This year ( 15 months, 7 days, 9 hours and 46 minutes into the covid-19 pandemic – yes, I refuse to capitalize you) I went back to the classroom (remotely, how else?). I needed to brush up my conference interpreting skills in this brave new world (no pun intended) of remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI – as it is professionally abbreviated by those in the know).
I knew that Zoom and other video conferencing services had an add-on feature that would/might allow for simultaneous interpreting, but now I’ve discovered that there are whole sets of platforms operating along with them. In other words, the challenge to the interpreter has risen from just knowing the vocab and terminology and having mind agility to listening in one language and blurting out in a second or third language to becoming an IT and Sound engineer – more than doubling our checklist before even uttering the first sound.
I’ll write later about interpreting – now the focus is on remote learning.
Again the very respected interpreting and translation institution, Alumni, like make other educational structures, just transferred the onsite sessions to the online environment – same teachers, same methods, same length of sessions, same coffee breaks. Any changes necessary?
The flipped classroom format is ubiquitous – the school will send you an email with your assignments and agenda for the forthcoming class and woe is you if you don’t go over them carefully. Fine.
But they take some things for granted. In yesterday’s session, our very good trainer said – “Ok – during the interpreting practice remember to record your voices”.
Ok. Questions in my mind: “Did he tell us which app to use? how should we proceed?” It’s not intuitive.
I asked a boothmate and she told me she was using the Windows recorder. Ah ok.
Instructor: “After today’s session send me your recorded audio”.
My brain: “how? email? WhatsApp? a web platform? I don’t have his number or email address. Did I miss his instructions again?”
These are just simple examples for us teachers. We can’t just assume our students know what to do on their own (you know the old saying, right? “When you assume you make an ass of you and me”). Whatever happened to show and tell? Show me how you do it and then tell me to do it.
TAKEAWAY: If simple and clear instructions and directions were essential in the in-person environment they are crucial now in the remote classroom.
Most of us have been teaching exclusively online for over a year by now and it’s always good to review and refresh our personal approach when teaching on a virtual platform:
Positioning: Try to position yourself in the center of the screen, unless you’re showing a “whiteboard” or some other image. Keep the camera at your eye level so that students won’t be looking up your nostrils or down your balding spots 😉 . Remember to maintain eye contact – don’t be looking at your own image or your students’, rather, look into the camera (usually that little dot on top of your screen).
Appearance: make sure you’re dressed professionally – I’m not telling you to wear a tuxedo or a dress fit for a night at the opera. Just keep it neat and as wrinkle free as possible. Remember students can’t smell you but they do expect to see you. Pants are optional as long as you’re not planning to stand up. Should I wear a shirt or t-shirt? In my in-person classes I mostly wore shirts (and a jacket in colder weather) and on casual Fridays a polo shirt. Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve gone down a notch by mostly wearing T-shirts , but trying to avoid brand logos and indiscreet messages on them. I know I’m going on a limb, but count on your common sense and anything with F*** would be deemed inappropriate. Of course check your teeth – nobody likes the embarrassment of seeing “a deer in the garden” or something else stuck in one’s teeth.
Background: Choose something neutral – a white wall or whiteboard would be perfect. A bookcase is fine but the simpler the better – a tv monitor switched on behind you could be very distracting, for example, as well as your pet(s) and toddlers. they’re lovely once or twice but they’re not included in your agreement pack with your students. Keep them away whenever possible.
Timing and Pacing: Some studies have showed that group response rates can be up to 20% lower online than in person, especially in a group setting. Remember that your voice is important but students’ talk time must be higher than yours. Don’t go lecturing when your students could be using that time to practice THEIR communication skills. Keep track of your class activities and always have one or two activities up your sleeve in case you go over all tasks and there are still 10 mins left. But that’s quite unusual. Usually it’s too much for such a little time. I have a student who has two 45-minute classes per week – and I always go overtime with her… that’s not good business sense or academically and I have to cut back on the activities and focus on key points. Remember that sometimes students (or yourself) might be having connection issues. Don’t lose your temper and be accommodating to the situation as it presents itself.
Reflect on your courses from the first session on a regular basis, make sure you’re delivering content that is useful and attractive to your students while keeping them satisfied. After all they’re your customers.
We tend to like lists so I decided to present my adapted commandments (from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/297719/The-Ten-eLearning-Commandments-Infographic) from what I’ve been learning as an online/remote teacher of English as a Foreign Language. Until 3 years ago, my wife and I used to travel a lot (she on business and I as a great travel companion) so I got used early on to teaching online using especially FaceTime – let’s say 5 or 6 years ago. Now with the pandemic, of course, both teacher and learners lost their choice of face to face or online classes. Of course, choice is still out there. One student moved from face to face to telephone-only classes. A few others decided that to pay for online classes would be a waste of time and money – like paying for a virtual sandwich – you can see it, even see its creation step by step, but not taste it, chuckles) – and they had Netflix and YouTube. Dump the teacher.
These commandments are nothing new but still relevant and mean to remind my students and I of what we are doing, the benefits of following them and the risks of breaking a single one of them.
Commandment #1: Thou Shalt NOT Put the Learner On a Pedestal
Now, that doesn’t mean learners are not important – without them – you cannot teach, right?
Ensure that your learner feels in control and well-oriented. The learner has to know what, why, and where learning is taking place.
So this is commandment #1. Make sure the learner experience is put first and foremost, but remember they’re paying you to be a teacher not their pal or confidant. For that they’d have to pay much, much more.
Commandment #2: Thou shalt not multitask
Thou shalt not multitask. Modern technology makes it easy to do many things at once, but that doesn’t always mean you should. If you’re communicating with others, focus on them, and them alone. Minimize the other tabs on your screen, silence your phone, and never eat or go to the bathroom during a call (unless it’s an emergency). Being on mute or having your camera turned off is not an excuse. You can wait. If you’re desperate or the meeting is running long, ask for a 5-minute break.
Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Plan, Plan, and be ready to throw the plan out of the window
Behind every successful man there is a woman, or so the saying goes. And behind every successful eLearning project, is a well-devised and detailed plan.
Beautiful idea but in practical terms the learner is not interested in whatever time and plans you have. It is THEIR agenda. Have your plan but rest assured that more often than not you won’t be able to implement it.
Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Respect Thy Learner and Thy Teacher
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Don’t know what it means to me” – Aretha Franklin
Ms. Franklin was right. Relationships require respect.
You’ve got to respect your learner’s intelligence and respond to their needs. Make sure you understand their background, how they like to learn, and what style of learning appeals to them. If you hit the wrong tone, your learners may feel demeaned and even insulted.
Commandment #5: Thou Shalt Not Rely Only On Technology
Yes, you read it right. You’re working with another human being. Focus on their needs not the equipment and tricks.
In today’s multi-screen world, it’s easy to think of learning in different platforms, with desktops, tablets, and smartphones each with different compatibilities and operating systems. Elearning has to change. It has to be responsive, multi-format, and look good on whatever device it’s used on.
Commandment #6: Thou Shalt Use an Agenda
When hosting or participating in a meeting, respect the attendees’ time and other obligations as much as possible.
eLearning is a practice of restraint and balance. Remember to use useful design, not decoration, and give breathing room. Just like in photography, negative space can sometimes make all the difference; there’s no need to fill every little space.
Commandment #7: Thou Shalt Focus on Competence, Not Grades
Competency-based learning lets learners move through a course at their own pace. This is a more valuable approach; the focus isn’t on completing a training program within a specific time, it’s about doing it slow, and doing it right. Competency-based training doesn’t randomly “dump” tons of knowledge on the learner, it lets the learner choose. They know when to move on, and when they’ve absorbed the material. This makes learning more effective than the “dump and run” model and the learner feels more satisfied and leaves no gaps in their skill set.
Commandment #8: Thou Shalt Show, Not Tell.
We’ve all been there. Bored in a presentation or taking an eLearning course. Checking the time every few seconds, wondering when it’s going to end.
Why do we feel this way? Usually because eLearning is designed as just conveying information, just telling. Just being spoken at.
This is one of the least effective ways to share information. If you want your audience to remember your content, you need to show, not tell. This means you should tell more stories in your course, give examples, create scenarios, you have to give the audience something they can relate to, and help them find connections between the learning content and their roles.
In a nutshell, this is how to do it: less exposition, more action. You’ll see how your learners react in a completely different way.
Commandment #9: Thou Shalt Be Respectful of Time
eLearning has to be more sociable, but Never assume you are anyone’s highest priority. Be flexible when possible but always remember that TIME IS MONEY. When you’re remote, you must be intentional about keeping a time frame.
Commandment #10: Thou Shalt Plan for Sprints, Not marathons.
I know, this sounds counter-intuitive. But hear me out. Nowadays, learners struggle with information overload. We have stuff coming at us from mobile phones, email, the web, and good ol’ fashioned verbal communication.
Learners have too much going on already – if you bombard them with information they’re going to tune out quickly. They might retain scraps, a key word here and there, or they might retain nothing. Don’t risk it. Organize your content into small, bite-sized ‘sprints’.
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.
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.
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 courseat 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.
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.