REMOTE LEARNING – not for everyone

Remote Learning had been growing over the past 5 years or so in availability and stories abounded about its benefits, advantages and advances. Still, going online for regular school courses or university programs was seen with a dose skepticism and even frowned upon. The feeling was that remote learning was inferior to face to face interactions.

Then, coronavirus happened. The pandemic shut down schools, universities, colleges, churches, offices, shops, bars and restaurants. On a global scale. I had never thought something like that could happen. Other pandemics in the past – even more deadly and devastating – were more localized never shutting down an entire country – let alone dozens of countries simultaneously.

Overnight, remote learning became, not simply a more flexible and cheaper alternative, but the only alternative to millions of students from kindergarten to PhD courses.

Suddenly, teachers and students found themselves scrambling for computers, cameras, wifi connections, and all the fluctuation on signals, computer crashes, small cellphone screens, wifi signals getting unstable depending on the time of day due to congestion, etc.

I had already been teaching online for a few years, FaceTime was simple and reasonably stable – back in 2016 when we were living in Newmarket-on-Fegus in Ireland all my classes were via FaceTime – there were limited resources but the “novelty” also appealed to some students.

Some students manage to be late every single time

2020 is the Year of Zoom – or Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, Google Meet FaceTime or whatever video sharing video conferencing platform you or your company may choose.

Zoom's competitor, Google Meet will be available for free | LABS ...
All sorts of video communication services became part of our vocabulary

Classes work relatively well one on one – less so when you have larger groups (haven’t enjoyed breakout room experience) I prefer a webinar format when dealing with larger groups.

This week I enrolled in a 15-hour long journalistic podcasting course at a respected higher education institute here in São Paulo. The course had, as everything else, migrated from f2f classes to online classes and I thought it would be a nice experience. Please note the the registration fee and course price were not reduced.

Well … making a long story short, the 5-day sessions lasted only one day for me.

On the first day I was feeling a little awkward about videoconferencing etiquette in a group that I’m not controlling (control freak, who me?) but when I joined the group, there were 3 people having a friendly video chit chat – I didn’t know they were the instructors – I said “good evening” – waited for a few seconds, realized they knew each other as colleagues/friends and decided to close my mike and camera since they had not directed any attention to me. Yes, Virginia, I’m an introvert either f2f or behind a camera. Then I realized that all the other students were also with their cameras and microphones shut.

Skype releases free group calling, check out the full article at ...
What is the videoconferencing etiquette when joining the group?

The course was supposed to start at 7pm and it would be live. Of course, it started at 7:15pm because the instructors thought they had better wait for some eventual “tardy” student (honestly I wasn’t expecting you could manage to be late for a video class – Pollyanna me – one of the students joined the group 1 hour later – no excuses given).

What I thought weird was that only the 3 instructors kept their video and mikes on, all of us were supposed to keep our videos and mikes off due to the instability of the Microsoft Teams software, so they said.

We were 24 people in total.

Now my best part – the 3-hour session with no participation just listening to the instructors alternating on the podcasting industry features and trends – and they were fast and furious in their presentations – with me typing some comments or questions in an attempt to keep focused – but it was exhausting. Endless! After 2 hours they proposed a 5 minute break.

Their biggest mistake was to treat their online session as if it were face to face.

Those 3 hours were gruesome – and I decided that the course, due to its format and time (I’m not a night owl, most definitely) was not for me – and I dropped off – fortunately I’ll be reimbursed 50% of what I had paid.

Can you imagine what it is like to be a public school teacher with 30 or 40 students who should “allegedly” be connecting for their lessons?

Without any training and/or resources?

The chaos in education – brought upon us not exclusively by the pandemic – but made even more desperate in Brazil will bear fruit many years in the future of a whole generation.

Challenging times we’re living in.

Cheers,

Mo

Surviving Covid-19: life as a self-employed teacher – Part 3

And now we have reached our 4th month of the pandemic and half-arsed quarantine by a significant portion of the population in Brazil. Now state orders to wear masks in public places punishable with R$ 500 fines (another half-arsed measure that can’t be enforced by the government).

Still surviving, students hanging in there, but the calls by prospective students have dwindled down. WhatsApp is not dinging with new contacts nor the telephone ringing as often as I’d like.

But last week I was contacted by “Argentino” who was referred to me by a couple of friends (“muy amigos“). Argentino wants to prepare for the TOEFL exam because he wants to go to Loma Linda University and he needs to score 80 points to qualify in English. I don’t remember what health branch he wants to study there. Guess I didn’t have time to ask.

TOEFL ITP inscrições em 22/01 a 11/02/2019 – Pós-Graduação em ...
The secret for exams is taking as many mock tests as you can so you get familiar with the structure, language and requirements it presents.

So far so good. The caveat: he doesn’t want to have online classes – remember, we’re in the middle of the pandemic – and he would be willing to wait one more month to be able to visit me in my office. I said I wasn’t sure when face to face classes would resume and he should start with online classes. Argentino moaned and whimpered a little but agreed.

Honestly I don’t like teaching for preparatory tests – seen that, done that, taught that. Tests are a great money-making cottage industry – no question about it… Fees, books, classes…, but they don’t appeal to me. The last student I prepared for TOEFL scored 88 (after having failed before starting classes with me, of course). The secret for exams is taking as many mock tests as you can so you get familiar with the structure, language and requirements it presents. You can most definitely study on your own. But some people need another person pushing and encouraging them. I get it.

Khoá học PRE TOEFL
Exams are a great money-making cottage industry – no question about it… Fees, books, classes…,

So Argentino asked about the price – R$ 900 a month (consisting of four 90-minute classes). There the weirdest part: he proposed the following: he wants to study for 10 months – he would pay R$ 13,500 if he passed – and half that if he failed. Again – payment would be only AFTER the 10 months. He sounded very confident about his proposal and how great a business dealer he was for coming up with that offer.

Actually, I was thrown back by it – why was he willing to pay me much more than I was asking? I told him the total would be R$ 9000 – and we could negotiate a discount if he agreed to pay ALL the amount in advance. Or at least pay 50% now and 25% after 5 months and 25% at the end of the course.

His reply was quite evasive – he ignored my suggestion and told me I didn’t need to give an answer right away. I could sleep on it. Well, 5 seconds later I told him that it was not my way of doing business and honestly, I had NO guarantees he would pay me anything at the end of those 10 months. Again, I still don’t get it. Why should I be punished or penalized if he failed his exam?

His answer was even more curious. He asked me if I could recommend another teacher who might be willing to take him up on that challenge, as he called it. Take a hike, pal.

I’m not sure why I felt so offended by Argentino’s proposal. Did I feel demeaned? Did I think “how dare he tell me how much my work is worth”? Is bargaining for a hired service, such as teaching, wrong? Most certainly I didn’t believe he would pay me anything at the end of the course as well.

So, don’t cry for me, Argentino. Hope you pass the exam.

Good luck,

Mo