaging effects to children of staring at small screens for hours on end, such as attention deficit disorder and social isolation.

It's back to pencils and paper when the doors of the school reopen. I'm going 'old school'.

By George, BKK (12th June 2020)

Despite a worldwide infection rate of only a fraction of one percent, let's just end all stability and normality as we know it. People need to stop drinking the Covid fear kool-aid.

By Ben, BKK (11th June 2020)

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